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SMSF Borrowing for Property Investment
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SMSF Borrowing for Property Investment

If you’re considering whether to borrow for an investment property through your self managed super fund SMSF, there are many important things you need to know and consider before you do it.

In this article, we’ll explain:

  • The potential advantages of borrowing to invest in property with your SMSF.
  • The potential disadvantages of borrowing to invest in property with your self-managed super fund.
  • The costs of an SMSF investment property loan.
  • How you can get an SMSF investment property loan.
  • Why the loan-to-value (LVR) ratio on an SMSF investment property loan is lower.
  • Why interest rates on self-managed super fund investment property loans are higher than owner-occupied loans.
  • Whether you’ll need to provide a personal guarantee for your self-managed super fund investment property loan.
  • What you can and can’t use an SMSF investment property loan for.
  • Whether you can borrow off a relative for your self-managed super fund investment property loan.
  • Why you must set up a special trust for a self-managed super fund investment property loan.
  • What happens if you don’t set up a special SMSF investment property trust.

The potential advantages of borrowing to invest in property with your self managed super fund SMSF

Potential advantages of borrowing for an investment property through your SMSF include:

  • Your SMSF fund may provide you with enough deposit to qualify for a loan that you may not otherwise be able to afford.
  • You can make loan repayments from your pre-tax dollars. If you can afford it, you can salary sacrifice some of your pre-tax income into your SMSF to help you pay off the loan more quickly. These salary-sacrificed contributions are taxed at just 155, instead of your higher marginal tax rate.
  • Property is an asset class that has the potential to provide both income and capital growth. Like superannuation, it is best regarded as a long-term investment (ideally, ten years or more). Although there might be flat periods during the economic cycle, Australian residential property prices in good locations have a long-term record of capital growth. There is an old saying that there are three important considerations when buying real estate: location, location and location.
  • If you’re self-employed, you can also buy a commercial or industrial property and lease it back to your business at a market rate of rent. This can provide you with more funds to help your business grow.
  • Any income that you earn from an investment property (i.e. the rent you earn from your tenants) can be used to cover your loan repayments.

An SMSF investment property loan could be a good option for you if you are in the following position:

  • You are at least ten years from retirement. Property is a long-term investment for potential capital growth.
  • You have stable employment.
  • You continue to make regular contributions to your self-managed super fund.
  • Have a deposit of about 40% of your intended investment property’s purchase price in your SMSF.
  • Have a diverse portfolio of investment assets in your self-managed super fund.

The potential disadvantages of borrowing for an investment property with your self managed super fund SMSF

Potential disadvantages of borrowing for an investment property through your SMSF include:

  • Property is not a liquid investment, so you don’t want to tie your funds up in it if you or any of your SMSF members are approaching the pension phase.
  • Potentially higher loan setup costs. When buying an investment property through your self-managed super fund you need to set up a special trust (called a security custodian trust). The reasons that this trust is required is explained in more detail later in this article. This additional loan set up costs need to be weighed up against the potential benefits that the SMSF investment property may provide.
  • Reduced potential for negative gearing benefits. Superannuation is a very tax-effective environment. Like other super funds, SMSF income is only taxed at 15%. If you borrow to buy an investment property through your self-managed super fund, you’re only offsetting tax at that 15% rate, not your marginal rate which is likely to be considerably higher if you’re currently working full-time.

What does a self managed super fund SMSF investment property loan cost?

When looking at any loan, it’s important for borrowers to evaluate the total cost of the loan. This includes the interest rate, as well as any associated fees and charges. Depending on the type of investment property loan you get, these fees and charges could include:

  • Loan establishment and ongoing fees.
  • Early loan repayment fees.
  • Late payment fees.
  • Electronic banking fees.
  • Government charges.

One way that you can determine the true cost of a loan is by looking at the comparison rate. Lenders in Australia typically advertise two interest rates for their loan products: a nominal rate and a comparison rate. The nominal rate is always lower than the comparison rate, because it doesn’t consider the loan fees and charges.

The comparison rate on the other hand includes both the interest rate as well as any loan fees and charges. It is sometimes referred to as the true cost of the loan. Lenders in Australia are legally required to advertise the comparison rate on their loan products as part of consumer protection legislation.

As a borrower, you should always consider the comparison rate when evaluating loan products.

In addition to loan interest rates and associated fees and charges, you must set up a security custodian trust to buy an investment property through your SMSF. There will be legal expenses associated with doing this.

Loan repayments for SMSF investment properties must be made from the fund itself. This means that the fund must always have enough cash flow to make these repayments. Having fixed interest investments and shares in your self-managed super investment portfolio can help to ensure this liquidity.

How can I get a SMSF investment property loan?

Borrowing for self-managed super investment property loan must be done under very strict conditions known as a limited recourse borrowing arrangement. It is very important to get this loan documentation correct at the time you buy an SMSF investment property.

Under this limited recourse arrangement, borrowed funds can only be used to buy a single asset, such as a residential or a commercial property. Alterations to the property (e.g. renovations) cannot be made until the loan is paid off. However, repairs and maintenance are allowed. We’ll explain the important distinctions between the two later in this article.

The arrangement protects the other assets of the self-managed super fund in the case of loan default. The lender only has recourse to the asset purchased under the arrangement, not to any other assets of the self-managed super fund. It therefore protects the SMSF member/s.

However, some lenders may require you to amend your self-managed super fund trust deed to give them specific powers in relation to the investment property.

In addition, self-managed super fund loans for vacant land or property construction are generally not being provided by lenders in the current market environment.

Why is the loan-to-value (LVR) ratio lower for a self managed super fund SMSF investment property loan?

A loan-to-value (LVR) ratio is the amount of the loan requested by the borrower expressed as a percentage of the value of the property. For example, if you can provide a deposit of $280,000 from your SMSF as a deposit on an investment property that’s worth $700,000, you would need to borrow $420,000. Your LVR would be 60% ($420,000 divided by $700,000).

A lender will have a self-managed super investment property independently valued prior to approving a loan. The LVRs that they have for investment properties are generally lower than the LVRs for residential, owner-occupied homes. That’s because of the limited recourse borrowing arrangement. The lender has more risk because the lender can’t pursue other assets in your self-managed super fund if you were to default on your repayments. They may require your SMSF to take out lender’s mortgage insurance (LMI) to reduce their risk.

A lower LVR means that you need a higher deposit to qualify. We recommend that you have at least a 40% deposit so that your maximum MVR is 60%, though some lenders will provide loans up to a maximum of 80% LVR for residential investment property.

Why are interest rates higher on self managed super fund SMSF investment property loans?

The interest rates are higher for borrowers with investment property loans than owner-occupied loans because they are viewed as higher risk by lenders. There is a risk that investment properties won’t always be able to attract tenants. Therefore, their rental income isn’t guaranteed.

If your investment property can’t attract a tenant for a significant period, you may have to lower the rent you charge. And if you’re relying heavily on the rental income that the investment property generates to service your loan repayments, there is more risk to the lender.

Of course, you can minimise the risk of tenant vacancies by choosing a property in a highly desirable location.

Residential investment properties are also generally viewed as potentially less risky by lenders than commercial investment properties. That’s because:

  • Commercial properties can have potentially longer tenant vacancies than residential properties, particularly if the commercial property has a very specific business use.
  • The value of commercial properties can be less stable than residential. They tend to grow more slowly, and they can even drop sharply. Several uncontrollable factors can have a significant impact on both the value of a commercial property and the rent that you can potentially charge a tenant when it’s time for a new lease to be negotiated. For example, changes in:
  • Economic conditions
  • Infrastructure
  • Population demographics
  • The number of other commercial properties in the area.

Lenders might require an individual to provide a personal guarantee for a self-managed super investment property loan. This will offer reduce their risk under the limited recourse borrowing arrangement.

Can I use a self managed super fund SMSF property loan for renovations?

You can’t use an SMSF loan to improve an investment property, but you can borrow to repair or maintain it. The ATO has clear definitions for what they will classify as ‘improving’, ‘repairing’ and ‘maintaining’ an investment property.

It’s important to understand these to ensure any SMSF investment property loans you take out comply with superannuation legislation and ATO rulings.

Improving’ is interpreted to mean significantly altering the state of functionality of the investment property. The ATO ruling on this potential issue specifically states the following:

“In contrast to repair, an asset is improved if the state or function of the asset is significantly altered for the better, through substantial alterations, or the addition of further substantial features or rights, to the asset.

Determining if an acquirable asset is merely restored, or whether its state or function is significantly altered for the better, is a question of fact and degree. In each case it is necessary to consider the qualities and characteristics of the acquirable asset that is subject to the LRBA at the time the LRBA was entered into. Whether the state or function of the acquirable asset has altered significantly for the better is determined objectively and without reference to the actual use to which the acquirable asset is put. Alterations will not amount to an improvement if the state or function of the acquirable asset is only bettered to a minor or trifling extent as compared to the asset as a whole.”

– Self Managed Superannuation Funds Ruling 2012/1,23/24.

 Examples of improvements to an investment property that you can’t do using borrowed SMSF funds include:

  • Extensions (e.g. adding a new room or second bathroom).
  • Installing a swimming pool.
  • Installing an audiovisual, lighting or security system.
  • Building a pergola.
  • Subdividing land after it has been acquired.

 However, while you can’t improve an investment property using SMSF borrowed funds, you can do it using other funds that your self-managed super fund may have (i.e. savings or non-borrowed funds).

Repairing’ is interpreted to mean remedying or making good any investment property defects, damage, or deterioration of it. The ATO ruling on this potential issue specifically states the following:
“The term ‘repairing’ ordinarily means remedying or making good defects in, damage to, or deterioration of an asset and contemplates the continued existence of the asset.

A repair is usually occasional and partial. A repair restores the function of the asset without changing its character and may include restoration to its former appearance, form, state or condition. A repair merely replaces a part of something or corrects something that is already there and has become worn out or dilapidated through ordinary wear and tear, or is damaged whether accidentally or deliberately or by natural causes.”

– Self Managed Superannuation Funds Ruling 2012/1, 20/21.

 If your investment property is destroyed by a natural disaster such as a fire, you can rebuild a comparable property with your insurance proceeds and remain compliant with the provisions of the limited recourse borrowing arrangement.

 Maintaining’ has a similar interpretation to repairing, but with an added emphasis on work done to prevent future defects, damage, or deterioration of the investment property. The ATO ruling on this potential issue specifically states the following:

“The term ‘maintaining’ ordinarily means work done to prevent defects, damage or deterioration of an asset, or in anticipation of future defects, damage or deterioration, provided that the work merely ensures the continued functioning of the asset in its present state.”

 – Self Managed Superannuation Funds Ruling 2012/1, 19.

Can I borrow from a relative for a self managed super fund SMSF loan?

Yes, you can borrow from a relative for a self-managed super investment property loan, provided two conditions are met:

  1. The lending terms are more favourable to the SMSF than those that could be provided by an ‘arm’s length’ lender.
  2. The lending terms are not more favourable to the related party providing the money than those that could be provided by an ‘arm’s length provider.

This means that a related party could legally do two things:

  1. Charge the SMSF no or minimal interest on investment property loan funds that they provide.
  2. Lend your self-managed super fund up to 100% of the value of the investment property.

The legality of this type of borrowing arrangement has been confirmed by a 2010 ATO interpretative decision (ATO ID 2010/62).

However, its important to understand that in favourable SMSF borrowing situations like these with related parties, the ATO may interpret that any income that the self-managed super fund derives from the investment property as ‘non-arm’s length income’. If it is, it is taxed at the highest marginal tax rate (currently 45% for the 2017-2018 financial year).

This is obviously much higher than the 15% concessional tax rate for SMSF arm’s length income, so the costs and benefits of this type of SMSF investment property loan borrowing arrangement need to be carefully analysed before decision is made to inter into it.

It’s important to seek professional advice about whether this would be an appropriate type of investment property loan for your self-managed super fund.

Why do I have to set up a trust for a self managed super fund SMSF investment property?

Legal ownership of the investment property when it is purchased is held in a trust (called a security custodian trust) set up for that specific purpose prior to its actual purchase.  Setting up this trust should therefore be done before you choose a property and before you approach a lender for finance. An SMSF investment property must be bought in the name of the security custodian trust, not in the name of an individual member or the SMSF.

The self-managed super fund acquires beneficial ownership of the property when it is purchased. The loan and associated property documentation will need to reflect this. It means that the self-managed super fund will be credited with all income and capital growth associated with the property.

All investment property financial transactions are then done directly by the SMSF. For example, loan repayments and expenses associated with the property.

Upon full repayment of the investment property loan, legal ownership is transferred to the SMSF.

It’s important to note that self-managed super fund trustees cannot also be trustees of their security custodian trust that holds the legal title to their investment property. That’s because you can’t legally hold something in trust for yourself. However, you can set up a separate company to act as a trustee.

The security custodian trust must be managed to ensure compliance with SMSF legislation. This means that all paperwork must be kept up-to-date and this is something that will be checked as part of your annual self-managed super fund audit.

Non-compliance with superannuation legislation could result in a forced sale of the investment property at a potentially substantial financial loss to your SMSF.

How we can help

There are multiple factors to consider when deciding whether an SMSF is a good option for you and how to structure it and manage it in the most tax effective way.

Our expert SMSF Accountants would be happy to speak or meet with you to discuss your situation. We’ll take the time to understand your circumstances and provide advice that maximises your financial position.

You can contact us on 1300 883 597. We have offices in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne and provide full SMSF services Australia wide via internet, email and phone.

This article is for general information purposes only and has not been prepared with reference to the circumstances of any particular person. You should seek your own independent financial, legal and taxation advice before making any decision in relation to the material in this article.