For research, of course

We received notice last night of a tax office response to a court case held last year, which determined that a travel agent was able to claim the significant costs of overseas travel to further his knowledge base and thus increase his income from his regular employment.

If you've got the time and inclination, you can read about it, here; Carlos Sanchez v Commissioner of Taxation.

Whilst this may not necessarily be directly related to your own circumstances (although I know that there are one or two agents reading this), these sorts of things do provide interesting insight about the thought processes at tax office and how they deal with these sorts of issues.

In this case, the travel agent in question earned a little under $40k in the 2005 year (made of retainer, commissions and bonuses), which increased to some degree in the following two. The agent also claimed around $10k in travel expenses - a good quarter of his income - despite being on annual leave at the time and receiving no allowance from his employer.

The tribunal stated;

The Tribunal was satisfied that the applicant's calling as a travel sales consultant required degrees of knowledge and skill that would benefit from personal experience of the travel components he sold to his customers, and that the 2005 overseas travel directly contributed to that knowledge and skill, and also contributed (or was likely to contribute) to his earning increased income.

The Commissioner accepted this view and allowed the majority of the deduction. It is important to note that the agent took comprehensive notes during his travels and this contributed strongly to the treatment of his case. It's also important to note that the tax office eventually disallowed a good portion of the agent's claims on the basis that he could not properly substantiate them. So even though the basis of the claim was decided to be alright, the tax office still went through with a fine tooth comb to make sure that the actual cost could be proven.

So! Lessons to be learned from this, in all of your potential deductions; keep damn good records. And if you're doing something significant, keep extensive notes about the how and why of what you're trying to achieve. It might seem a little painful at the time (especially if you're supposed to be out exploring Spain instead - for research, of course) but it may count for a lot in the long run.

Gone phishing

I arrived in the office this morning, as I do most days, to a mountain of new emails to play with for the next couple of hours. Whilst I don't usually share the details of these on a public medium (for obvious reasons), there was one today that I thought was worth detailing for you all. A timely reminder, if nothing else.

One client received an email over the weekend, apparently from "<>" with an official-looking signature. The email mentions that the tax office have recalculated her refund and there is an amount of around $568 owing to her. It provides an official-looking link, which when followed is supposed to provide a form where the recipient can complete the blanks and post back to the tax office.

Had the site worked - and thankfully, it has been disabled - the form would have asked for her bank account details including PIN, or credit card details including the three digit security code. When clicking the print button, it would actually send the information electronically as well.

This, clearly, would not have ended happily.

I know that most of you reading this will be savvy enough to know what is going on by this point, but the lovely client who forwarded the email on to me only did so to ask why the form was broken and what the next step should be to get her additional refund.

Michael D'Ascenzo, the Commissioner of Taxation, has commented on these types of things before, saying that anyone receiving such an email should delete it immediately; "The Tax Office never sends emails asking people to provide personal information including credit card details. People should always be wary of unsolicited emails claiming to be from the Tax Office."

It helps to bare in mind that should the tax office want your bank account details, they just need to ask the bank. If you don't believe that the bank can provide such details... try not paying a tax bill and see what happens next ;-)

Ahead of the game

Our office share trading game is into its fourth season now, with just over two weeks of trading completed so far on this time around. We all started with $20,000 in cash each, and can trade in and out of as many shares as we like over the three-month period. For those of you not yet playing, here's the current top four places as of last night:

$ 22,502 - JamesGG
$ 21,267 - Andrea & Stephen
$ 21,005 - Danny H
$ 20,924 - David B

Whilst I have a long history of successful share trading, dating back to the school sharemarket games where I regularly finished in the top 50 for the state, I'm still rapt to be ahead of the game again here despite some serious competition.

Stephen and Andrea won our last game, so there's no surprise in seeing them at the top end of the ladder as well. Top work by them, as always.

And, I'm even more rapt with Danny and David's results to date. As part of our continuous education program in the office, we make sure that our staff learn about different investment techniques, as well as increasing their accounting knowledge. David has taken to the sharemarket like a duck in water and is learning at a phenomenal rate. Danny is another guy that I spend some time mentoring whilst he's still in high school, and the proactive approach that these two take with their financial education is absolutely brilliant. They have regularly found and attended various seminars, read the books in our library at an alarming rate and spend a lot of time here talking about how different companies are performing lately and what they expect to happen next. All off their own bat, too, which is fantastic to see.

What this shows quite clearly to me, is just how easy it is to educate yourself on these things if you want to. Finding the motivation is often the hardest part, but for these two, that passion for learning and creating wealth has seen them achieve some remarkable results already.

Top work, guys.

And as for how I'm so far ahead, already? Well, it could be, perhaps, that Dannielle is rather susceptible to chocolate-flavoured bribery. Or, it's because I've traded for a long time now and put a lot of effort into refining my technique into something that works for me. Either / either :-)


Nothing to be scared of, here.

Avid readers of the tax office legal database may have spied the release of a new Determination dealing with what we commonly refer to as hybrid trusts.

This is a follow-up to the draft released late last year, which we commented on as part of the House Rules newsletter at the time.

As per our explanation in that article, this final determination looks to be good news. We spoke with our legal advisors this morning to be sure, and they were as rosy as ever in confirming that the trust deeds and resolutions that we like to use still comply with what the tax office are looking for.

The determination in question deals with a few scenarios, none of which apply directly to how we usually do things. In each example presented, the trust has the ability to distribute income to a beneficiary in a discretionary manner, despite the units on issue; or, the borrowings were not used in full for the unitholder in question. In those cases, the unitholder is only required to receive a disproportionate amount of income, and thus their borrowings are not of a direct commercial nature and they incur an expense for the (potential or actual) benefit of others.

It's also important to note that in the first example, we would suggest that (all else being equal) Paul's wife would likely be eligible to claim the interest on her share of the loan to acquire her units.

Looking at that first example a little closer, we can draw a fairly clear line from that point. You see, the tax office were happy in that example to allow Paul to claim 50% of the interest incurred based on holding 50% of the units. It is not a far stretch to conclude that should he hold 100% of the units in that example, he would be able to claim 100% of the interest.

So; what we need to show is that the unitholders who borrow funds for the purpose of buying units in the hybrid trust with the expectation and entitlement of income, will indeed receive that income. The trust deed needs to be very clear in that requirement (as ours are), and of course, the distributions need to reflect that as well (as ours do).

This means that for investors who use their deeds properly, the hybrid trust can still be an excellent choice of structure in the right circumstances and this determination is nothing to be scared of. As always, they're not a one-size-fits-all type of thing, so it's always a good idea to speak with your accountant before choosing the structure for each investment that you plan to make. Or, if you are after further clarification on your particular situation as it currently stands.


Good news stories

Accountants and financial advisors, let alone people interested in wealth creation, will always tell you how important it is for you to create wealth for yourself. Obviously, we tend to agree and as you know, we have a long history of demonstrating just how much we agree with this concept through our practices, advice, and actions; both personally and professionally.

However, one of the reasons for creating wealth that is not necessarily spoken about as often is that it also creates the opportunity for you to make decisions to help others. In this way, your wealth creation empowers you to make a difference. It allows you to give, not take, and that is a rare and valuable trait in any person. We have long believed that whilst it is nice to receive every now and then, the real joy comes in giving to others.

So, it is with this in mind that we will occasionally mention projects that we, our friends, and our families, are involved in where other people benefit; not ourselves. These are good news stories and we encourage you to applaud those people, and, where it suits you, to offer your own assistance in any way that you can. In this way, we hope to help make this a better place for everyone and uplift us all in the process.

The first of these that we'd like to let you know about today has been put together by our good friend, web designer and social entrepreneur, Chantelle Baxter.

Project Eight is a grassroots, not-for-profit organisation based in Melbourne. Committed to ending extreme poverty by 2015, Project Eight is joining the front-line, helping to achieve the 8 Millennium Development Goals developed by the United Nations in 2000.

Their current project is to help with the completion of a girls' secondary school in Kenya. This will be the second African school that Chantelle has been involved with building and we are extremely proud to support her endeavours. Awesome stuff by that girl, there.

The second of those good news stories for today is one that my parents, Dale and Sue, are supporting. Those of you who have dealt with them before will no doubt remember how strongly they felt about giving back, and, the standards that they expected of those organisations that they did donate to.

A famous Australian artist by the name of Robert Bosler is going to paint three massive paintings that capture the iconic essence of his home town in The Coffs Coast. These paintings will be created over a period of three months and will be painted inside the local shopping centre, then auctioned off with 100% of the proceeds going to local charities.

The local council, chamber of commerce and charities are right behind this project. There is more goodwill generated with sponsorships possible at the art school (both in-house and on-line) that Robert has created where people who would not normally benefit from such teaching will get the chance to do so. I understand that Dale and Sue jumped at the chance to support this project and were thrilled to do so.

As you can see, we are great fans of giving back to local and global communities, to share our wealth with those less fortunate, and we encourage you to do the same where you can. Again, this is one of the beautiful things about creating wealth; it is much easier to give to those in need, when we are not in need ourselves :-)


Vision, Integrity, and Passion

Generally speaking, we're big fans of the Somersoft community; in my opinion, it's far and away the best of its kind when it comes to online forums for property investors. I've been a part of the group there for almost seven years now, so that might give you an idea of how highly I still regard the place.

That said, there were a couple posts there by an individual or two lately that I found rather disappointing. Perhaps my view on the world is a little simple, but to my mind there are three key qualities upon which we build success within any endeavour:

Integrity, and,

Most investors that I speak to will have the third. That passion can have any number of drivers but for many of, that burning desire to create freedom through investing is what keeps us up until 3am hunting around online for new deals.

Vision is a little harder to come by. We all know roughly what that end goal is - financial freedom - but I do see a few people who have no idea what that actually means for them. Working that out is the hardest part, I believe, but well worth the effort. After all; how do you know when you get there, if you don't know where you're going...?

Integrity... I believe this to be the most important of those key values and I hold it - and those with an abundance of the stuff - in particularly high esteem. It is all too easy to create wealth without having to compromise it, and keeping one's integrity intact is amongst the most worthwhile of pursuits. And yet, from time to time I still see people willing to do the wrong thing in their efforts to get ahead.

One of those posts on the afore-mentioned forum revolved around someone wanting to hide income from the tax office. Another, thought it was perfectly reasonable to lie to a real estate agent; since they all lie to us anyway.

Lying to the tax office - and, to us! - is not cool. Even if we don't find out, the tax office have a ridiculously broad scope of information, and will most likely know what's going on. They generally won't appreciate petty excuses.

Lying to real estate agents is not cool, either, regardless of how they treat you. Nor is withholding information from banks in order to get finance. Two wrongs don't make a right. Play the game, by all means, but surely it's not worth lowering one's standards of self just for the sake of a little coin.

Now for most of you reading this - and indeed, most forumites, too - I'm sure that the above is not an issue at all. For the minority that inspired this post, I do hope that it's not a sign of where the world is heading today.

We always prefer dealing with people who can display all of the above traits. A vision towards achieving something awesome, the integrity to do so with honour, and the passion with which to motivate yourself and inspire others. It's a fantastic way of doing business and dealing with so many people who operate in this way is a constant plus for us :-)


Are you reactive, or proactive, with property?

Even now, it seems to be a common investment philosophy that buying and holding, and never selling, is the best way to make money from the real estate game.

It's relatively easy, passive investment. Over quite some time, historical medians indicate that average values will increase in cycles that work out to roughly 7% per year. When using substantial amounts of leverage and reasonable yields, this allows for some pretty good returns.

Assuming, of course, that you do get your 7% every year.

In many areas, average values have been fairly level - or even backwards in say, parts of Sydney - over the last few years before the first home owner grant has done it's magic for 2009. In that scenario, we're seeing many people negatively gearing without the capital growth to compensate.

Robert Kiyosaki has spoken about the dangers of negative gearing in the hope of seeing future gains. In many ways, with an uncertain financial environment at the moment, I tend to agree.

Perhaps it's because I like to take risks. Perhaps, it's because I'm amongst the "want-it-and-want-it-NOW" generation. Regardless, I am a fan of investors being proactive with their investments, rather than reactive. Creating value in a flat, falling or rising market, instead of waiting for the market to move for you. This is often cited as one of the main reasons to invest in bricks and mortar instead of shares; yet, we see many investors reluctant to do so.

And, we also see many people who are afraid to move money from a non-performing asset into something that will get a better return. As with most traditional concepts, we like to question, to ask 'why?'

Often, the response can be as fickle as a simple reluctance to pay tax, stamp duty or agent commissions. Oddly, these are simply costs of doing business.

Like any other such decision, it's all a numbers game. If the deal stacks up whilst standing still, then all the better. If it doesn't, then these costs should be taken into account and new opportunities analysed and compared until that decision can be reached with confidence.

Having a strategy that's built with the intention of creating a win, rather than waiting for the market to deliver you one on a platter, makes a lot more sense to me. Especially when the alternative is simply losing money whilst you're waiting...


Happy new year!

It's the 1st of July. A new year starts today... and, a new day started this morning; just like every other.

This, to me, is a good reminder of the folly of new year's resolutions - regardless of whether you celebrate the holiday in January or any other month. Goals can be set at any time and so, waiting until a particular day before committing to its achievement just doesn't make any sense. In many ways, it's simply a procrastination technique. Almost every smoker that I know will tell me in December how they plan to quit in January. Nevermind that they're usually lighting up again by the 3rd, which is another issue altogether.

Regardless, chances are pretty damn good that you've already got everything that you need to set these wheels in motion and to start taking steps towards achieving your goals; whatever they may be. So if you haven't already, cliched as the date may seem; resolve to do so, today. Go!

You can see some of our personal goals on each team member's page on our website. For the company, our plans include increasing the existing client base, hiring more staff, reducing turnaround times, and investigating other avenues with which we can help you to achieve your goals.

The 2010 financial year started this morning. Less than 365 days left of this financial year - so, tell us, what are your plans for that time?


Check out the new House Rules...


Thanks to the fantastic work by Chantelle Baxter, we now have a House of Wealth blog! Huzzah!

This will replace the House Rules newsletter that we used to email out every few months. We figured that really, three months is far too long to wait for new information, when there is just so much happening in the financial world around us at the moment. Beyond that, we reckon this should be a lot of fun.

So, we'll be updating this for you at least once a week.

Please subscribe by using the RSS feed button down the bottom of the page there, and of course, feel free to forward this along to anyone that you feel might find enjoy what we have to say. Comments to all posts are more than welcome, too, as we'd love to hear your thoughts on things as we go along.