You have a right to arrange your financial affairs so you can keep the tax you pay down to a minimum. This is referred to as tax planning, or tax-effective investing. It is also a legitimate way to save and permitted by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) within the context of the law.
Unfortunately again and again, scammers promote schemes that are either outside of the law or that rip people off entirely. These are known as tax avoidance schemes or arrangements. These schemes can risk your original investments, and you might also need to pay back tax along with interest and penalties.
So, how can you protect yourself from scammers and not lose your hard-earned money? After all, it’s hard to know who to trust.
What To Look Out For
The shady underside of tax avoidance schemes is that scammers might be someone you think you can trust. Professionals including accountants, lawyers, financial advisers, telemarketers and salespeople in shopping centres to name a few.
It pays to ask a few questions before you trust their advice in order to mitigate your chance of being scammed.
- Do they offer zero-risk guarantees?
- Do they refer to an advisor who they say has specific knowledge about your arrangement and promise tax benefits?
- Do they claim to be an industry or topic expert?
- Do they swear you to secrecy to protect them from competition?
- Do they charge a fee or commission based on tax saved?
- Do they discourage you from obtaining independent advice?
- Do they offer a PDS or prospectus for the product?
- Do they offer specific advice about phoenixing or liquidation of key companies?
Some tax avoidance schemes involve promotions with mechanisms you think will meet your financial needs, however there are warning signs you should be aware of. These promoters are always looking for ways to exploit the unknowing, or pounce on changes to the taxation laws and promise tax benefits that simply aren’t there or legally available. The schemes they offer you may be only a slight change to actual law, and some even do sound legal until you have the knowledge and knowhow to dig further.
Schemes that involve interest repayments funded through tax deductions, complex financing arrangements through limited recourse loans, non-recourse loans where the lender has no recourse under the terms of the loan to pursue the debt if repayments fail, or round robin financing where funds are passed through various entities such as an investor lending you money to invest in a product are all schemes to look out for.
Some of these schemes do sound like they are legal on the surface, such as deferring income so that the tax is paid in a later period can all sound just like the action you need to take, but might be illegally handled as an excuse to get their hand on your money.
Tax avoidance schemes can range from boutique or specialised arrangements to mass-marketed arrangements advertised publicly.
If the promoter guarantees a no risk in an arrangement, it’s time to seek more advice. Schemes such as not declaring income, or hiding income into an off-shore tax haven, changing the nature of the income so less tax is paid (changing capital expenses into revenue expenses), changing private expenses into business expenses, creating an entitlement to a tax offset or credit otherwise not available, moving income into a trust or partnership that move people into a lower tax bracket, creating or inflating tax deductions, moving taxable income to an entity that is tax exempt or has a lower tax rate, or setting up businesses for the sole purpose of obtaining tax benefits without a business purpose can land you in a place you don’t want to be in.
A number of schemes that focus on superannuation funds and retirement planning are on the rise. These types of schemes try to have individuals channel their money inappropriately through their self-managed super fund (SMSF). Not only are the penalties high, but an individual might lose the right to be a trustee of their own superannuation fund and in some cases may face jail time.
There are common features to schemes that involve superannuation, such as complex structures surrounding an existing or new SMSF to bamboozle, involve unnecessary steps or transactions, are designed around zero or minimal tax or even a tax refund, or aim to bring forward a tax benefit.
If it sounds too good to be true, it often is.
Tax Avoidance Schemes To Look Out For
Typically, if a scheme involves complex transactions or distorts the way funds are used in order to avoid tax, increase rebates or avoid tax altogether should ring alarm bells.
Common tax avoidance arrangements of concern are:
- Unit trust arrangements and unpaid present entitlements
- Research and development tax incentives
- Retirement planning schemes
- Financial products
- Collapse and restructure of agribusiness managed investment schemes
- Employee benefit arrangements
- Lump sum payments received by healthcare practitioners
- Private company profit extraction
- Illegal early release of super
What Can You Do?
Tax planning can be complex. Rules, regulations and laws often change and unless you have your ear to the ground, it’s easy to become caught up in illegal schemes that sound well and good on the surface, but are anything but legal.
ITP Accounting Professionals are well positioned to recognise potential tax avoidance schemes. If a professional offers low transparency on your tax affairs, offer large, once off payments or offers you a lifestyle not supported by your after-tax income, you should look further.
If you’re in doubt, contact the ATO online, or speak with an ITP Tax Accountant who can guide and tell you what to do. You should note the details of the arrangement, the name and contact details of the advisor or promoter, promotional material, tax advice provided and cost of the arrangement. Even if you think you’ve become caught up in a scheme, it’s not too late to call.
An ITP Tax Accountant not only helps with your tax planning to save you time and money, they will also ensure that that claims you can make are legitimate and lawful. ITP Tax Accountants are registered tax agents with the Tax Practitioners Board (TPG) have no connection to prior sellers or arrangements and offer non-biased advice.