It’s July, there’s a nip in the air and winter has well and truly set in, as Australia deals with COVID outbreaks across several states. But July also marks the start of the new financial year, a good time to reflect on how far we have come since this time last year and to make plans for the year ahead.

As the financial year ended, there was plenty to celebrate on the economic front despite the continuing impact of COVID-19. Australia rebounded out of recession, with economic growth up 1.8% in March, the third consecutive quarterly rise. Interest rates remain at an historic low of 0.1% and inflation sits at just 1.1%, well below the Reserve Bank’s 2-3% target. Despite fears that global economic recovery will lead to higher inflation and interest rates, the Reserve has indicated rates will not rise until 2024 or annual wage growth reaches 3% (currently 1.5%).

In other positive news, unemployment continues to fall – from 5.5% to 5.1% in May. Retail trade rose 0.1% in May, up 7.4% up on the year, as consumer confidence grows. The ANZ-Roy Morgan consumer confidence index lifted by almost a point in June to 112.2 points.

Australia’s trade surplus increased from $5.8 billion in March to $8 billion in April, the 40th consecutive monthly rise, on the back of strong Chinese demand for our iron ore and other commodities. Iron ore prices rose 6.7% in June and almost 36% in 2021 to date. Oil prices have also surged, with Bent Crude up 8.4% in June and 45% this year. That’s good for producers and energy stocks, but not so good for businesses reliant on fuel and consumers at the petrol bowser. The Aussie dollar finished the year around US75c, up from US69c a year ago but down on its 3-year high of just under US80c in February due to US dollar strength.

As the new financial year gets underway, there are some big changes to superannuation that could add up to a welcome lift in your retirement savings.

Some, like the rise in the Superannuation Guarantee (SG), will happen automatically so you won’t need to lift a finger. Others, like higher contribution caps, may require some planning to get the full benefit.

Here’s a summary of the changes starting from 1 July 2021.

Increase in the Super Guarantee

If you are an employee, the amount your employer contributes to your super fund has just increased to 10 per cent of your pre-tax ordinary time earnings, up from 9.5 per cent. For higher income earners, employers are not required to pay the SG on amounts you earn above $58,920 per quarter (up from $57,090 in 2020-21).

Say you earn $100,000 a year before tax. In the 2021-22 financial year your employer is required to contribute $10,000 into your super account, up from $9,500 last financial year. For younger members especially, that could add up to a substantial increase in your retirement savings once time and compound earnings weave their magic.

The SG rate is scheduled to rise again to 10.5 per cent on 1 July 2022 and gradually increase until it reaches 12% on 1 July 2025.

Higher contributions caps

The annual limits on the amount you can contribute to super have also been lifted, for the first time in four years.

The concessional (before tax) contributions cap has increased from $25,000 a year to $27,500. These contributions include SG payments from your employer as well as any salary sacrifice arrangements you have in place and personal contributions you claim a tax deduction for.

At the same time, the cap on non-concessional (after tax) contributions has gone up from $100,000 to $110,000. This means the amount you can contribute under a bring-forward arrangement has also increased, provided you are eligible.

Under the bring-forward rule, you can put up to three years’ non-concessional contributions into your super in a single financial year. So this year, if eligible, you could potentially contribute up to $330,000 this way (3 x $110,000), up from $300,000 previously. This is a useful strategy if you receive a windfall and want to use some of it to boost your retirement savings.

More generous Total Super Balance and Transfer Balance Cap

Super remains the most tax-efficient savings vehicle in the land, but there are limits to how much you can squirrel away in super for your retirement. These limits, however, have just become a little more generous.

The Total Super Balance (TSB) threshold which determines whether you can make non-concessional (after-tax) contributions in a financial year is assessed at 30 June of the previous financial year. The TSB at which no non-concessional contributions can be made this financial year will increase to $1.7 million from $1.6 million.

Just to confuse matters, the same limit applies to the amount you can transfer from your accumulation account into a retirement phase super pension. This is known as the Transfer Balance Cap (TBC), and it has also just increased to $1.7 million from $1.6 million.

If you retired and started a super pension before July 1 this year, your TBC may be less than $1.7 million and you may not be able to take full advantage of the increased TBC. The rules are complex, so get in touch if you would like to discuss your situation.

Reduction in minimum pension drawdowns extended

In response to record low interest rates and volatile investment markets, the government has extended the temporary 50 per cent reduction in minimum pension drawdowns until 30 June 2022.

Retirees with certain super pensions and annuities are required to withdraw a minimum percentage of their account balance each year. Due to the impact of the pandemic on retiree finances, the minimum withdrawal amounts were also halved for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 financial years.

Time to prepare

There’s a lot for super fund members to digest. SMSF trustees in particular will need to ensure they document changes that affect any of the members in their fund. But these latest changes also present retirement planning opportunities.

Whatever your situation, if you would like to discuss how to make the most of the new rules, please get in touch.

Robert Sekulovski of The Wealth Quay is an Authorised Representative of RI Advice Group Pty Ltd, ABN 23 001 774 125 AFSL 238429. This editorial does not consider your personal circumstances and is of a general nature only – unless otherwise stated. You should not act on the information provided without first obtaining professional financial advice specific to your circumstances.