ATO targeting property investors with “in-depth audits”

ATO targeting property investors with “in-depth audits”

Attention property investors: your friends at the Australian Taxation Office might be taking an uncomfortably close look at your tax return later this year.

ATO assistant assistant commissioner Gavin Siebert said the tax office has made property rental deductions a top priority this tax time.

Why?

“A random sample of returns with rental deductions found that nine out of 10 contained an error,” he said.

“We are concerned about the extent of non-compliance in this area and will be looking very closely at claims this year.”

Stats from the ATO

In the 2017-18 financial year, more than 2.2 million Australians claimed over $47 billion in deductions.

Don’t forget to declare your Airbnb income

The ATO will conduct 4,500 “in-depth audits” of property investors this year, a big increase on the year before, according to Mr Siebert.

The focus will be on investors who might be:

  • Over-claiming mortgage interest payments
  • Under-claiming income from Airbnb and other accommodation sharing platforms
  • Incorrectly claiming capital works as repairs
  • Incorrectly claiming expenses for holiday homes that double as investment properties

Message from the ATO

“While no penalties will apply for taxpayers who amend their returns due to genuine mistakes, deliberate attempts to over-claim can attract penalties of up to 75 per cent of the claim.”

Once an audit begins, who knows where it will end?

Mr Siebert said the ATO’s data analysis capabilities are becoming more advanced, making it easier for the tax office to identify dodgy tax claims by property investors.

As part of its analysis, the ATO will source data from:

  • Banks and other financial institutions
  • Property transactions
  • Rental bonds
  • Airbnb and other online accommodation booking platforms

“Where we identify claims of concern, ATO staff will investigate and prompt taxpayers to amend unjustifiable claims. If necessary, we will commence audits,” he said.

“Once our auditors begin, they may search through even more data including utilities, tolls, social media and other online content to determine whether the taxpayer was entitled to claims they’ve made.”

Stats from the ATO

In the 2017-18 financial year, the ATO audited over 1,500 taxpayers with property rental claims, and applied penalties totalling $1.3 million.

The ATO is taking an interest in your interest

Did you take out a home loan to buy an investment property?

If so, you’re allowed to claim the mortgage interest as a deduction.

“However, if you use some of the loan money for personal use such as paying for living expenses, buying a boat or going on a holiday, you can’t claim the interest on that part of the loan,” according to the ATO.

“You can only claim the part of the interest that relates to the rental property.”

Message from the ATO

“In one case, a taxpayer was penalised over $12,000 for over-claiming deductions for their holiday home when it was not made genuinely available for rent, including being blocked out over seasonal holiday periods. Another taxpayer had to pay back $5,500 because they had not apportioned their rental interest deduction to account for redraws on their investment loan to pay for living expenses.”

Renos and repairs have different tax implications

Do you know the difference between capital works and repairs?

Substantial improvements or renovations are regarded as capital works – these are deductible over a number of years.

Fixing something that’s broken, damaged or deteriorating is regarded as repairs – these are deductible immediately.

“Initial repairs for damage that existed when the property was purchased, such as replacing broken light fittings or repairing damaged floor boards, can’t be claimed as an immediate deduction but may be claimed over a number of years as a capital works deduction,” according to the ATO.

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Learn more about home loans

Why does Westpac charge an early termination fee for home loans?

The Westpac home loan early termination fee or break cost is applicable if you have a fixed rate home loan and repay part of or the whole outstanding amount before the fixed period ends. If you’re switching between products before the fixed period ends, you’ll pay a switching break cost and an administrative fee. 

The Westpac home loan early termination fee may not apply if you repay an amount below the prepayment threshold. The prepayment threshold is the amount Westpac allows you to repay during the fixed period outside your regular repayments.

Westpac charges this fee because when you take out a home loan, the bank borrows the funds with wholesale rates available to banks and lenders. Westpac will then work out your interest rate based on you making regular repayments for a fixed period. If you repay before this period ends, the lender may incur a loss if there is any change in the wholesale rate of interest.

What do people do with a Macquarie Bank reverse?

There are a number of ways people use a Macquarie Bank reverse mortgage. Below are some reasons borrowers tend to release their home’s equity via a reverse mortgage:

  • To top up superannuation or pension income to pay for monthly bills;
  • To consolidate and repay high-interest debt like credit cards or personal loans;
  • To fund renovations, repairs or upgrades to their home
  • To help your children or grandkids through financial difficulties. 

While there are no limitations on how you can use a Macquarie reverse mortgage loan, a reverse mortgage is not right for all borrowers. Reverse mortgages compound the interest, which means you end up paying interest on your interest. They can also affect your entitlement to things like the pension It’s important to think carefully, read up and speak with your family before you apply for a reverse mortgage.

What are the features of home loans for expats from Westpac?

If you’re an Australian citizen living and working abroad, you can borrow to buy a property in Australia. With a Westpac non-resident home loan, you can borrow up to 80 per cent of the property value to purchase a property whilst living overseas. The minimum loan amount for these loans is $25,000, with a maximum loan term of 30 years.

The interest rates and other fees for Westpac non-resident home loans are the same as regular home loans offered to borrowers living in Australia. You’ll have to submit proof of income, six-month bank statements, an employment letter, and your last two payslips. You may also be required to submit a copy of your passport and visa that shows you’re allowed to live and work abroad.

Is a second mortgage tax deductible?

If you take out a loan to invest in a property, you can claim a tax deduction on the interest you pay as long as the property is earning income. In other words, if you rent the property for the entire year, you can claim a tax deduction for 12 months of interest payments. But, if you use the home for six months and rent it for the other six months, you can claim deduction only for 50 per cent of the interest amount.

You also get tax benefits for items that lose value over the years. But, the entire amount is not allowed as a tax deduction in the same year; instead you’ll have to claim a portion each year over a number of years. 

Additional borrowing costs, such as maintenance fees, stamp duty, offset account setting up fees, Lenders Mortgage Insurance (LMI), and establishment fees, can also be claimed as tax deductions.

Before you claim second mortgage tax deductions, it’s often worth checking with an experienced tax expert.

When does Commonwealth Bank charge an early exit fee?

When you take out a fixed interest home loan with the Commonwealth Bank, you’re able to lock the interest for a particular period. If the rates change during this period, your repayments remain unchanged. If you break the loan during the fixed interest period, you’ll have to pay the Commonwealth Bank home loan early exit fee and an administrative fee.

The Early Repayment Adjustment (ERA) and Administrative fees are applicable in the following instances:

  • If you switch your loan from fixed interest to variable rate
  • When you apply for a top-up home loan
  • If you repay over and above the annual threshold limit, which is $10,000 per year during the fixed interest period
  • When you prepay the entire outstanding loan balance before the end of the fixed interest duration.

The fee calculation depends on the interest rates, the amount you’ve repaid and the loan size. You can contact the lender to understand more about what you may have to pay. 

Do first-time home loan applicants qualify for tax benefits?

If you’re a first-time homebuyer applying for a home loan, you could qualify for some tax deductions, but only if your property is a source of income for you. For instance, if you rent out the property, you could get tax deductions on the cost of constructing or renovating it, the loss in value of depreciating assets such as furniture or electrical fixtures, and the home loan interest. 

Homeowners using their property as a residence could also get a tax deduction if a part or all of it is used for business. These deductions include tax write-offs for depreciating assets and deductions for operating expenses like utilities’ payments and service charges for phones and the internet. However, people running businesses from their residences don’t qualify for a tax deduction on the interest paid on their home loans.

Cash or mortgage – which is more suitable to buy an investment property?

Deciding whether to buy an investment property with cash or a mortgage is a matter or personal choice and will often depend on your financial situation. Using cash may seem logical if you have the money in reserve and it can allow you to later use the equity in your home. However, there may be other factors to think about, such as whether there are other debts to pay down and whether it will tie up all of your spare cash. Again, it’s a personal choice and may be worth seeking personal advice.

A mortgage is a popular option for people who don’t have enough cash in the bank to pay for an investment property. Sometimes when you take out a mortgage you can offset your loan interest against the rental income you may earn. The rental income can also help to pay down the loan.

What is an interest-only loan? How do I work out interest-only loan repayments?

An ‘interest-only’ loan is a loan where the borrower is only required to pay back the interest on the loan. Typically, banks will only let lenders do this for a fixed period of time – often five years – however some lenders will be happy to extend this.

Interest-only loans are popular with investors who aren’t keen on putting a lot of capital into their investment property. It is also a handy feature for people who need to reduce their mortgage repayments for a short period of time while they are travelling overseas, or taking time off to look after a new family member, for example.

While moving on to interest-only will make your monthly repayments cheaper, ultimately, you will end up paying your bank thousands of dollars extra in interest to make up for the time where you weren’t paying off the principal.

What is a secured home loan?

When the lender creates a mortgage on your property, they’re offering you a secured home loan. It means you’re offering the property as security to the lender who holds this security against the risk of default or any delays in home loan repayments. Suppose you’re unable to repay the loan. In this case, the lender can take ownership of your property and sell it to recover any outstanding funds you owe. The lender retains this hold over your property until you repay the entire loan amount.

If you take out a secured home loan, you may be charged a lower interest rate. The amount you can borrow depends on the property’s value and the deposit you can pay upfront. Generally, lenders allow you to borrow between 80 per cent and 90 per cent of the property value as the loan. Often, you’ll need Lenders Mortgage Insurance (LMI) if the deposit is less than 20 per cent of the property value. Lenders will also do a property valuation to ensure you’re borrowing enough to cover the purchase. 

What is an investment loan?

An investment loan is a home loan that is taken out to purchase a property purely for investment purposes. This means that the purchaser will not be living in the property but will instead rent it out or simply retain it for purposes of capital growth.

What is equity? How can I use equity in my home loan?

Equity refers to the difference between what your property is worth and how much you owe on it. Essentially, it is the amount you have repaid on your home loan to date, although if your property has gone up in value it can sometimes be a lot more.

You can use the equity in your home loan to finance renovations on your existing property or as a deposit on an investment property. It can also be accessed for other investment opportunities or smaller purchases, such as a car or holiday, using a redraw facility.

Once you are over 65 you can even use the equity in your home loan as a source of income by taking out a reverse mortgage. This will let you access the equity in your loan in the form of regular payments which will be paid back to the bank following your death by selling your property. But like all financial products, it’s best to seek professional advice before you sign on the dotted line.

How much money can I borrow for a home loan?

Tip: You can use RateCity how much can I borrow calculator to get a quick answer.

How much money you can borrow for a home loan will depend on a number of factors including your employment status, your income (and your partner’s income if you are taking out a joint loan), the size of your deposit, your living expenses and any other debt you might hold, including credit cards. 

A good place to start is to work out how much you can afford to make in monthly repayments, factoring in a buffer of at least 2 – 3 per cent to allow for interest rate rises along the way. You’ll also need to factor in additional costs that come with purchasing a property such as stamp duty, legal fees, building inspections, strata or council fees.

If you are planning on renting the property, you can factor in the expected rental income to help offset the mortgage, but again it’s prudent to add a significant buffer to allow for rental management fees, maintenance costs and short periods of no rental income when tenants move out. It’s also wise to factor in changes in personal circumstances – the typical home loan lasts for around 30 years and a lot can happen between now and then.

Can I get a home loan if I owe taxes?

Owing money to the Australian Tax Office is not an ideal situation, but it doesn’t mean you cannot qualify for a home loan. Lenders will take into account your tax debt, your history of repaying the debt and your other financial circumstances, while reviewing your home loan application. 

While some banks may not look favourably upon your debt to the ATO, some non-bank lenders may be willing to help. They will look into the reasons for your tax debt and also take into account the steps you have taken to repay it before deciding whether to offer you the loan or not. Having said that, there are no guarantees - it depends on your whole financial picture.

Here are a few steps that you can take to improve your chances of getting approved for a home loan.

  • Demonstrate evidence of income.
  • Manage your debt by paying it off in installments.
  • Offer an explanation for your tax debt and a plan to pay it off.
  • Do what you can to stay out of court or attract debt collection agencies.

 

What is a line of credit?

A line of credit, also known as a home equity loan, is a type of mortgage that allows you to borrow money using the equity in your property.

Equity is the value of your property, less any outstanding debt against it. For example, if you have a $500,000 property and a $300,000 mortgage against the property, then you have $200,000 equity. This is the portion of the property that you actually own.

This type of loan is a flexible mortgage that allows you to draw on funds when you need them, similar to a credit card.