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An Example of the Unfairness of QLD Land Tax to Non-Resident Citizens

There are recent amendments to the laws relating to land tax on properties located in QLD and they can oppressively burden Australian citizens living overseas. Many Aussies have invested in property in QLD and then gone and lived overseas for lifestyle and or living costs hoping to enjoy their retirement by living in their rental incomes. But they are now being taxed so high that many will either need to come back to Australia or sell their properties.

QLD is the only state that taxes Australian Citizens like this.

The issue is that there are different land tax rates for ‘absentees’. Australian citizens who are outside of Australian for more than 6 months canfall into the definition on ‘absentee’. The absentee doesn’t get the $600,000 threshold like non-absentees – their threshold is just $350,000. Plus the rate they pay is higher too. On land worth $1mil the absented rate is 1.7%but the non-absentee individual rate is just 1%.

Now there is also an ‘absentee surcharge’ that goes on top of the absentee rate. For land valued at more than $350,000 the rate is 1.5%.

This means on land worth $1mil the land tax rate would be 3.2% – every year.

Here is an example of how harsh in can be:

John is retired and has a property worth $800,000 with a land value of $500,000 in QLD.

He is getting $500 pw rent, or $400pw after costs. It is fully paid off and this would be John’s only source of income when he quits his job.

John goes and lives in Myanmar where it is cheap to live as he can live like a king on $400 per week.

Poor John didn’t factor in land tax.

Before leaving Australia there was no land tax payable.

Now, since he is living overseas he will be classed as an ‘absentee’ owner as he is not ordinarily residing in Australian.

Section 31 Land Tax Act 2010 QLD.

http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/legis/qld/consol_act/lta201090/s31.html

Because John is an ‘absentee’ Schedule 3 of the Land Tax Act applies to determine the rate of land tax John will pay.

Part 1 is the general rate and it is charged at $1,450 plus 1.7 cents for each $1 in value more than $350,000.

This equates to $4,000

Ouch!

But it gets worse, because Schedule 3 has a Part 2 which imposes a Surcharge Rate.

Therefore there is an additional 1.5 cents payable for each $1 in value more than $349,999.

In John’s situation this will be $2,250.

John’s total land tax went from $0 to $6,250 per year.

Poor John is now living on $280 per week. His income has been cut in half almost.

And this is before we even consider the Commonwealth tax issues of him living overseas and possibly being a non-resident for income tax. This could leave John was extra income tax of about $4,728 per year.

This would mean his annual post tax income has gone from around $20,000 to $9,821 or $188 per week.

Next year there could be a jump in values which may result in even more land tax (but possibly no increase in rents).

Poor bastard!

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Offset in the name of the lower income earner

Once you have paid off your main residence you will probably want an offset account on one of your investment properties. This will be a useful place to store cash from rents and wages and also to save up a buffer for emergencies.

Where you have used the strategy of buying properties in sole names, some in the name of Spouse A and some in Spouse B, you can move money around to create tax savings.

You would generally want the cash in the name of the lower income earner as this spouse would generally be the one paying the least tax. Where there are several lenders involved (with that spouse) you would choose the lender with the highest rate as this will produce the highest return.

Money in an offset means less interest is incurred which means more income from the property.

Example

Homer is on the top marginal tax rate and his wife Marg has a taxable income of $0. They each own 2 rental properties. They have just paid off their home and old man Simpson has died and left them with $200,000 cash.

Where should they put it?

The answer, from a tax perspective, would be in an offset account attached to Marg’s loans.

Loan A is at 5% pa and Loan B at 5.5% pa. Both have offset accounts.

In this situation if $200,000 is deposited in:

Loan A the savings would be $10,000 per year. Marg would pay no tax on this

Loan B, the savings would be $11,000 per year. Marg would pay no tax on this.

There would no extra tax to pay as Marg’s income is $0 before this, and after depositing her income would be either $10,000 or $11,000 both of which are under the tax free threshold.

Let’s say Homer had 2 loans with each at 6% pa. If the $200,000 was deposited into either of Homer’s offset accounts the interest savings would be

$12,000 per year.

But as Homer’s interest decreases by $12,000 his income increases by this amount and because he is on the 47% tax rate 47% or $5,640 would be lost in extra tax.

Thus after considering tax the funds would be better placed into the offset account on Loan B belonging to Marg.

Keep in mind the legal consequences of ownership in different names too:

  • asset protection
  • estate planning on death
  • effect on spousal loan strategies

Perhaps a private loan agreement, even at nil%, can assist in legal planning.

This is also another reason to consider purchasing in sole names.

 

Written by Terry Waugh, CTA & lawyer at Structuring Lawyers, www.structuringlawyers.com.au

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