Positives and negatives of gearing

Negatively gearing an investment property is viewed by many Australians as a tax effective way to get ahead.

According to Treasury, more than 1.9 million people earned rental income in 2012-13 and of those about 1.3 million reported a net rental loss.

So it was no surprise that many people were worried about how they would be affected if Labor had won the May 2019 federal election and negative gearing was phased out as they had proposed. With the Coalition victory, it appears negative gearing is here to stay.

While that may have brought a sigh of relief for many, negative gearing is not always the best investment strategy. Your individual circumstances will determine whether negative gearing is advisable. For many, it may pay to positively gear.

So, what is gearing?

Basically, it’s when you borrow money to make an investment. That goes for any investment, but property is where the strategy is most commonly used.

If the rental returns from an investment property are less than the amount you pay in interest and outgoings you can offset this loss against your other assessable income. This is what’s called negative gearing.

In contrast, positive gearing is when the income from your investment is greater than the outgoings and you make a profit. When this occurs, you may be liable for tax on the net income you receive but you could still end up ahead.

While negative gearing may prove tax effective, it’s dependent on the after-tax capital gain ultimately outstripping your accumulated losses.

The importance of capital gains

If your investment falls in value or doesn’t appreciate, then you will be out of pocket. Not only will you have lost money on the way through, but you won’t have made up that loss through a capital gain when you sell.

That’s the key reason why you should never buy an investment property solely for tax breaks.

But if the investment does indeed grow in value, then as long as you have owned it for more than 12 months you will only be taxed on 50 per cent of any increase in value.

When it pays to think positive

If you are retired and have most of your money in superannuation, negative gearing may not be so attractive. This is because all monies in your super are tax-free on withdrawal. And thanks to the Seniors and Pensioners Tax Offset (SAPTO), you may also earn up to $32,279 as a single or $57,948 as a couple outside super before being subject to tax.

It makes more sense to negatively gear during your working years with the aim of being in positive territory by the time you retire so you can live off the income from your investment.

While buying the right property at a time of your life when you are working and paying reasonable amounts in tax may make negative gearing a good option, sometimes positive gearing may still be a better strategy.

Case study

ASIC’s “MoneySmartwebsite compares two people each on an income of $70,000 a year. They each buy an investment property worth $400,000, paying 6 per cent interest. Additional expenses are $5000 a year while the rental income is $500 a week.

Rod negatively gears, borrowing the full purchase price; Karen is positively geared with a loan of $100,000. In terms of annual net income, Rod who negatively geared is worse off than if he had not invested in a property at all, with net income of $52,868.

Positively geared Karen ended up $10,000 ahead, with net income for the year of $64,433.

Of course, if his property grows in value over time, Rod should ultimately recoup some or all these extra payments.

Claiming expenses

If you do negatively gear, then it’s important that you claim everything that’s allowed and keep accurate records.

For investment property, this includes advertising for tenants, body corporate fees, gardening and lawn moving, pest control and insurance along with your interest payments.

If you want to know whether negative gearing is the right strategy for you, then call us to discuss on 03 5120 1400.

Material contained in this publication is a summary only and is based on information believed to be reliable and received from sources within the market. It is not the intention of RGM Financial Planners Pty Ltd ABN 36 419 582 Australian Financial Services Licence Number 229471, RGM Accountants & Advisors Pty Ltd ABN 69 528 723 510 or RGM Finance Brokers Pty Ltd ABN 81 330 778 236 (RGM) that this publication be used as the primary source of readers’ information but as an adjunct to their own resources and training. No representation is given, warranty made or responsibility taken as to the accuracy, timeliness or completeness of any information or recommendation contained in this publication and RGM and its related bodies corporate will not be liable to the reader in contract or tort (including for negligence) or otherwise for any loss or damage arising as a result of the reader relying on any such information or recommendation (except in so far as any statutory liability cannot be excluded).

Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.

Is the tide turning for property?

For the first time in years, the planets seem to be aligning for homebuyers and property investors. Interest rates are falling, property prices largely appear to be stabilising and constraints on bank mortgage lending have been relaxed.

It’s welcome news for first homebuyers and anyone who has been waiting on the sidelines for a signal that the downturn in house prices could be at or near the bottom in key markets such as Melbourne and Sydney.

As is always the case though with the national housing market, the full story is more than a tale of two cities.

House price slide losing momentum

According to research group CoreLogic, in the year to July the national housing market fell 6.4 per cent. This fall was driven by the two biggest markets Sydney (down 9.0 per cent) and Melbourne (down 8.2 per cent). 

Perth, still coming down from the peak of the mining boom, and Darwin suffered similar declines. Brisbane fell 2.4 per cent and Adelaide was down 0.8 per cent from a much lower peak. Hobart (up 2.8 per cent) and Canberra (up 1.1 per cent) were the only capital cities to rise in the year to July. 

But in the aftermath of the May federal election and the first of the Reserve Bank’s two recent interest rate cuts, the downhill slide in prices began to lose momentum. 

In July, home values recorded zero growth nationally, with signs the housing conditions are stabilising. Most tellingly, prices rose slightly for the second month in a row in both Sydney (up 0.2 per cent) and Melbourne (up 0.2 per cent). However the stabilisation in housing values is becoming more broadly based with Brisbane, Hobart and Darwin also recording rises in values. i 

Reserve Bank opens the bidding

In hindsight, the Reserve Bank’s recent decision to cut interest rates for the first time since 2016 could mark the beginning of the end of the downturn in home prices. 

In June, the Reserve Bank lowered the cash rate from 1.5 per cent to a new historic low 1.25 per cent and followed up in July with another cut to 1 per cent. 

Mortgage interest rates are also low by historic standards. In early July, the average standard variable mortgage rates of the big four banks were all around 4.9 per cent. The best available rates from smaller lenders are now below 3 per cent. ii 

Banking regulator joins in

The Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority (APRA) is also doing its bit to breathe new life into the property market. 

In July, the banking regulator scrapped a rule that required banks to assess new mortgage customers on their ability to manage repayments with 7.25 per cent interest rates no matter what their actual rate might be. 

APRA will now require banks to test if borrowers can manage repayments at least 2.5 percentage points above a loan’s current rate. With many mortgage rates for new customers currently around 3.5 per cent, this would mean banks would have to test whether customers could afford repayments of 6 per cent instead of 7.25 per cent. iii 

As a result, comparison website RateCity estimates someone earning the average wage ($83,455) could see their borrowing power increase by $66,000 to $544,000. iv 

Property investing beyond houses

Australians’ love affair with bricks and mortar is legendary, but there is more than one way to profit from property. 

If you’re thinking of buying as an investment, rather than as a place to call home, there may be opportunities to invest directly in commercial property or via a managed fund. 

Listed property trusts, property ETFs (exchange traded funds) and traditional unlisted managed funds offer a way to invest in a diversified portfolio of properties in Australia and overseas. As well as residential property they can invest in retail, office and industrial property. 

If you would like to discuss your property investment strategy in light of recent developments, give us a call. 

i All house price data from Core Logic, 1 July 2019, https://www.corelogic.com.au/sites/default/files/2019-07/CoreLogic%20home%20value%20index%20JULY%202019%20FINAL.pdf 

ii The Sun Herald, 1 August 2019, https://www.corelogic.com.au/sites/default/files/2019-08/CoreLogic%20home%20value%20index%20AUGUST%20FINAL.pdf 

iii APRA, 5 July 2019, https://www.apra.gov.au/media-centre/media-releases/apra-finalises-amendments-guidance-residential-mortgage-lending 

iv RateCity, 5 July 2019, https://www.ratecity.com.au/home-loans/mortgage-news/apra-changes-average-aussie-family-can-now-borrow-60k

Material contained in this publication is a summary only and is based on information believed to be reliable and received from sources within the market. It is not the intention of RGM Financial Planners Pty Ltd ABN 36 419 582 Australian Financial Services Licence Number 229471, RGM Accountants & Advisors Pty Ltd ABN 69 528 723 510 or RGM Finance Brokers Pty Ltd ABN 81 330 778 236 (RGM) that this publication be used as the primary source of readers’ information but as an adjunct to their own resources and training. No representation is given, warranty made or responsibility taken as to the accuracy, timeliness or completeness of any information or recommendation contained in this publication and RGM and its related bodies corporate will not be liable to the reader in contract or tort (including for negligence) or otherwise for any loss or damage arising as a result of the reader relying on any such information or recommendation (except in so far as any statutory liability cannot be excluded).

Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.