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  • Writer's pictureTyson Jonas

Franking Credits: What are they and how do they work?

One of the key topics for investors in the 2019 Australian Elections involves Dividend Imputation Credits, known more popularly as Franking Credits.

Although parts of the media have made this seem as though it is just the super wealthy that benefit from Franking Credits many Australian investors; including many low income earners and self funded retirees rely on Franking Credits to increase their income.

The first question you are probably asking is what is a dividend imputation credit and why on earth are they called Franking Credits? I can't explain why they are called Franking Credits (my best guess, would be that dividend imputation credit is a lot to say) however, I can explain to how they work.

Dividends are paid out of profits which have already been subject to Australian company tax which is currently 30%. This means that shareholders receive a rebate for the tax paid by the company on profits distributed as dividends.

These dividends are described as being 'franked'. Franked dividends have a franking credit attached to them which represents the amount of tax the company has already paid. Franking credits are also known as imputation credits.

You are entitled to receive a credit for any tax the company has paid. If your top tax rate is less than the company's tax rate, the Australian Tax Office (ATO) will refund you the difference.

Case study: James receives a tax refund

James owns shares in a company. The company pays him a fully franked dividend of $700. His dividend statement says there is a franking credit of $300. This represents the tax the company has already paid. This means the dividend, before company tax was deducted, would have been $1,000 ($700 + $300).

Come tax time, James must declare $1,000 (the $700 dividend plus the $300 franking credit) in his taxable income. If his marginal tax rate was 15%, he would have paid $150 tax on the dividend. Because the company has already paid $300 in tax, James will receive a refund of the difference, which is $150.

If James was in a higher tax bracket he may not have been entitled to a refund of any of the franking credit, he may even have to pay additional tax. However, if he is a low income earner, it is possible to be refunded the full amount of the franking credit.

Visit the ATO website for more information on dividend imputation.

Refunding of excess imputation credits

The refund applies when your total imputation credits that are attached to your franked dividends paid exceeds your basic income tax liability for the year.

A cash amount can be refunded to you reflecting the amount of excess imputation credits, after applying them and any other tax offsets to which you are entitled to. This will in turn reduce your basic income tax liability to zero.

If you are required to lodge an income tax return, you can use it to claim a refund of excess imputation credits. If you are not required to lodge a tax return, the refund is available on application.

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