Questions from a reader who is selling a house

Q: I bought a house in Pretoria in December 2011 for around R1.1 million. I lived there until October 2013 but then moved to Johannesburg and decided to rent it out.

I did not buy a new place in Johannesburg as I intended to move back to Pretoria eventually. With the monthly rental income I received on my Pretoria property, I paid rates and levies of around R2 000 per month, although I did not pay any municipal rates.

In time, I realised that I was not going to move back to Pretoria again and decided in February 2015 that I wanted to sell my house and found a buyer for it.

My questions relate to how all of this should be reflected in my tax return.

For the last two years I have included the rental income in my return, whilst deducting items such as interest and levies. I paid the full outstanding municipal rates of around R30 000 when I sold my house in June 2015. For the 2016 tax year, can I deduct all of the rates for the period that I was renting out the property, which is about 18 months?

Secondly, when it comes to the proceeds of the sale, am I eligible for the R2 million exemption on capital gains tax for a primary residence?

 

To answer all of your questions, let us first consider the tax treatment of rental income. Any rental income you receive should be added to any other taxable income you may have, and assessed in its entirety.

The taxable amount of rental income may, however, be reduced, as you may incur expenses during the period that the property was let. Only expenses incurred in the production of that rental income can be claimed. Any capital and/or private expenses won’t be allowed as a deduction.

Expenses that may be deducted from taxable income are your rates and taxes, interest on the bond, advertisements, fees paid to estate agents, homeowners insurance (not household contents), garden services, repairs in respect of the area let, and security and property levies.

It is important that maintenance and repairs should be noted as specific costs and not confused with improvement costs. Improvements are a capital expense and cannot be claimed as an expense. They can, however, be included in the base cost of the property to effectively reduce the capital gain (or loss) on the disposal of the property, for capital gains tax (CGT) purposes.

To answer your first question then, the municipal rates were paid as a lump sum amount of R30 000 in June 2015 on the sale of the house. Assuming that the property was still being let during the 2016 tax year that runs from March 2015 until February 2016, the seller would be able to deduct the full amount of R30 000 in the 2016 tax year.

On the second question, current legislation entitles individuals to disregard any capital gain on the disposal of their primary residence if the proceeds do not exceed R2 million. In such event the individual does not need to determine the base cost of the residence.

In order to claim this exclusion we need to determine what qualifies as a primary residence.

To meet the requirements, it must be a structure (including a boat, caravan or mobile home) which is used as a place of residence by an individual. An individual or special trust must own an interest in the residence. And the individual with an interest in the residence, beneficiary of the special trust, or spouse of that person or beneficiary must ordinarily reside in the home and use it mainly for domestic purposes as his or her ordinary residence.

The financial services sector needs to meet the challenges

Relative to its peers in the SADC region, South Africa has a high percentage of people with formal bank accounts. While 94% of the adult population in the Seychelles has a bank account, and 85% do so in Mauritius, South Africa’s banked adult population stands at 77%.

This contrasts starkly with the likes of Madagascar or the Democratic Republic of Congo, where only 12% of adults have bank accounts. In Angola, the ratio is 20%.

These are figures produced by the Finmark Trust, an organisation set up more than a decade ago to promote financial inclusion. And at face value, they may appear to suggest that South Africa is measuring up reasonably well.

However, the Trusts’s Dr Prega Ramsamy says that there is a lot more to financial inclusion than whether or not someone has a bank account.

“It’s a multi-dimensional problem,” he told the Actuarial Society 2016 Convention in Cape Town. “There is an element of access, but there is also an element of affordability, an element of proximity, and most importantly an element of quality. We might have huge access in terms of people having bank accounts, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are financially included because the quality of such access might not be there.”

He pointed out that often products are inappropriate or inaccessible.

“At the moment there are about 20.9 million people in South Africa with access to insurance,” he pointed out, “and of those, 18.9 million have funeral cover. So funeral insurance completely dominates the sector.”

He acknowledged that there is a cultural aspect to why this is such a popular product, but he questioned why so many people are able to afford funeral policies but don’t have any other long term risk cover or savings.

Ramsamy pointed out that ten years ago, about one million South Africans had multiple cover, in that they held more than one funeral policy. That number has grown to five million. Yet the penetration of other risk products has remained very low.

“We sit in an office and think we can provide insurance, but we don’t really know if this kind of insurance fits the needs of the people we are selling it to,” he argued. “Agents are also just interested in selling numbers for commissions, but don’t ask if what they’re selling is the type of insurance or product that their customers need.”

Speaking at the same event, Ruth Benjamin Swales of the Asisa Foundation acknowledged that there is a real challenge for financial services companies to design more relevant offerings.

“For instance we have many people in South Africa who work intermittently,” Swales said. “But most savings and investment or insurance products require monthly contributions. Just that minimum requirement excludes many people from being able to access relevant products that could improve their financial well-being.”

Medical scheme cover for diabetes

A friend was on holiday in a small town when her baby’s scheduled immunisation was due. After being directed to the local clinic who had the stock of the required vaccination, she duly fell in line with other patients to open a new clinic file. Although it seemed that many patients waiting in the queue could read, the clinic assistant in charge was adamant on reading the questions and completing the forms on their behalf.

“Do you have disabilities?” It would thunder through the room, and so forth. By the time it was my friend’s turn, she insisted on reading the questions herself. And to her surprise, the “disabilities” everybody was questioned about, turned out to be “diabetes”. None of those in front of her had disabilities, but should they have been questioned correctly, they could have confirmed their diabetic status.

Among the top five most prevalent chronic conditions

Diabetes is one of the world’s fastest growing lifestyle diseases. In 2015 South Africa had 2.28 million cases of diabetes according to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF). The problem is that for every diagnosed adult, there is an estimated one undiagnosed adult. The number of undiagnosed cases in South Africa is projected at around 1.39 million.

Both diabetes mellitus types 1 and 2 rank among the top five most prevalent chronic conditions under medical scheme members.

Applications affect your credit score

There is a view among many South African consumers that applying for a bond at more than one bank will have negative consequences. The belief is that these enquiries will impact on your credit score and therefore hurt your chances of getting a loan or push up its cost if you are successful.

Many people only apply at their own bank for just this reason. They think that they are taking a risk if they shop around.

This raises some obvious concerns. After all, you are only exercising your rights as a consumer to compare prices, so why should you be penalised for it?

Footprinting

What is a given is that every time you apply for a loan of any sort, this will be recorded on your credit profile. This is called footprinting, and credit providers may use this information to assess you.

“Credit providers consider a multitude of factors when vetting applications for credit, one of which would be demand for certain types of credit,” explains David Coleman, the head of analytics at Experian South Africa. “A sudden surge in demand for unsecured or short term credit, linked with signs of stress building on indebtedness and repayment capacity of the consumer, would result in the credit provider taking a more cautious approach in extending further credit to such a consumer.”

However, short term credit is not the same as long term credit like a home loan in this regard. In fact, Nedbank says that it views multiple applications for a bond made at the same time as a single enquiry.

The head of credit for FNB retail, Hannalie Crous explains that they also make a distinction:

“From an FNB perspective we do not look at number of bureau enquiries pertaining to home loans as a key determinant of a credit score,” she says. “The handful of credit bureau enquires associated with a bond application will have no effect, however  a consistent trend indicating that a consumer is taking on multiple loans could influence the outcome of a credit application.”

Not all bureaus will see you the same

In other words, the banks don’t see it as a negative if you shop around for a bond. A number of credit bureaus approached by Moneyweb also took the same line, although with a caveat:

“Each credit bureau and each credit provider that has their own in-house score will score consumers using their own criteria,” says Michelle Dickens, the MD of TPN. “It’s not a one size fits all. As a result there will be a higher weighting towards different aspects of data that will improve or decline the ultimate overall score.”

The head of the consumer bureau at XDS, Alex Moir, explains that different companies may therefore use information differently.

“Not all credit bureaus will use the application data in the credit scores, which means that a customer could go to as many banks as they like and their risk score with these bureaus would not be impacted,” he says. “Some credit bureaus do however use the application data and, in this instance, the consumer’s score could actually be impacted positively if they do enquiries at different banks. There is generally a threshold that some of the bureaus would have, where making one to three enquiries would add points to your score, three to five enquiries would leave the score as is and more than five could deduct points from your score.”

Excessive pessimism over SA economy

Old Mutual Investment Group sees domestic equities, property and bonds delivering higher returns in 2017, on the back of improving economic prospects.

It expects peaking interest rates and inflation in South Africa to create a positive environment for interest rate sensitive assets such as domestic property and bonds.  It sees inflation averaging at 5.4% in 2017 compared with 6.3% in 2016 and the benchmark repurchase rates falling to 6.5% by the end of 2017, down from 7% currently.

According to Peter Brooke, head of Old Mutual Investment Group’s MacroSolutions Boutique the 13.5% return on domestic bonds year-to-date as at November 24 2016 is artificially high due to an oversold bond market.

Instead, he said SA cash – with a 6.8% return in rand terms – is the best performing local asset class thus far. SA listed property delivered returns of 4% and the FTSE-JSE Share Weighted Index (SWIX) returned 2.5% over the same period.

After starting the year with the highest level of cash in its fund ever, the group is seeing more opportunities in equities as the domestic equity market de-rates.

“We’re not at the stage where the JSE is cheap yet. It is on a 13x forward but it does offer a real return in the region of 5%. We’re not back to levels that we have enjoyed for the last 100 years of around 6.5% but value is starting to incrementally rebuild,” he said.

Save for their kids tips

With the start of 2017 looming, many parents may have started to consider the cost of their children’s school and tuition fees for the next school year. While families have a number of financial commitments to attend to every month, this is the time of year where school funds are often moved to the top priority to ensure that the family is financially prepared for the expenses that accompany a new school year.

Saving for a child’s education requires careful consideration and proper planning.

Here are some tips below for parents to ensure that they have planned appropriately for their children’s education costs:

Start early

Parents should start saving for their children’s education as soon as they possibly can. Many people do not consider, or are not aware of, the great advantages of compound interest, and how accumulated savings grow over several years when invested properly. By investing from an early age, parents will eliminate the financial worry of not having sufficient funds to give their children the best education possible, as the funds in their investment will grow every year.

Automate savings

The best way for parents to ensure they are regularly contributing towards their children’s education is to open a dedicated savings account and set up a monthly debit order. This way the parents will automatically save money every month towards this cause. However, they must have a strict rule in place to never withdraw any money from this account if it is not related to the child’s education.

Explore ways to get discounts

It is advisable to do some research and contact schools to find out whether they offer financial incentives that could result in long-term savings. Many schools offer a discount if the fees are paid as a once-off amount in advance. Some also offer a reduction when there is more than one child attending the school. These types of savings can make a big difference over an 18-year period.

Compromising on the festivities

Christmas may be the season of joy and goodwill, but it is also the season of spending. Often our enthusiasm for being festive outpaces our bank balances.

However, there are some simple ways to save some money without taking the enjoyment out of the season. Some of these may even make your Christmas even better.

Here are four simple ideas to curtail your Christmas budget:

  1. Make your own crackers

Who isn’t tired of paying up for expensive crackers with the same gifts, the party hats that make you sweat, and the same lame jokes every year? (What’s Santa’s favourite pizza? One that’s deep pan, crisp and even.)

Making your own crackers might sound like an awful effort, but it can really be quite simple and extremely cost effective. A number of craft shops sell the cracker bodies that just need to be folded into shape, together with the ‘snaps’ that deliver the necessary bang when they are pulled. (You could download the template from the internet and cut some patterned cardboard or wrapping paper yourself, but this would be a lot more time consuming.)

Easy, cheap and always popular fillings, include luxury chocolate balls, mini soaps or lip gloss. Tiny bottles of whisky or liqueur also go down well, depending on the company.

Making Christmas crackers can also be a fun activity for your children to keep them busy for a few hours during the holidays. And that is priceless.

  1. Make your own gifts

Depending on the size of your family, Christmas gift shopping can easily bite a big chunk out of your budget. It could also mean spending hours at crowded malls dodging speeding trolleys and cosmetics salespeople.

A far more relaxing and cost-effective option is to make gifts yourself, and it’s quite possible to do this tastefully. Baking biscuits and making jam are old favourites, but there are other options too.

You can make up your own mini hampers by ordering small hand-crafted pottery dishes online and filling them with personalised treats like artisanal chocolate and home-made confectionery. Wrap these up in cellophane and you have gifts that everyone will love.

  1. Order your drinks online

Christmas almost demands good wine or even some top class South African brandy, and who doesn’t deserve a drink after a long year of hard work? But just popping down to your local off-license and filling a trolley is not always the best idea.

Firstly, you can’t be sure of getting the best prices, and secondly you’re likely to grab more than you really need just because it’s there and you’re in a festive mood.

Ordering drinks online can be a lot cheaper as you can looks for specials at the many local online stores available. You can also be unemotional about how much you actually need when the bottles aren’t staring you in the face.

Some shops also allow you to collect, which means there is no delivery fee. And that’s more money you can keep in your pocket.

A simple calculation to do

In South Africa’s somewhat peculiar banking system, monthly charges for transactional accounts are a given. But is the few hundred rand you’re paying per month (if you’re lucky!) the best possible deal?

The first question you need to answer is whether you value having a ‘platinum’ or ‘private clients’ account with all the “value-adds” these offer?

Things like lounge access, bundled credit cards and a ‘personal’ banker are must-haves for some in the upper middle market. On the other end of the scale are basic, no-frills bank accounts (like Capitec’s Global One (and the clones from the other major banks)), but the truth is that most people need something a little more comprehensive than that. There’s likely a home loan, almost certainly vehicle finance and definitely a credit card.

So, do you need a ‘platinum’ (Premier/Prestige/Savvy Bundle)-type account? Do you actually use or need those value-adds? Or, do you enjoy the ‘status’ of having a platinum or black credit card? (Here, emotion – and ego – comes into the equation….)

This is an important question to answer, because the difference in bank charges between a more vanilla bundle account and ‘platinum’ is easily 50%!

While banks try to shoehorn you into product categories based on your salary or profession, there’s nothing stopping you from moving to another product (or refusing those ‘upgrades’). From a personal perspective, the only reason I have an FNB Premier (i.e. platinum) account (not gold) is because I do actually make use of the ‘free’, albeit diminishing, Slow Lounge access. And, the eBucks rewards I earn on this account are the most lucrative of the lot, based on the products I use, my transaction habits and spending patterns. (‘Upgrading’ to Private Clients is a mugs game because the thresholds for ‘earning’ rewards are significantly higher, to match one’s status and earnings, of course!)

Once you’ve answered this question – which is more important than most people realise – the next step is to figure out whether a bundled account or pay-as-you-transact one makes the most sense. Most of us enjoy not having to ‘worry’, so we readily sign up for the all-in-one package without actually understanding the differences in pricing.

Money and the importance of giving within your means

This time of year sees both children and adults preparing their wish-lists for the upcoming festive season. But as many South Africans continue to grapple with rising debt, now is a good time to shift the focus from giving material items to providing future financial well-being.

Giving a child an investment as a gift will not only promote a culture of saving from a young age, but will also show them how you can make money grow.

There’s a powerful story of one customer’s commitment to leave a legacy for his family, and the value of sound financial advice. In November 1968, a customer made an initial deposit of  R400 into the Old Mutual Investors’ Fund and 48 years later, his investment is today worth over R600 000.

More precious than the value of his money, however, was the culture of saving and the legacy that he passed on to his children and grandchildren. On special occasions such as Christmas and birthdays, he invested a set amount of money on his children’s or grandchildren’s behalf. With this investment, his daughter was able to provide for her daughter’s schooling.

If South Africa is to develop a generation of financially savvy adults, it is crucial to not just talk about it, but actually practise good money habits. It is important to teach your children about money, and the festive season – with the spirit of giving – is a good time of the year for parents to set a good example. Teach your children about the importance of giving within your means, as well as showing them the value of relaxing with family and rewinding after a long, hard year, while respecting the value of hard-earned money.

Families should consider starting a financial tradition of their own. Set a reasonable budget for gift giving this festive season, and instead of spending all your money on gifts that are likely to fade, go missing or be forgotten, speak to your financial adviser about starting an investment in the name of your children.

When children become old enough to understand more about money management, parents should involve them in the process. Teach them the principle of compound interest and explain why putting money away today means they will have more money tomorrow. Help them set a budget for the money they’ll receive over the festive season, encouraging them to spend a smaller percentage today, and investing the rest for the future.

Finding the Holy Grail

Remuneration practices have far-reaching consequences, not only for individuals and companies but for the economy as a whole.

Employees’ personal finances for the most part, depend on their salaries. These salaries allow them to procure goods and services which stimulate the economy and ultimately form the life blood of the economy. These salaries, however, cannot simply be raised indefinitely in a bid to stimulate the economy (through increased demand), as the cost associated with these increased salaries will cause the cost of goods and services to rise (inflation). As a result, individuals would still only be able to purchase the same basket of goods as they did before, despite the increased salaries.

Employee remuneration is more often than not, the largest percentage of a company’s total expenditure. As a result, firms are highly concerned with their pay practices as they impact on their financial bottom line.

The pay practices of public (municipalities and State-owned enterprises (SoE)) and private sector firms differ significantly, particularly at the lower levels. According to 21st Century’s salary database, Table 1 shows the pay practices of the public and private sector at each occupational level.

Executives have been left out of the analysis as the remuneration structure of private sector executives is heavily influenced by long-term incentives. The compa ratio of the public entities is expressed as a percentage of the private sector salaries e.g. at the A band the SoE salary is 192% of the private sector salary and the municipal salaries are 231% of the private sector salaries.