Hidden super fees costing Australians

Hidden super fees costing Australians

Australians depend on their superannuation funds to help them ensure a secure retirement. But new research suggests Australians could be losing out precious savings due to hidden fees. 

Last year, the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) reviewed fee disclosure practices in the superannuation industry, and the results weren’t pretty. 

“It is crucial for super and managed fund issuers to disclose fees and costs on a consistent and comparable basis in order for consumers to make meaningful comparisons between products,” said Greg Tanzer, ASIC Commissioner at the time. 

“Our review shows that there is some inconsistency at the moment and we will work with industry to improve fee and cost disclosure more generally.”

It seems that, along with regular costs and expenses, Australians’ retirement savings are increasingly facing a challenge from their own superannuation accounts. 

Investors handicapped by inconsistent disclosures

The ASIC’s report, titled Fee and Cost Disclosure: Superannuation and Managed Investment Products and released in July 2014, highlighted a number of cases where disclosure of fees and costs was inconsistent with existing super guidelines. One such example surrounds the reporting of performance fees. 

It’s typical for an issuer to pay a performance fee to their investment manager when the performance of a super fund outdoes its pre-agreed target. However, as the report notes, in some cases these fees are estimated based on the expected level of fees in a given year, while in other cases performance fees are not being disclosed as a separate charge, because they are taken out of a trustee’s fees to pay the manager. 

Also highlighted by the report was the issue of fees net of tax being incorrectly disclosed, as well as fees relating to underlying investment vehicles not being disclosed at all. 

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Dealing with super fees

Superannuation accounts come with a variety of different fees. Some of the more typical fees include member fees, which are charged in order for you to keep your super account, contribution fees, which are deducted from each of your contributions to cover the expense of investing them, and investment management fees. 

You can also be charged exit fees, for when you leave a plan or withdraw money, and switching fees, for when you swap out of an investment option.

With fee transparency still requiring improvement, it’s not easy for investors to factor in fees into their superannuation calculator, or to detect what kind of fees they are being charged. One way around this is to read a fund’s annual report and member statement – if they’re relatively vague and lacking in detail, it could be a warning sign. 

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Learn more about superannuation

What fees do superannuation funds charge?

Superannuation funds can charge a range of fees, including:

  • Activity-based fees – for specific, irregular services, such as splitting an account after a divorce
  • Administration fees – to cover the cost of managing your account
  • Advice fees – for personal investment advice
  • Buy/sell spread fees – when you make contributions, switches and withdrawals
  • Exit fees – when you close your account
  • Investment fees – to cover the cost of managing your investments
  • Switching fees – when you choose a new investment option within the same fund

How many superannuation funds are there?

There are more than 200 different superannuation funds.

What will the superannuation fund do with my money?

Your money will be invested in an investment option of your choosing.

What superannuation details do I give to my employer?

When you start a job, your employer will give you what’s called a ‘superannuation standard choice form’. Here’s what you need to complete the form:

  • The name of your preferred superannuation fund
  • The fund’s address
  • The fund’s Australian business number (ABN)
  • The fund’s superannuation product identification number (SPIN)
  • The fund’s phone number
  • A letter from the fund trustee confirming that the fund is a complying fund; or written evidence from the fund stating it will accept contributions from your new employer; or details about how your employer can make contributions to the fund

You should also provide your tax file number – while it’s not a legal obligation, it will ensure your contributions will be taxed at the (lower) superannuation rate.

How long after divorce can you claim superannuation?

You or your partner could be forced to surrender part of your superannuation if you divorce, just like with other assets.

You can file a claim for division of property – including superannuation – as soon as you divorce. However, the claim has to be filed within one year of the divorce.

Your superannuation could be affected even if you’re in a de facto relationship – that is, living together as a couple without being officially married.

In that case, the claim has to be filed within two years of the date of separation.

Either way, the first thing to consider is whether you’re a member of a standard, APRA-regulated superannuation fund or if you’re a member of a self-managed superannuation fund (SMSF), because different rules apply.

Standard superannuation funds

If your relationship breaks down, your superannuation savings might be divided by court order or by agreement.

The rules of the superannuation fund will dictate whether this transfer happens immediately, or in the future when the person who has to make the transfer is allowed to access the rest of their superannuation (i.e. at or near retirement).

Click here for more information.

SMSFs

If your relationship breaks down, you must continue to observe the trust deed of your SMSF.

So if you and your partner are both members of the same SMSF, neither party is allowed to use the fund to inflict ‘punishment’ – such as by excluding the other party from the decision-making process or refusing their request to roll their money into another superannuation fund.

This no-punishment rule applies even if the two parties are involved in legal proceedings.

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Financial consequences

Superannuation funds often charge a fee for splitting accounts after a relationship breakdown.

Splitting superannuation can also impact the size of your total super balance and how your super is taxed.

Click here for more information.

How do you open a superannuation account?

Opening a superannuation account is simple. When you start a job, your employer will give you what’s called a ‘superannuation standard choice form’. Here’s what you need to complete the form:

  • The name of your preferred superannuation fund
  • The fund’s address
  • The fund’s Australian business number (ABN)
  • The fund’s superannuation product identification number (SPIN)
  • The fund’s phone number
  • A letter from the fund trustee confirming that the fund is a complying fund; or written evidence from the fund stating it will accept contributions from your new employer; or details about how your employer can make contributions to the fund

You might want to provide your tax file number as well – while it’s not a legal obligation, it will ensure your contributions will be taxed at the (lower) superannuation rate.

How do I change my superannuation fund?

Changing superannuation funds is a common and straightforward process. You can do it through your MyGov account or by filling out a rollover form and sending it to your new fund. You’ll also have to provide proof of identity.

How do I choose the right superannuation fund?

Different superannuation funds charge different fees, offer different insurances, offer different investment options and have different performance histories.

So you need to ask yourself these four questions when comparing superannuation funds:

  • How many fees would I have to pay and what would they cost?
  • What insurances are available and how much would they cost?
  • What investment options does it offer? How would they match my risk profile and financial needs?
  • How have these investment options performed historically?

Is superannuation compulsory?

Superannuation is compulsory. Generally speaking, it can’t be touched until you’re at least 55 years old.

When did superannuation start in Australia?

Australia’s modern superannuation system – in which employers make compulsory contributions to their employees – started in 1992. However, before that, there were various restricted superannuation schemes applying to certain employees in certain industries. The very first superannuation scheme was introduced in the 19th century.

What happens to my superannuation when I change jobs?

You can keep your superannuation fund for as long as you like, so nothing happens when you change jobs. Please note that some superannuation funds have special features for people who work with certain employers, so these features may no longer be available if you change jobs.

Can I choose a superannuation fund or does my employer choose one for me?

Most people can choose their own superannuation fund. However, you might not have this option if you are a member of certain defined benefit funds or covered by certain industrial agreements. If you don’t choose a superannuation fund, your employer will choose one for you.

How do I combine several superannuation accounts into one account?

The process used to consolidate several superannuation accounts into one is the same process used to change superannuation funds. This can be done through your MyGov account or by filling out a rollover form and sending it to your chosen fund.

What is the superannuation rate?

The superannuation rate, or guarantee rate, is the percentage of your salary that your employer must pay into your superannuation fund. The superannuation guarantee has been set at 9.5 per cent since the 2014-15 financial year. It is scheduled to rise to 10.0 per cent in 2021-22, 10.5 per cent in 2022-23, 11.0 per cent in 2023-24, 11.5 per cent in 2024-25 and 12.0 per cent in 2025-26.