6 Tips for Getting the Most from Your Tax-Free Savings Account

6 Tips for Getting the Most from Your Tax-Free Savings Account

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and as a result there are no taxes payable on interest or dividends received, and no capital gains tax (CGT) on funds withdrawn.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?

Long term investment

The real power of a TFSA is in the long-term compounding of the investments. Due to the fact that a TFSA contribution is not immediately tax deductible (as for example a retirement contribution is) the benefits only kick in later when the interest that is being achieved starts overtaking the amount that would have been saved on taxes through other contributions. 

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This is an important aspect for investors to consider, especially as money in a TFSA can be accessed and withdrawn at any time. While that seems attractive there is a further large catch in that once the money has been withdrawn, returning it to the account will be regarded as part of your annual contribution.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.

Saving for retirement 

Due to the long-term nature of a TFSA, they are commonly used as a way to save for retirement, alongside, and sometimes as an alternative to, a Retirement Annuity (RA).   

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.

Saving for an education    

Despite the powerful points in tip two, one need not necessarily consider a TFSA as only being an alternative to an RA. There are many other investment choices someone may need to make and one of the most important is education. If you intend on sending your children to University one day you might be thinking about starting a fund to pay for the fees. If you do not already have a TFSA think twice and examine all options closely.

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.

Invest your lump sum as soon as possible

Many people wait until the end of the year to put whatever savings they have left into their TFSA as a lump sum. Sometimes they use their end of year bonuses for this same benefit. Investment strategists suggest that it is wiser to either increase your monthly contribution to as close to R3000 a month as you can, or to pay the lump sum at the beginning of the year. What this does, is allow you to enjoy a full year of tax-free growth, which can add up dramatically over the lifetime of the investment.   

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.

Invest in growth assets 

Like other funds, TFSAs come in many shapes and sizes. SARS currently says the following kinds of accounts can qualify as Tax free investments: Fixed deposits; Unit trusts (collective investment schemes); Retail savings bonds; Certain endowment policies issued by long-term insurers; Linked investment products and Exchange traded funds (ETFs) that are classified as collective investment schemes.

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.

Don’t over-contribute

Seeing all of the above, and realising the benefit of a TFSA, one may be tempted to invest more money into TFSAs than is legally mandated. Don’t. The annual contribution limit of R36 000 per individual is strictly enforced, and any contributions in excess of this annual limit can be subject to penalty tax of 40% of the excess. There is no limit to the number of TFSAs you can have, but it is important to manage them closely to ensure that you don’t exceed your annual contribution limit. This R36 000 applies to the sum of all contributions to all your TFSAs so be very careful not to accidentally stray over the line. 

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. 

Speak to your accountant to evaluate your personal circumstances and see just how you can take maximum benefit from a tax-free investment. 

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

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