Please view this short ATO video first:
So what is salary sacrifice?
Salary sacrifice is an arrangement between an employer and an employee, whereby the employee agrees to forgo part of their future entitlement to salary or wages in return for the employer providing them with benefits of a similar value.
Contributions made through a Salary Sacrifice Arrangement (SSA) into super are made with pre-tax dollars, meaning they are not taxed at the member’s marginal tax rate.
They are treated as Concessional Contributions (CCs) and tax of up to 15% will usually be payable, so long as the member does not exceed their CC cap. Higher income earners may have CCs within the cap taxed at 30%.
The difference between the marginal tax rate and the tax rate on contributions constitutes the benefit of salary sacrifice for the member of your fund.
Unlike Superannuation Guarantee (SG) or other employer contributions required under an award or workplace agreement, there is no legislative timeframe specifying when salary sacrifice contributions must be made to superannuation. It’s recommended that a timeframe be specified in the SSA. This could be, for example:
at the same time as SG is paid, or
within three business days of being withheld from salary.
An SSA is only valid until the person turns age 75. Salary sacrifice contributions generally cannot be accepted by a super fund after 28 days from the end of the month in which the member turns 75. Only mandated employer contributions can be made for an employee age 75 or older (SIS Reg 7.04).
What makes a Salary Sacrifice Arrangement (SSA) valid?
There is no legal obligation for employers to offer salary sacrifice to employees. To be effective, only prospective earnings can be sacrificed. This means an SSA will only be valid if there is a prospective agreement in place before the employee has earned the entitlement to receive the relevant amount as salary and wages.
Remember, there is no requirement for an SSA to be in writing, nor is there a standard SSA. It is strongly recommended that a written agreement be in place which states the terms and conditions of that agreement. The ATO provides a detailed explanation in tax ruling TR 2001/10.
What can be salary sacrificed?
Salary or wages are the most common types of payments that are sacrificed into super. As only future entitlements can be sacrificed, an effective arrangement can’t be made for salary or wages that have already been earned.
This means payments to which an employee is already entitled to (such as earned salary and wages, accrued leave and bonuses or commissions already earned), cannot be salary sacrificed into super unless an effective arrangement was in place prior to the employee becoming entitled to that remuneration. For example, annual and long service leave paid on termination of employment can’t be sacrificed.
If an employee has entered into an SSA and takes leave during employment, the SSA is still effective and salary sacrifice amounts can still be directed to superannuation.
What are the tax implications?
Amounts salary sacrificed into super under an effective SSA are not ‘salary and wages’ in the hands of the employee. Accordingly, employers have no PAYG withholding liabilities in relation to the payment.
Although the super contributions are a benefit derived due to employment, it is specifically exempt from Fringe Benefits Tax (FBT). However, this doesn’t extend to salary sacrifice amounts into another person’s super account (eg a spouse).
Super contributions made under an effective SSA are considered employer contributions for the purposes of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 and are deductible to the employer.
Usually, an SSA favours taxpayers subject to the higher marginal tax rates, as they pay just 15% contributions tax on the amount sacrificed into super (or 30% for high income earners). See this ATO video below for a short explanation of the Division 293 Tax
However, for taxpayers with incomes under the 19%( + 2% Medicare) tax rate threshold (currently $37,000), the marginal rate is not markedly different to the 15% tax payable on contributions by the receiving super fund for the sacrificed contribution.
A minor saving can still be made of almost 6% as Medicare Levy (of up to 2%) is not payable on the amount sacrificed to super.
An alternative strategy for lower income earners is to make personal after-tax contributions to obtain a Government co-contribution of up to $500. Note: Salary sacrificed employer contributions do not qualify for the Government’s co-contribution.
What are the Centrelink implications?
An amount of salary voluntarily sacrificed into super is still counted as income for Centrelink / social security purposes. Contributions are assessed as income where a person voluntarily sacrifices income into super and has the capacity to influence the size of the amount contributed or the way in which the contribution is made reduces their assessable income.
Super contributions that an employer is required to make under the SG Act, an award, a collective workplace agreement or the super fund’s rules are not assessed as income for the member.
What issues should be considered?
Employer or other limitations
It is not compulsory for an employer to allow salary sacrificing, including amounts to superannuation. The first step is for the member to know is if their employer permits salary sacrificing.
Also, even where allowed, the arrangement under which the person is employed may impose limitations. This could be terms in a workplace agreement or award.
For example, some awards specify that a certain level of an employee’s package must be paid as salary. This would effectively place a limit on the amount that could be sacrificed to superannuation SG payments.
Salary sacrifice amounts are treated as employer contributions. An employer may decrease an employee’s SG contributions when taxable income is reduced through salary sacrifice.
This is because the minimum amount of SG an employer is required to pay is based on the employee’s Ordinary Time Earnings (OTE). As entering into an SSA reduces an employee’s OTE, it will reduce the amount of SG that an employer is required to pay.
It is also the case that a salary sacrificed amount, being an employer contribution, could meet some or all of employers SG obligations.
Malcolm’s salary and OTE is $105,000 pa. He enters into an effective SSA to forego $20,000 of his salary for additional employer super contributions. Malcolm’s salary/OTE reduces to $85,000 for SG purposes and his employer is only legally required to pay 9.5% on this amount.
Malcolm should have negotiated with his employer to maintain the SG based on his original salary and the salary sacrifice amounts are made in addition.
Entitlements upon ceasing employment
As outlined above, an SSA reduces the salary component of a person’s package. This may also reduce other entitlements when ceasing employment (through resignation or redundancy) such as:
calculation of leave entitlements, and
calculation of redundancy payments.
Timing of employer contributions
There are clear rules governing an employers’ legal obligation to pay its contributions to a complying super fund either monthly or quarterly.
There are no such rules governing an employer to make a pre-tax voluntary contribution/salary sacrifice contribution into an employee’s super fund when the employee requests it. This means an employer can pay this contribution whenever they want.
Reportable employer contributions
Reportable employer super contributions (RESC) including salary sacrifice, are counted as ‘income’ for many Government benefits and concessions, such as:
Senior Australians tax offset
Spouse contribution tax offset
10% rule for making personal deductible super contributions
Medicare Levy Surcharge
Family assistance benefits, and
Centrelink and DVA income tests.
RESCs are not added back when calculating the low income tax offset and Medicare levy.
Long service leave and annual leave paid on termination cannot be salary sacrificed, unless an effective SSA was put in place prior to the leave being accrued.
If termination payments are based on a definition of salary that excludes employer superannuation contributions, the employer can effectively exclude the salary sacrifice amount from the total salary on which these entitlements would be calculated.
As a result, the employee’s termination package would be reduced.
An employer is eligible for a tax deduction for super contributions made on behalf of employees, regardless of the amount.
There is also no limit on the amount that an employee can sacrifice into super. However, salary sacrifice amounts are counted towards the employee’s CC cap. Excess CCs are taxed at the person’s marginal tax rate plus a charge. See the ATO video below for more details
This effectively limits the tax-effectiveness of salary sacrifice to superannuation to the employee’s annual CC cap.
At the beginning of the financial year, it’s critical to review your existing SSA to ensure that the CC cap is not exceeded.
For example, if a member has received a pay rise, they may now be getting higher SG contributions from their employer. They may therefore need to reduce their salary sacrifice contributions to ensure they don’t breach their CC cap.
Ongoing reviews may also be necessary as the member may receive a pay rise during the financial year or elect to salary sacrifice a bonus which impacts on the total CCs. As well as if the concessional contribution cap increases in future years or the client becomes eligible to use the transitional higher CC cap. We recommend to review contributions in April or May to make sure members are under their caps and will stay so up to June 30th.
While salary sacrifice can be a tax-effective way for people to save for retirement, there are a number of steps that should be taken to ensure it is properly implemented. The following checklist could be used to help ensure all the key issues are addressed.
1. Check that the employer permits salary sacrifice
2. Check on limitations placed on an agreement by employment conditions (eg award, workplace agreement, etc)
3. Ensure agreement is for future earnings and valid
4. Ensure other employment entitlements are not impacted by agreement (eg SG,
5. Check available concessional contribution cap and ensure client will not exceed the cap
6. Establish the agreement in writing (including timing of contributions)
7. Review agreement and level of contributions at least on an annual basis (around