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Labor's new franking policy is unfair to LICs

The Labor Party needs to articulate how it will treat shareholders in Listed Investment Companies (LICs) fairly under their proposal to deny refunds for excess franking credits.

The current system of taxation of dividends ensures that Australian resident shareholders are taxed at their applicable rate of income tax on dividends received from companies, rather than a minimum of the company tax rate. Denying refunds for excess franking credits will require complex changes to legislation to maintain the existing policy of allowing shareholders in LICs to effectively receive the CGT discount on capital gains earned by the LIC.

When a LIC earns a capital gain it pays income tax on the capital gain at the corporate tax rate, typically 30%. When it pays the capital gain to the shareholder as a LIC dividend, the shareholder is taxed on the dividend and franking credit in the usual way, but also receives a tax deduction that represents the CGT discount the shareholder would receive if they derived the gain directly or received it from a trust.

Below is the analysis showing the calculations for an investor (super fund or High Net Wealth Individual) investing in a LIC or either directly in shares or via a trust.

Calculation of tax payable on a $10,000 capital gain by:

  • Super fund in accumulation phase invested in an LIC (Super-LIC)
  • Super fund in accumulation phase invested in a trust or direct shares (Super-Trust)
  • High net worth individual (HNWI-Trust)

Currently, they receive a refund of the excess tax paid by the LIC above their tax rate after the tax deduction for the CGT discount. Denying the refund of excess franking credits results in the shareholder paying 30% tax on the dividend. This is a 27% higher rate of tax on a capital gain than is paid by someone on the top marginal rate of tax. This means a super fund will pay at least three times that rate of tax on a capital gain distributed by a LIC when compared to a capital gain it earns itself or via a trust and 27% more tax than an individual on the highest rate of tax.

(That is, a HNWI pays $2,350 on a $10,000 capital gain. A super fund in accumulation phase pays $3,000 on a capital gain earned by a LIC. The difference is $650 divided by the tax paid by the HNWI of $2,350 gives 27% more tax payable by the super fund).

Given that a large percentage of investors in LICs are super funds and that many investors in LICs are not wealthy, this is an inequitable result that will need to be addressed.

 

Howard Badger is a Partner in Tax Consulting at Pitcher Partners. This article is general information that does not consider the circumstances of any individual.

5 Comments
Michael Newman
April 13, 2018

So why did Costello change it from Keating's original purpose and at what cost to revenue since and how did it work before the changes?

Daryl Wilson (Affluence Funds)
April 09, 2018

Listed Investment Trusts such as recent IPO Magellan Global Trust (MGG) are a much better structure than an LIC. A LIT pays no tax, just passes on any taxable income (plus any franking credits received) to the end investor in the same way as an unlisted managed fund.

This is a much more efficient system and avoids the situation described above. In addition, it means any discounted capital gains can also be passed directly through - in our experience very few LICs actually state the capital gain portion of dividends and thus investors get very little advantage from the tax deduction.

Don McLennan
April 09, 2018

Shorten's original plan was to only allow Franking Credits to used to pay tax.
Bill quickly changed so now SMSF in the pension phase are about the only sector to be hit by
this measure.
Most members of a SMSF in the pension phase with a balance below $1.6m could lose their "credits". In my case i will lose 20% of my income. In fact i would be better off paying the 15% tax which those in the accumulation phase
Most high wealth individuals that Labor aims to target probably have over $3m in "super".
As an adviser i would advise them to reduce their holdings of companies paying fully franked dividends in their $1.6 section Holding these in their section paying 15% tax
Many will be able to use all their franking credits in this section
So it seems that some of the middle class who have saved hard & are now self funded retirees will be the group mostly hit.

D Ramsay
April 12, 2018

Well said.
Additionally why doesn't the Labour party be honest and only go after the ones they really want - namely the folks in SMSF's that have >$1.6M in super and put in a means test that exempts those that are below the above threshold from losing their franking credits.
I believe the figures are such that 97% of folks receiving franking credits are on annual taxable incomes of <$87K.
Labour discourages people from being self funded in retirement.

Frankie
April 06, 2018

Another unintended consequence for the new policy to fix.

 

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