Investing

What you need to know when considering investment bonds (insurance bonds)

An overview of investment bonds and how their returns compare to investing in an ETF portfolio.

If you’re looking for ways to invest for children, or looked into tax efficient ways to structure your income, you may have come across investment bonds.

Here we compare the performance of investment bonds against a low-cost diversified portfolio of ETFs, taking into consideration fees, returns and performance (returns).

In this article we’ll cover: 

What is an investment bond?


An investment bond (also known as an insurance bond) is a combination of an investment portfolio and a life insurance policy. You can access them via life insurers and friendly societies. 

Investment bonds let you invest on behalf of a child (or grandchild) and have the ownership automatically transferred to the child at a date you set in the future. It’s for this reason that parents (and grandparents) like investment bonds as a way to help save for big ticket expenses like their education, a car, or house deposit. 

You can also use investment bonds as a tax efficient way, especially for high income earners, of investing outside of super (as long as certain conditions are met). 

What are the benefits of investment bonds?

An investment bond is a ‘tax paid‘ investment. This means the tax on investment earnings is paid by the bond issuer at the (current) company tax rate of 30%.

After 10 years from the start date of the investment you don’t need to pay personal income tax on the investment. So as long as you definitely won’t touch your investment for at least 10 years, you won’t need to pay additional tax or capital gains tax.

Investment bonds are available across a range of different investment options including shares, bonds, property, infrastructure, and mixed asset portfolios.

How have investment bonds performed?


The average 5 year return for a growth investment bond has been 5.4% per year. A portfolio of ETFs with a similar asset mix (and risk) – like the Stockspot Topaz Portfolio – has returned 9.2% p.a. over 5 years.

This has beaten the average investment bond by almost 4% per year. Note: the Stockspot return is before taxes – below is a worked example to show the impact of tax.


Return are net after fees as of 30 June 2019 using a growth diversified investment option (OnePath – Managed Growth, Australian Unity – Perpetual Balanced Growth, CBA NC – Growth, AMP – Balanced Growth, IOOF WealthBuilder Growth MultiMix, Generation Life MLC Horizon 4 portfolio, Key Invest Russell Growth Fund, Centuria – Growth Bond Fund). Stockspot Topaz Portfolio used not taking into account personal income tax. Total cumulative return computed from 5 year annualised figure. Source: Investment bond Providers, Stockspot. IOOF WealthBuilder was not presented in the 5 year graph due to limited track record.


The returns from investment bonds have been poor compared to alternative options like a mix of low-cost index funds (ETFs), even when you take the tax benefits into consideration. 

Higher management fees (ie anything over 1% p.a.) and the tax drag of paying company tax actually harms returns. Over the last 5 years, the 4% p.a. additional returns by investing in a growth Stockspot portfolio would have been enough to cover any tax consequences compared to an investment bond, even if you’re on the highest marginal tax rate.


Post-tax worked example of a Stockspot ETF portfolio vs average investment bond over 10 years


Stockspot ETF Portfolio
owned by parent
Average investment Bond
Highest marginal
tax rate
47% (including Medicare levy)
Initial investment$10,000$10,000
Amount after 10 Years
(assuming past growth)
$24,112$16,840
Tax on investment income-$2,1630
CGT (less 50% discount)-$2,2350
Total value (after tax and CGT)$19,714$16,840
Post tax Total Return 97%68%
Additional return from
a Stockspot ETF portfolio after-tax
29%
Assumptions: For this example we have assumed a $10k investment. Investment Bond return assumed to be 5.4% p.a. Stockspot Return assumed to be 9.2% p.a. Dividend income return assumed to be 3% p.a. Company tax rate 30%. No withdrawals are made within 10 years (sold thereafter) and all income is reinvested.

This is just one example. Past performance isn’t a reliable indicator of future performance and there may be cases where there are other tax or strategic benefits of owning an investment bond that aren’t considered in our examples. You should seek tax advice if you think an investment bond might be right for you. You can also check out the ASIC MoneySmart website.

Why you should consider ETFs over investment bonds


It’s quite simple.  Yes, investment bonds do have a tax advantage.  However the after-tax returns of investment bonds have been poor in comparison to ETFs.  

So poor that – for most people even in higher marginal tax brackets – it makes more sense to invest in a diversified low-cost portfolio of ETFs.

The fees on a diversified portfolio of low-cost index funds, like the ones Stockspot offer, are less than half the cost of many investment bonds.

One of the other reasons we recommend exchange-traded funds (ETFs) for Australian investors is because they are highly tax efficient and have a more consistent performance.

Plus in order to help parents (or grandparents) invest for their children, we don’t charge any fees when investing on behalf of a child – while their portfolio is under $10,000. 

Stockspot offers two options to invest for children:


  1. You can invest as an individual client – the investments are held in your name from a legal and tax perspective, but we can add your child’s name to the account which acts as an identifier.
  2. You can invest on behalf of a child if you are a trustee of a Family Trust or Discretionary Trust and your child is a beneficiary. From a legal and tax perspective the assets are held by the Trust. 

Before investing on behalf of your child, you should speak to a tax adviser or accountant to be aware of the legal and tax consequences.

Looking to invest for a child?

Pros and cons of investment bonds


Benefits of investment bondsDetails
Tax effective

Income tax and CGT are taxed at a company tax rate of 30%, and there is no need to include it in your personal income tax return provided you hold the investment bond for 10 years.
Transfer OwnershipInvestment bonds allow you to invest on behalf of a child or grandchild and have the ownership automatically transferred to the child on reaching their nominated vesting age (e.g. 25), without triggering CGT or stamp duty.
No caps on contribution amountsSubject to the 125% rule, investment bonds can be used for people who are unable to contribute further to their superannuation (due to the concessional and non-concessional contribution caps)
Disadvantages of investment bondsDetails
Liquidity
If you need to withdraw before the 10 year period is reached, some of the tax benefits may be lost. 
Fees and performanceInvestment bonds have high fees relative to other investment options and historically their performance has been poor.
Capital gains tax (CGT)

Investment bond providers don’t enjoy the 50% CGT discount that individuals get on assets owned for longer than 12 months. Instead, they are taxed at the company rate of 30%. The loss of any CGT discount is a deterring factor and may result in a lower after-tax return rate when investments are sold.

Who are the main providers of investment bonds in Australia?


ProviderInvestment bond nameGrowth Option Fund5 Year Return of Fund (p.a.)
Generation LifeGeneration Life – LifeBuilder, ChildBuilder, and FuneralBond MLC Horizon 4 Portfolio4.5%
Commonwealth BankInvestment Growth BondNC – Growth5.8%
AMPAMP Growth BondAMP Balanced Growth5.7%
IOOF IOOF WealthBuilder investment bondIOOF WealthBuilder Growth – IOOFMultiMixN/A
KeyInvestKeyInvest Life Events Bond, KeyInvest Funeral BondRussell Growth Fund 
5.6%
Australian UnityLifeplan Investment Bond,  Lifeplan Education Bond, Lifeplan Funeral BondPerpetual Balanced Growth4.4%
Centuria Centuria Investment BondGrowth Bond Fund7.8%
ANZ/OnePathInvestment Savings BondOnePath Managed Growth3.6%
Average investment bond 

5.4%
Stockspot Topaz Portfolio 

9.2%
Return are net after fees as of 30 June 2019

Conclusion


At first glance, investment bonds may be appealing to some Australians with a high marginal tax rate, or parents/grandparents who want to invest for their children or grandchildren.

However, over the last 5 years you’d be better off simply investing in a diversified portfolio of low cost ETFs.

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The technical stuff in case you’re interested.

10 year tax rule

If an investor has held an investment bond for 10 years or more, earnings do not need to be declared as part of their assessable income with no additional personal or capital gains tax applicable – i.e. it becomes tax exempt.

Any withdrawal prior to the 10 year period, will mean the investor needs to declare the earnings in their tax return proportionate to the time of withdrawal (see table below).


Time of WithdrawalTax Payable
Within 8 Years100% of earnings are taxed at your marginal tax rate with a tax offset of 30%
During 9th Year2/3 of earnings are taxed at your marginal tax rate with a tax offset of 30%
During 10th Year1/3 of earnings are taxed at your marginal tax rate with a tax offset of 30%
After 10th YearAll earnings are tax free

125% contribution rule

Each year, investors can make additional contributions of up to 125% of the previous year’s contributions. The benefit of this is each addition is being treated as if it were invested at time of original investment. If the 125% limit is exceeded, the 10 year tax rule will restart.

Tax efficiency

Investment earnings are taxed at the corporate tax rate of 30% by the issuer, meaning earnings are not required to be included in an investor’s assessable income tax return (unless withdrawn prior to the 10 year period).

There are no CGT consequences for switching between underlying investment strategies within an investment bond. Ownership can be assigned to another person without tax consequences (e.g. transferred to a minor).

Finally, franking credits from life insurance companies can also reduce the overall effective tax rate. 

Accessibility and no contribution restrictions

Unlike superannuation where strict conditions of release must be satisfied (e.g. reaching preservation age), investment bond holders have access to their investment at all times.

There are no government imposed contributions limits, as regular contributions are permitted, with the only restriction being the 125% rule. 

Estate planning

The bond holder can nominate one (or more) beneficiaries and the benefit is paid directly to them as a tax free investment rather than to the estate.

This is not subject to the terms of an investor’s will and there far fewer restrictions around who may qualify as a beneficiary than life cover through superannuation. 

Specificity 

The rise of more specific types of investment bonds such as ‘education bonds’ and ‘funeral bonds’ have appealed to those with particular objectives.

Financial asset definition

An investment bond can be used as security for a loan, which is not possible with superannuation assets. Any associated financing costs are also tax deductible.

The amount invested in an investment bond is not assessed under the normal deeming rules for Centrelink/Age Care purposes. For small businesses, an investment bond can reduce the aggregate annual turnover of a business to meet the ATO ‘small business entity’ test. 

Vesting age

Many investment bonds offer a child advancement policy, where parents can have flexibility in nominating when it can be transferred into their name (without any tax consequences). This can be anywhere between the ages of 10 and 25.

Want to know more? Find out how Stockspot can help grow your wealth investing for a child – or for your own tax benefits.


Investment Associate

Marc has over 5 years experience in the financial services industry having previously worked for Morgan Stanley, AMP and KPMG. He holds a Bachelor of Business (Finance/Accounting) from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), and has completed his Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Level 1.

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