ATO take ‘gloves off’ on overseas income

ATO take ‘gloves off’ on overseas income

Five years ago, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) offered a penalty amnesty on undisclosed foreign income. Five years on, the ATO has again flagged that underreporting of foreign income is an issue but this time the gloves are off.

How you are taxed and what you are taxed on depends on your residency status for tax purposes. As tax residency can be different to your general residency status it’s important to seek clarification. The residency tests don’t necessarily work on ‘common sense.’ For tax purposes:

Australian resident – taxed on worldwide income including money earned overseas (such as employment income, directors fees, consulting fees, income from investments, rental income, and gains from the sale of assets).

Foreign resident – taxed on their Australian sourced income and some capital gains. Unlike Australian resident taxpayers, non-resident taxpayers pay tax on every dollar of taxable income earned in Australia starting at 32.5% although lower rates can apply to some investment income like interest and dividends.

There is no tax-free threshold. Australian sourced income might include Australian rental income and income for work performed in Australia.

Temporary resident – Generally, those who have come to work in Australia on a temporary visa and whose spouse is not a permanent resident or citizen of Australia. Temporary residents are taxed on Australian sourced income but not on foreign sourced income. In addition, gains from non-Australian property are excluded from capital gains tax.

Just because you work outside of Australia for a period of time does not mean you are not a resident for tax purposes during that period. And, for those with international investments, it’s important to understand the tax status of earnings from those assets. Just because the asset might be located overseas does not mean they are safe from Australian tax law, even if the cash stays outside Australia. Don’t assume that just because your foreign income has already been taxed overseas or qualifies for an exemption overseas that it is not taxable in Australia.

How your money is being tracked

A lot of Australians have international dealings in one form or another. The ATO’s analysis shows China, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Singapore and the United States are popular countries for Australians.

The ATO shares the data of foreign tax residents with over 65 foreign tax jurisdictions. This includes information on account holders, balances, interest and dividend payments, proceeds from the sale of assets, and other income. There is also data obtained from information exchange agreements with foreign jurisdictions.

In addition, the Australian Transaction Reporting and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) provides data to the ATO (and the Department of Human Services) on flows of money to identify individuals that are not declaring income or paying their tax.

It’s not uncommon for taxpayers to forget to declare income from a foreign investment like a rental property or a business because they have had it for a long time and deal with it in the local jurisdiction with income earned ‘parked’ in that country. However, problems occur when the taxpayer wants to bring that income to Australia, AUSTRAC or the ATO’s data matching picks up on the transaction and then the taxpayer is contacted about the nature of the income. If the income is identifiable as taxable income (for example, from a property sale or income from a business), you can expect the ATO to look very closely at the details with an assessment and potentially penalties and interest charges following not long after.  There is no point telling the ATO the money is a gift if it wasn’t, they can generally find the source of the transaction and will know it’s not from a very generous grandmother – misdirection is only going to annoy them and ensure that there is no leniency.

What you need to declare in your tax return

If you are an Australian resident, you need to declare all worldwide income in your tax return unless a specific exemption applies, although in some cases even exempt income needs to be reported. Income is anything you earn from:

-Employment (including consulting fees)

-Pensions, annuities and Government payments

-Business, partnership or trust income

-Crowdfunding

-The sharing economy (AirBnB, Uber, AirTasker etc.)

-Foreign income (pensions and annuities, business income, employment income and consulting fees, assets and investment income including offshore bank accounts, and capital gains on overseas assets)

-Some prizes and awards (including any gains you made if you won a prize and then sold it for a gain), and

-Some insurance or workers compensation payments (generally for loss of income).

You do not need to declare prizes such as lotto or game show prizes, or ad-hoc gifts.

Do I need to declare money from family overseas?

A gift of money is generally not taxable but there are limits to what is considered a gift and what is income. If the ‘gift’ is from an entity (such as a distribution from a company or trust), if it is regular and supports your lifestyle, or is in exchange for your services, then the ATO may not consider this money to be a genuine gift.

I have overseas assets that I have not declared

Your only two choices are to do nothing (and be prepared to face the full weight of the law) or work with the ATO to make a voluntary disclosure. Disclosing undeclared assets and income will often significantly reduce penalties and interest charges, particularly where the oversight is a genuine mistake.

How to repatriate income or assets

Before moving funds out of an overseas account, company or trust it is important to ensure that you seek advice on the implications in Australia and the other country involved. This is a complex area and the interaction between the tax laws of different countries requires careful consideration to avoid unexpected consequences.

If you need to clarify your residency status for tax purposes or are uncertain about the tax treatment of income, please contact us today.

Confusion over personal income tax changes

Confusion over personal income tax changes – what are you really entitled to?

The recent income tax cuts that passed through Parliament do not mean everyone automatically gets $1,080 back from the Government as soon as they lodge their income tax return. The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has been inundated with calls from taxpayers wanting to know where their money is and how they can access the $1,080 they now believe is owing to them.

What changed?

From 1 July 2018

A low and middle income tax offset (LMITO), first introduced in the 2018-19 Federal Budget, provides a tax benefit to those with taxable incomes below $125,333. Recent changes increase the LMITO from a maximum of $530 to $1,080 and the base amount from $200 to $255, and make it applicable to a greater number of taxpayers by increasing the threshold from $125,333 to $126,000.

The first thing to remember is that this is a tax offset; you need to owe tax to offset the tax. And, if you owe tax, the offset will be first used to reduce the tax you owe. It is not a cash back – a point the ATO is at pains to point out stating on its website that, “It doesn’t mean that you will get an extra $1,080 in your tax return.”

The offset applies for a limited time. In this case, the offset applies to the 2018-19, 2019-20, 2020-21 and 2021-22 income years. So, if you are eligible to receive the offset, it applies to the taxable income you earned last financial year (2018-19) and you will receive any offset owing once you have lodged your tax return.

Taxable income* Offset minimum Offset maximum
<$37,000 $255 $255
>$37,000 – <$48,000** $255 $1,080
>$48,000 – <$90,000 $1,080
>$90,000 – <$126,000*** $1,080
$126,000+ $0 $0

 * Your taxable income is the income you earn less any deductions you claim – not your salary.

** offset entitlement is $255, plus 7.5% of the excess to a maximum of $1,080.

*** offset entitlement is $1,080, less 3% of the excess on taxable income above $90,000.

If you earned taxable income in 2018-19 of:-

– Less than $21,885, while you have an entitlement to LMITO of $255, you do not pay personal income tax and therefore cannot utilise the offset.

– $45,000, you will receive a tax reduction of $855 ($255 plus 7.5% on every dollar between $37,000 and $45,000, in this case $8,000). You may also be eligible for the low income tax offset (LITO), see below.

– $85,000, you will receive a tax reduction of $1,080.

The LMITO is in addition to the existing low income tax offset (LITO). The LITO is available to those with taxable income of less than $66,667. The maximum offset is $445 for those with taxable incomes of $37,000 or less. Any amount you earn above $37,000 up to the threshold of $66,667 reduces the offset by 1.5%. Once again, the LITO is a tax offset to reduce the amount of tax you pay. If you do not pay personal income tax, you do not receive the offset as a cash refund.

From 1 July 2022

Two things occur from 1 July 2022:

– Income tax rate thresholds change – the top threshold of the 19% personal income tax bracket increases to $45,000 (currently $37,000), effectively providing a tax cut to all taxpayers earning over $18,200. The tax rate change applies to resident taxpayers and working holiday makers.

– The low-income tax offset (LITO) increases – for those with taxable income of less than $66,667, the LITO base amount will increase from $445 to $700. However, the LITO will reduce quicker than it currently applies with amounts above $37,500 reducing by 5% for amounts up to $45,000, then 1.5% to $66,667.

These changes assume that the Government does not pare back the income tax changes in a future Budget.

From 1 July 2024

From 1 July 2024, the 32.5% marginal tax rate will reduce to 30% and the number of taxpayers it applies to will increase with the maximum threshold moving from $120,000 to $200,000. The tax rate change applies to resident taxpayers and working holiday makers. Once again, this assumes that this tax rate and threshold change is not amended in a future Federal Budget.

Super, Insurance and Exit Fees: The 1 July changes

From 1 July 2019, new laws prevent superannuation providers from eroding member balances with unwanted or unnecessary insurance and exit fees. Plus, inactive accounts with low balances will be moved to the ATO to try and unite the unclaimed super with its owner.

These changes do not apply to self-managed superannuation funds or small APRA funds.

Insurance inside your fund

Up until 30 June 2019, superannuation providers were required to provide members with appropriate life and total and permanent disability (TPD) insurance inside superannuation on an ‘opt out’ basis. That is, the insurance was automatically put into place when you became a member of the fund.

The problem is that for a lot of people, such as young people with no dependants and those with insurance cover elsewhere, these default insurance premiums are a key factor in eroding their superannuation balances. And in many cases, people simply did not realise they had insurance inside their funds.

New laws that came into effect on 1 July 2019 prevent superannuation providers from maintaining ‘default insurance’ for any member with an account that has been inactive for a continuous period of 16 months unless that person has elected to maintain the insurance. An inactive account is one where no contributions or rollovers have been received in the previous 16 month period.

For everyone else, insurance will remain a default on new and existing superannuation funds unless you specifically opt out.

What to do if you are affected

If you are affected, you need to make a decision about whether the insurance held in your fund is valuable to you. Often insurance cover through superannuation is cheaper than what you might be able to access elsewhere. Also, the premiums come out of your fund so they don’t impact on your cashflow. However, if the insurance is unnecessary or duplicated, the premiums will simply erode your account.

Employer default super funds generally provide death and TPD cover. This basic cover may be available without health checks. You can usually increase, decrease, or cancel your default insurance cover. Your super fund’s website will have a product disclosure statement (PDS) which explains the insurer they use and details of the cover available.

If you are affected, the insurance you hold inside your super fund may be cancelled unless you take action. If you choose to, you can keep your insurance by contacting your insurer (login to your insurer’s website and follow the links or call them to find out how to make the election) or by making a contribution. The election cannot be made over the phone to your fund.

Your superannuation provider is obliged to let you know if your insurance is about to be cancelled.

Low balance super accounts moved to ATO

Australians have over $17.5 billion in unclaimed superannuation. From 1 July 2019, superannuation providers will be required to report and pay inactive low-balance accounts to the ATO. Twice a year, super funds will report and pay:

– unclaimed super of members aged 65 years or older, non-member spouses and deceased members.

– unclaimed super of former temporary residents.

– small lost member accounts and insoluble lost member accounts.

– inactive low-balance accounts.

 

A low balance account is one with less than $6,000. These new rules mean that if your superannuation account has less than $6,000, and the account has been inactive for 16 months, the balance will be transferred to the ATO who will attempt to consolidate your superannuation.

Reducing fees and charges

From 1 July 2019, exit fees including fees on partial withdrawals have been abolished for all superannuation fund members regardless of their superannuation account balance.

Where a superannuation fund member’s final account balance is less than $6,000 in a year, new caps apply to the fees that providers can charge. From 1 July 2019, administration and investment fees and other prescribed costs on these accounts will be capped at 3%. If the fund has charged more than 3%, the excess needs to be refunded within 3 months.

What you need to know this tax time

Tax time: what you need to know

A consistent theme this tax time is overclaiming and under reporting. With the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) getting more and more sophisticated in its data matching approaches, taxpayers can expect greater scrutiny where their claims are greater than what is expected. We take a look at the key issues for you, your business and your SMSF.

For you

Work related deductions

Last financial year, over 8.8 million taxpayers claimed $21.98 billion in deductions for work related expenses. It’s an area under intense review by the ATO. If you claim work-related deductions, it’s important to ensure that you are able to substantiate any claim you make.

To claim a deduction, you need to have incurred the expense yourself and not been reimbursed by your employer or business, in most cases you need a record proving you incurred the expense, and the expense has to be directly related to how you earn your income – that is, the expense is directly (not sort of) related to your work. This also means ensuring that you only claim the work-related portion of items you use personally, such as mobile phones or internet services.

When you don’t have to keep records

If your claim for work related deductions is below $300 you do not have to keep a record of the expense, such as a receipt. Work related clothing has a $150 record keeping limit. However, the ATO is concerned that taxpayers are ‘automatically’ claiming these deductions without incurring any expenses because of a belief that you don’t have to support the claim. If you have claimed an amount up to the record keeping threshold, you may find that the ATO will ask you to explain how you came to that amount. If you don’t have diary entries or a good explanation, your claim might be denied.

Working from home

If you don’t have a dedicated work area but you do some work on the couch or at the dining room table, you can claim some of your expenses like the work-related portion of your phone and internet expenses and the decline in value of your computer. If you have a dedicated work area, there are a few more expenses you can claim including some of the running costs of your home such as a portion of your electricity expenses and the decline in value of office equipment.

If your home is your principal place of business, you might be able to claim a range of expenses related to the portion of your home set aside for your business. What the ATO is looking for is an identifiable area of the home used for business.

Ensure any claims are in proportion to the work related use. You can’t, for example, claim all of your internet expenses because you do a bit of work from home in the evenings and need the internet.

Work related clothing

In general, you cannot claim the cost of your work clothes or dry cleaning expenses unless the clothes are occupation specific, such as chefs whites or a uniform with a logo, or protective gear because your workplace has hazards (jeans don’t count as protective wear). Just because you have to wear a suit to work does not make it deductible.

Cryptocurrency

The ATO has a special taskforce dealing specifically with cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrency is considered an asset for tax purposes, rather than a form of currency. This means that gains or losses made on disposal or exchange of cryptocurrency will often be captured under the tax system – regardless of whether you’re switching between currencies or ‘cashing out’ your asset into AUD.

You will need to keep records of all of your trades in order to work out whether you’ve made a taxable gain or loss each time you dispose of an asset.

Capital gains tax can be complex and this is an area that the ATO is looking very closely at, particularly where taxpayers are claiming large losses. Also, some disposals can be taxed as ordinary income which means the CGT discount cannot apply and capital losses cannot be applied against the gains that have been made.

Rental property deductions

In the 2017-18 financial year, more than 2.2 million Australians claimed over $47 billon in deductions and the ATO believes that is too much – one in ten is estimated to contain errors.

What you can claim for your rental property has been significantly curbed. For example, you can no longer claim deductions for the cost of travelling to inspect the property. And, you can no longer claim depreciation deductions for second hand plant and equipment. Previously, you could for example, buy a rental property from someone else and then claim depreciation on the assets already in the property such as the kitchen appliances and carpet. From 1 July 2017, you can only claim deductions for new assets you purchase and install in the property.

4,500 audits of rental property deductions will be undertaken this year with the focus on over-claimed interest, capital works claimed as repairs, incorrect apportionment of expenses for holiday homes let out to others, and omitted income from accommodation sharing. Deliberate cases of over-claiming are treated harshly with penalties of up to 75% of the claim.

When you own a share in a property

For tax purposes, rental income and expenses need to be recognised in line with the legal ownership of the property, except in very limited circumstances where it can be shown that the equitable interest in the property is different from the legal title. The ATO will assume that where the taxpayers are related, the equitable right is the same as the legal title (unless there is evidence to suggest otherwise such as a deed of trust etc.,).

This means that if you hold a 25% legal interest in a property then you should recognise 25% of the rental income and rental expenses in your tax returns even if you pay most or all of the rental property expenses (the ATO would treat this as a private arrangement between the owners).

The main exception is that if the parties have separately borrowed money to acquire their interest in the property then they would claim their own interest deductions.

Earning money from the sharing economy

Income earned from the sharing economy, AirBNB, Uber, AirTasker etc., must be declared in your tax return. But you may also be able to claim proportional expenses associated to providing the service. Ensure that any deductions you claim are related to providing the service itself (not just switching on the app or making yourself available).

If you are a driver with Uber or another platform, you will need to be registered for GST regardless of how often you drive.

Your business

There are around 3.8 million small businesses, including 1.6 million sole traders in Australia. They employ around 5.5 million people and contribute $380bn to the economy. Small business is also in debt to the ATO to the tune of $15bn.

This tax time, the ATO has stated they are looking closely at taxpayers:
– setting up or changing to a company structure
– claiming motor vehicle expenses
– who may not be correctly apportioning between personal and business use

There are a multitude of data-matching programs and benchmarks to catch out those attempting to rort the system.

For wealthy groups and medium businesses, the focus is on structuring to avoid tax:

– international risk – international profit shifting and corporate restructuring
– inappropriate arrangements that seek to extract profits or capital without the right amount of tax being paid
– high risk trust arrangements attempting to gain advantage beyond ordinary trust arrangements or tax planning associated with genuine business or family dealings.

If the ATO suspect there is a problem, you may be contacted to justify why decisions were made to structure your affairs or the affairs of your company in a particular way.

No tax deductions if you don’t meet your tax obligations

From 1 July 2019, if taxpayers do not meet their PAYG withholding and reporting obligations, they will not be able to claim a tax deduction for payments:

– of salary, wages, commissions, bonuses or allowances to an employee;
– of directors’ fees;
– to a religious practitioner;
– under a labour hire arrangement; or
– made for services where the supplier does not provide their ABN.

The main exception is where you realise there is a mistake and voluntarily correct it before the ATO begins a review or audit. In these circumstances, a deduction may still be available if you voluntarily correct the problem but penalties may still apply for the failure to withhold the correct amount of tax. There is also an exception for situations where you make payments to a contractor but then later realise that they should have been paid as an employee, as long as the worker has provided an ABN.

The Government has also proposed that from 1 July 2021, the ABNs of those required to lodge a tax return but have not done so will be cancelled, and from 1 July 2022, ABN holders will be required to confirm the accuracy of their Australian Business Register details each year.

Recording payments to contractors

The taxable payments reporting system requires businesses in certain industries to record and report payments made to contractors to the ATO.

From 1 July 2019, security providers and investigation services, road freight transport, and computer system design and related services businesses will need to collect specific information in relation to payments made to contractors (individual payments and total for the year). These businesses will need to lodge an additional report to the ATO with this information. The first report will be due by 28 August 2020.

Businesses within the building and construction industry, cleaning, and courier services need to report payments to contractors in the year ending 30 June 2019 by 28 August 2019.

This reporting requirement is focused on industries identified as active participants in the black economy, raising around $2.7bn per year in income and GST liabilities.

Your trust

Timing of resolutions

Trustees (or directors of a trustee company) need to consider and decide on the distributions they plan to make by 30 June 2019 at the latest (the trust deed may actually require this to be done earlier).  Decisions made by the trustees should be documented in writing, preferably by 30 June 2019.

If valid resolutions are not in place by 30 June 2019, the risk is that the taxable income of the trust will be assessed in the hands of a default beneficiary (if the trust deed provides for this) or the trustee (in which case the highest marginal rate of tax would normally apply).

TFN reporting

Has your trust lodged TFN reports for all beneficiaries?

Trustees of closely held trusts have some additional reporting obligations outside the lodgement of the trust tax return each year. The ATO is currently reviewing trustees to ensure their compliance with these obligations, particularly the requirement to lodge TFN reports for beneficiaries.

Where beneficiaries have quoted their TFN to the trustee, trustees are required to lodge a TFN report for each beneficiary. The TFN report must be lodged by the end of the month following the end of the quarter in which a beneficiary quoted their TFN. For example, if the trustee receives a beneficiary’s TFN in April, they must lodge a TFN report by the end of July.

Where a TFN has not been provided by a beneficiary, the trustee is required to withhold tax at a rate of 47% and pay this to the ATO. The trustee must also lodge an annual report of all amounts withheld.

Failure to comply with the TFN reporting and withholding requirements may incur penalties.

Your superannuation

Not making your full superannuation contribution? Now you can catch up

This year is the first year of new measures that enable people who have been out of the work force, like new Mums, to top up their superannuation.

If you have:

– A total superannuation balance below $500,000 as at 30 June; and
– Not utilised your entire concessional contributions cap ($25,000) for the year

then you can ‘carry forward’ the unused amount on a rolling 5 year basis.

For example, if your total concessional contributions in the 2018-19 financial year were $10,000 and you meet the eligibility criteria, then you can carry forward the unused $15,000 over the next 5 years. You may then be able to make a higher deductible personal contribution in a later financial year. If you are selling an asset and likely to make a taxable capital gain, a higher deductible personal contribution may assist in reducing your tax liability in the year of sale.

Remember:

– Your total superannuation balance must be below $500,000 as at 30 June of the prior year before you utilise any carried forward amount (within the 5 year term); and
– In some cases, an additional 15% tax can apply (30% total) to concessional contributions made to super where income and concessional contributions exceeds certain thresholds ($250,000 in 2018-19). Your income could be higher than usual in the year when you sell an asset for a capital gain.