I've been doing some research on Self-Managed Superannuation (Retirement) Funds with a view to setting one up for myself, DW, DS1 and DS2 (luckily the maximum number of members in a SMSF is a perfect fit to my "nuclear" family).
The potential benefits of a SMSF compared to my company-selected superannuation fund are:
* can invest in any "suitable" investment (eg. direct shares, index funds) rather than picking from the list of 20 or so managed funds available via my current Super Account.
* saving money on fees - although our employer has arranged for a "rebate" of part of the standard admin fee charged by the Super Fund (so it ends up being around 0.4% instead of 0.95%, plus the managed fund management fees of around 1-1.5%), this is still higher than the $500 pa "flat fee" available from eSuperFund.com.au for a SMSF (eg. on my current Super Account balance of $315K this equates to an admin fee of 0.16% pa)
There are some possible drawbacks though:
* I currently have life insurance via my Super Fund. If I changed funds I'd have to apply for cover again, and, for the amount of cover I currently have ($400K) I'd probably have to pass a medical exam
* As a member of a SMSF I'd have to be a trustee and be responsible for setting an investment policy and abiding by the rules regarding running a SMSF, otherwise the SMSF can lose it's tax-advantaged status. This shouldn't be too onerous though, as I previously acted as an employee-appointed Superannuation Fund trustee at my previous job.
The other thing I have to consider is shifting some of my assets that are currently held outside of Superannuation (ie. my geared investments in Australian shares) into a Superannuation account to save tax. Basically an undeducted contribution of up to $1M can be made before Sep 2007 (due to recent changes in the Superannuation rules) and there won't be any contribution tax. Once held by a Superannuation Fund, the assets income is only taxed at 15% (rather than my personal marginal tax rate of around 30%+) and capital gains are taxed at 10% (rather than half my personal marginal tax rate). Also, once I reach retirement age (65) all withdrawals from the Superannuation account are not taxable under the new rules.
The disadvantages of putting these assets into a SMSF are:
* Can't "borrow" for a Superannuation investment, so gearing is out. However, this isn't a big issue as I'm thinking of eliminating my gearing this year anyhow as the stock market has had a good run for 3 years and will eventually have a "correction" of 10%-30%, not a good time to be geared up. Also, Superannuation Funds can invest in "warrants" which give you similar effects as margin loans, but without the risk of margin calls (but the effective "interest rate" built into warrants is higher).
* You can't "roll" existing stock investments into a Superannuation account without triggering a CGT "event" - so I'd have to pay Capital Gains Tax on the currently unrealised gains in my stock portfolio. If I was just selling off enough of my stocks to pay off my margin loans I could probably offset a large part of the realised gains by selling off all the "losers" in my portfolio.
* I'll have to get all my CGT records up to date in Quicken so I can work out how much capital gains tax I'd be liable for (I have old records up to 1998 in my old Quicken backups, but need to trawl though the past 8 years of transactions to get my CGT records up to date! It's amazing how little time I've had "spare" to do my financial records in Quicken since I got married and started a family!). I wouldn't want to do the transfer till after the end of the Australian tax year (30 June) as DW is on maternity leave this FY and may get some family assistance money if our combined income is not too high this FY. So the "window of opportunity" to make a large (up to $1M) undeducted contribution into Super for me is between 1 Jul and Sep this year. After Sep the max undeducted contribution each FY is going to be $50K, so it would then take 6 years to shift my current Australia Share investment into Super.
* Once assets are in a Super Fund they can't be "released" until retirement (except in exceptional circumstances). Thus, I'll be keeping some other assets outside of Super to act as my "Emergency Fund".
I'm also looking into DirectPortfolio.com.au which offers a managed direct share service, which can be done within a SMSF. I like the fact that they run individual stock holdings for each account, so you avoid some of the unintended tax effects that can arise when investing in managed funds. But their admin/management fee is quite high (around 2%) and you have to pay a $1000 setup fee when open an account with them. The setup fee covers recording all your CGT history if you transfer existing stock holdings to them, so it would be reasonable if I transferred my existing stocks without triggering a CGT event. But if I transfer my shares into a SMSF CGT will have been paid on the date of transfer, so there's no CGT history data required - so the $1000 setup fee seems a bit high in that case. Looking at DirectPortfolios results for their various "mandates" they have achieved around 2.3% above the ASX200 accumulation index for this period, which means they "outperform" by slightly (0.35%) more than the fees are costing. But, they don't provide data on the "beta" of their "mandates" so it's hard to tell if their risk-adjusted return actually outperforms enough to offset the management fee. So, if I decide to move my stock assets into a SMSF I'll probably just sell them off and deposit cash into the SMSF, then use it to buy a Vanguard Index Fund (perhaps their "High Growth" Fund).
Lots to research and think about in the next 5-6 months!