Self-Managed Super Funds (SMSFs) have become increasingly popular among Australians looking for greater control over their retirement savings. This guide aims to provide a detailed overview of SMSFs, covering their advantages and disadvantages, compliance requirements and recent regulatory scrutiny. By the end of this article, you’ll have a clearer understanding of whether an SMSF is the right choice for you and how to manage it responsibly.

What is a SMSF?

A Self-Managed Super Fund (SMSF) is a type of superannuation fund designed to give its members control over how their retirement savings are managed and invested. Unlike industry or retail super funds, where investment decisions are made by professional fund managers, SMSF members act as trustees, making investment decisions on behalf of the fund.

Key Roles and Responsibilities

  • Trustees: Individuals who manage the SMSF. Trustees can either be individuals or a corporate trustee structure.
  • Members: Individuals whose superannuation savings are held within the SMSF. In most cases, trustees are also members of the SMSF.

Pros of SMSFs

Control and Flexibility

SMSFs offer unparalleled control and flexibility. Trustees can tailor their investment strategy to suit their individual risk tolerance, investment preferences, and retirement goals. This control extends to asset allocation, investment choices, and even the timing of purchases and sales.

Investment Choices

SMSFs provide access to a broader range of investment options compared to traditional super funds. Trustees can invest in:

  • Direct property
  • Shares and bonds
  • Cash and term deposits
  • Private companies and business ventures
  • Collectibles (subject to strict regulations)

Potential Cost Savings

For those with larger super balances, SMSFs can be cost-effective. While there are setup and ongoing administrative costs, these can be spread over a larger asset base, potentially reducing the overall cost per member compared to industry or retail funds.

Tax Benefits

SMSFs enjoy the same tax concessions as other super funds. Investment earnings are taxed at a concessional rate of 15%, and capital gains on assets held for more than 12 months are taxed at an effective rate of 10%. Additionally, when in the pension phase, investment earnings are generally tax-free.

Estate Planning

SMSFs offer flexible estate planning options. Trustees can tailor the fund’s rules to ensure that benefits are distributed according to their wishes, potentially providing for a seamless transfer of assets to beneficiaries.

Cons of SMSFs

Complexity and Time Commitment

Managing an SMSF involves significant administrative responsibilities. Trustees must maintain accurate records, develop and adhere to an investment strategy, and stay informed about superannuation laws and regulations. This requires a substantial time commitment and financial literacy.


While SMSFs can be cost-effective for large balances, they can be expensive for smaller ones. Setup costs, ongoing administrative expenses, accounting fees and audit costs can add up, potentially eroding the benefits of managing your own super.


With greater control comes greater risk. Poor investment decisions can significantly impact the fund’s performance. Trustees must ensure adequate diversification to manage risk effectively.

Regulatory Compliance

SMSFs are subject to strict regulatory requirements. Trustees must ensure compliance with the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act 1993 (SIS Act) and the regulations set by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). Non-compliance can result in severe penalties.

Lack of Compensation Scheme

Unlike APRA-regulated super funds, SMSFs do not have access to government compensation schemes in the event of fraud or theft. Trustees are solely responsible for safeguarding the fund’s assets.


Compliance Requirements

Trustee Responsibilities

Trustees are legally responsible for managing the SMSF in accordance with its trust deed and superannuation laws. Key responsibilities include:

  • Keeping accurate records
  • Preparing and implementing an investment strategy
  • Ensuring the fund meets the sole purpose test (providing retirement benefits)

Annual Audits and Reporting

SMSFs must undergo an annual audit by an approved SMSF auditor. Trustees must also lodge an SMSF annual return with the ATO, which includes financial statements, audit reports and member contribution statements.

Investment Restrictions

SMSFs are subject to strict investment restrictions. Trustees cannot:

  • Lend money or provide financial assistance to members or their relatives
  • Acquire assets from related parties, except in limited circumstances
  • Invest in in-house assets beyond the limit of 5% of the fund’s total assets

Superannuation Rules

Trustees must comply with superannuation rules, including contribution caps and conditions of release. For example, early access to superannuation savings is generally prohibited and can result in significant penalties.


ATO Scrutiny and Legal Considerations

Accessing Super Early

The ATO has been increasingly vigilant in monitoring illegal early access to superannuation funds. Withdrawing superannuation before reaching the preservation age (except in very limited circumstances) is illegal and can result in severe penalties, including fines and disqualification as a trustee.

Penalties for Non-Compliance

Non-compliance with SMSF regulations can attract significant penalties. The ATO can impose administrative penalties, disqualify trustees, or even wind up the SMSF. It’s crucial for trustees to stay informed and adhere to all regulatory requirements.

Recent Regulatory Changes

The ATO has introduced or proposed key changes affecting SMSFs for the 2024 tax returns. Trustees need to be aware of these updates to ensure compliance and to prepare for potential future requirements:

Trust Income Schedule

From the 2024 income year, SMSFs receiving distributions from trusts must complete and attach a Trust income schedule to their annual return. This schedule details each trust distribution received.

Non-Arm’s Length Expenses (NALE)

Non-Arm’s Length Expenses refer to costs or expenses that are not on commercial terms. For example, if an SMSF pays below-market rates for services or assets, it could result in higher taxable income for the fund. The ATO’s proposed changes, starting from 1 July 2018, will:

  • Apply a ‘twice the difference’ approach for small funds, doubling the difference between what was paid and what should have been paid on commercial terms.
  • Exempt large funds from certain NALE rules but still subject them to other non-arm’s length income rules.

Small Business Energy Incentive

A proposed measure (not yet law) may offer small businesses a 20% bonus deduction on eligible energy-efficient assets, which could indirectly benefit SMSFs holding business assets.

Trustees should stay updated on these developments to ensure their SMSF remains compliant and takes advantage of any beneficial changes.


How to Decide if an SMSF is Right for You

Assessing Suitability

When considering an SMSF, evaluate the following factors:

  • Financial Literacy: Do you have the knowledge and skills to manage your own superannuation?
  • Investment Experience: Are you confident in making investment decisions and managing risks?
  • Balance Size: Generally, SMSFs are more cost-effective for those with larger balances (e.g., $200,000 or more).
  • Time Commitment: Are you prepared to dedicate the time required to manage an SMSF?

Seeking Professional Advice

It’s essential to seek professional advice before setting up an SMSF. Financial advisors, accountants and SMSF specialists can provide valuable insights and help ensure that an SMSF is the right choice for your circumstances.



Self-Managed Super Funds offer numerous benefits, including control, flexibility and potential cost savings. However, they also come with significant responsibilities and risks. It’s crucial to understand the pros and cons, comply with regulatory requirements and seek professional advice to ensure that an SMSF is the right fit for your retirement planning.

If you’re considering setting up an SMSF or need advice on managing your existing fund, don’t hesitate to contact us. Our team of experienced financial advisors is here to help you make informed decisions and ensure your SMSF is compliant and aligned with your financial goals. Reach out to us today for personalised advice and support.



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Frequently Asked Questions

While there is no legal minimum balance, it’s generally recommended to have at least $200,000 to make the SMSF cost-effective compared to other superannuation funds.

Yes, SMSFs can invest in residential property, but there are strict rules. The property cannot be lived in or rented by a member of the SMSF or their relatives.

Accessing superannuation early without meeting a condition of release can result in severe penalties, including fines up to 45% of the withdrawn amount and potential disqualification as a trustee.

An SMSF must be audited annually by an approved SMSF auditor. This audit must be completed before the SMSF annual return is lodged with the ATO.

Yes, an SMSF can have between one and six members. Single-member SMSFs must have two individual trustees or a corporate trustee.

The sole purpose test requires that an SMSF be maintained for the sole purpose of providing retirement benefits to its members, or their dependents in the event of a member’s death. This is a fundamental requirement for all SMSFs.