“He said that there was death and taxes, and taxes was worse, because at least death didn’t happen to you every year.” (Terry Pratchett, Reaper Man)
Tax-free savings accounts (TFSAs) have been around for just over five years, and yet many people still do not know about them, are unfamiliar with the benefits or don’t know how to take maximum advantage of this unique investment opportunity.
Amidst the chaos of early COVID-19 and lockdown many may not have noticed that as of 1 March 2020, the annual limit in these types of investments was increased from R33 000 to R36 000 a year with the overall lifetime limit standing at R500 000. The National Treasury introduced these investments to encourage South Africans to save and as a result there are no taxes payable on interest or dividends received, and no capital gains tax (CGT) on funds withdrawn.
Clearly with such an attractive offer a TFSA must be a part of every person’s future investment strategy, regardless of their income level. So just how does one take maximum advantage of these accounts and stand to gain the most future benefit?
Director of advisory services at Investec Asset Management, Jaco van Tonder says, “From a tax benefit perspective, it appears to not make sense for an investor to utilise a TFSA for an investment horizon of less than five years. This picture changes dramatically though after ten years due to the well-known compounding effect of long-term investment returns”.
This is an important aspect for investors to consider, especially as money in a TFSA can be accessed and withdrawn at any time. While that seems attractive there is a further large catch in that once the money has been withdrawn, returning it to the account will be regarded as part of your annual contribution. What this means is that if you have invested R12 000 in the account this year, then withdraw R3000, and return it a month later, the tax man will view this as you having already invested R15 000 in that account.
While the income tax benefits of investing in an RA still makes them an extremely attractive proposition, a TFSA has a number of other benefits, which those investing in an RA should consider. Firstly, investors can withdraw from a TFSA at any time, and there is no tax on those withdrawals, while RAs are only accessible at retirement (under normal circumstances), and, when you access them, you need to buy an annuity with at least a part (currently two-thirds) of the accumulated value.
Further, there are absolutely no restrictions on asset allocation in the TFSA, whereas restrictions apply to RAs in terms of Regulation 28 of the Pension Funds Act, meaning the investor may have more choice as to how aggressive they want to be with that investment.
There are however some complicated considerations which need to be taken into account, and it’s not as simple as cashing in the one to buy the other. In order to protect them from creditors, RA’s are excluded from a deceased person’s estate, and the investor is often encouraged to nominate a beneficiary to whom the benefits will accrue after death. The nomination process for a beneficiary may come with caveats, and instances where pay-outs may not happen, but even if the pay-out is set to be made, this can involve another level of administration and difficulty for the beneficiaries who may not want to deal with two separate companies to wrap up their loved one’s estate. There are, however, often tax benefits to doing so at that stage.
The issues around which is the superior investment between an RA and a TFSA will therefore ultimately come down to your unique situation, and investment strategy, and it is highly recommended that you speak to your accountant before making the leap.
Due to the long-term nature of education savings, a TFSA is the perfect tax-sheltered way to save for your children’s education. With regular education funds, part of the withdrawal may be subject to taxation, but when it comes time to finally cash in the TFSA there are no taxes payable at all and given the long term nature of the investment a TFSA could be the ideal investment tool.
As an example, if you invest just R620 a month in a TFSA at the relatively common interest rate of 6% for a period of 10 years, you could build up almost R100 000 during this time. This sort of payment is exactly what is needed when it comes time for your child to move from school to an institution of higher learning.
A R36 000 lump sum investment on 1 March can grow by R3 600 over the year (assuming a balanced fund investment with CPI+4% return). Tax on interest, dividends, and capital gains in such a portfolio would amount to roughly R600. By rather allowing this lump sum to grow in the TFSA from day one, the investor gets to keep and further grow this R600. Compounded over time this relatively small amount can grow to make a significant difference.
In order to take the maximum benefit from your TFSA you should ensure that there are as many growth assets included as possible to maximise your long-term growth. Remember, no limits apply as to your asset allocation and as such you are free to make bold choices.
While powerful, a TFSA is not a one-size-fits-all investment opportunity. Investors need to carefully evaluate their different life situations and investment strategies with reference to long-term returns and volatility measures and see how they stack up. There is little doubt that the TFSA should form some part of an overall investment portfolio, but what that role is, needs to be tailored to the individual.