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Accessing your super early

Here's the different eligibility criteria you need to meet in order to access your super early.

Updated

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Superannuation is designed to help you enjoy a secure and comfortable retirement. However, if you’ve fallen on hard times financially, you might be wondering: can I access my super early, and how?

As a general rule, you usually can’t access your super until you reach your preservation age (between 55 and 60 years, depending on your date of birth) and meet a condition of release.

warning The government has recently announced a new, temporary initiative which allows Australians to access some of their super early if they've lost their job or had their income reduced due to coronavirus. If this is what you're looking for, we've got a more detailed guide here on how this works.

The most common conditions of release that allow you to access super benefits early are:

  • Reaching your preservation age and retiring
  • Reaching your preservation age and starting a transition to retirement pension while continuing to work
  • Reaching 65 years of age (even if you have not retired)
  • Being aged 60 to 64 years and ceasing an employment arrangement
  • Passing away (in this case, your super death benefits will go to your nominated beneficiaries)

When can I access my super early?

In certain limited circumstances it is possible to access your super savings early, including the following reasons:

Let’s examine each of the above conditions of release to find out when and how you can withdraw your super benefits early.

Compassionate grounds

You may be granted early access to your super on compassionate grounds if the Department of Human Services (DHS) is satisfied that your application meets the eligibility criteria. The amount you withdraw is paid and taxed in the same way as a normal super lump sum.

It’s also worth pointing out that the early release of super on compassionate grounds will only be granted to help you cover unpaid costs. If you’ve already paid those costs, even by using a loan or credit card, you won’t be able to access your super.

Compassionate grounds include:

Medical

If you need to pay for medical treatment for yourself or a dependant, or to travel to receive treatment. You or your dependant must have a life-threatening illness or injury, acute or chronic pain, or acute or chronic mental illness. You must also show that you can’t get treatment through the public health system (this is not required for travel to medical treatment) and that you can’t cover your costs any other way.

If you meet the necessary requirements, your super fund will release enough money to cover your reasonable medical costs. This amount will be determined based on quotes and invoices.

If you don’t have enough money in your super to cover those costs, you’ll need to show the DHS how you’ll pay for the rest.

Mortgage

If a lender threatens to sell your home because you have fallen behind on repayments, you may be able to get an early release of super to ensure that you don’t lose your home. You will only be eligible if:

  • It’s your main home
  • You’re legally responsible for the mortgage
  • You can’t make loan repayments any other way, for example, by selling other assets

The DHS will only let your super fund release enough money to stop the lender selling your home. The maximum amount you can receive from one super fund per year is:

  • Three months of repayments, and
  • 12 months of interest on the balance of the loan

If your super balance is insufficient to cover costs, you must either:

  • Reduce the arrears, or
  • Provide a letter from your lender confirming their willingness to accept the money available in your super to stop the sale of your home

Disability

If you or one of your dependants have a severe disability, you can apply to the DHS for early release of your super to modify your home or vehicle to suit your special needs, or to buy disability aids.

The modifications must be to your main home or a car you own, and you’ll need to be able to demonstrate that there’s no other way you can pay for those modifications. If your application is successful, the DHS will let your super fund release enough money to cover reasonable costs.

If you don’t have enough money in your super to cover those costs, you’ll need to show the DHS how you’ll pay for the rest.

Palliative care

If you need an early release of super to pay for your own palliative care, you can apply directly to your super fund. The fund can release the money when you have a terminal illness and you won’t pay any tax on this amount. The DHS can also approve the early release, but you’ll need to pay tax on the money you access.

You can also access an early release of super to pay for palliative care for a dependant who:

  • Has a terminal illness
  • Needs help paying for palliative care
  • Can’t pay any other way

If your application is successful, you can access enough of your super balance to cover reasonable costs.

Funeral

Early release of super may also be possible if you need to cover the cost of a dependent's funeral and you can’t pay in any other way. You’ll need to apply to the DHS to let your super fund release money to cover reasonable costs, which include things like the funeral service and headstone but do not extend to the wake.

Severe financial hardship

If you’ve received eligible government income support payments for a continuous period of 26 weeks and you can’t cover your immediate family living expenses, you can apply directly to your super fund for an early release of super.

Paid and taxed as a normal super lump sum, this early release allows you to access between $1,000 and $10,000. A maximum of one withdrawal is allowed in any 12-month period.

However, before applying for early access to super due to severe financial hardship, keep in mind that an early release may reduce your Centrelink payments such as the Family Tax Benefit, Child Care Benefit and income support.

Terminal medical condition

If you’ve been diagnosed as terminally ill, you can contact your super fund to request early access to your super. To qualify, you’ll need two medical practitioners to certify that you have less than 24 months to live, and one of those practitioners must specialise in an area related to your illness or injury.

Your super is paid as a lump sum and if withdrawn within 24 months of certification by the medical practitioners is not taxable.

Temporary incapacity

If you suffer from a physical or mental medical condition that leaves you temporarily unable to work, or only able to work reduced hours, you can apply to your super fund to receive your super in regular payments (an income stream) during that time.

In these circumstances, the payments you receive are taxed as a normal income stream.

Permanent incapacity

In situations where you are permanently incapacitated, you can apply to your super fund for early release of super. Often referred to as a “disability super benefit”, this amount can be paid as a lump sum or an income stream.

To qualify for early access, you’ll need to prove to your fund that you have a permanent physical or mental medical condition that will most likely prevent you from ever working again in a job for which you are suitably qualified. This must be certified by at least two medical practitioners in order for you to receive concessional tax treatment.

If you qualify for this payment, keep in mind that you almost certainly also qualify for a Total and Permanent Disability (TPD) insurance payment. If you hold TPD cover through your super fund, this may offer the financial support you need.

If your super balance is less than $200

If you change jobs and the balance of your super account is less than $200, you may be able to access your super. You’ll need to get in touch with your super fund to request access, and the good news is that no tax is payable if you access a super account with a balance of under $200.

If you’re a temporary resident leaving Australia for good

While you’re a temporary resident working in Australia, your employer is required by law to make super guarantee contributions for you. Once you return to your home country, you’ll be able to access your Australian super savings. This is called a Departing Australia Superannuation Payment (DASP).

You may claim your DASP if:

  • You accumulated superannuation while working in Australia on a temporary resident visa (except subclass 405 and 410).
  • Your visa is no longer valid, for example, it has expired or been cancelled.
  • You have already left Australia.
  • You are not an Australian or New Zealand citizen, or permanent resident of Australia.

You can claim your DASP online here.

What’s my preservation age?

Your preservation age is the age at which you can access super if you have retired, or if you have started a transition to retirement pension. Your preservation age is calculated based on when you were born, as outlined in the table below:

Date of birthPreservation age
Before 1 July 196055
1 July 1960–30 June 196156
1 July 1961–30 June 196257
1 July 1962–30 June 196358
1 July 1963–30 June 196459
From 1 July 196460

AustralianSuper - Pre-mixed, Balanced Super Fund

AustralianSuper - Pre-mixed, Balanced Super Fund

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Do you need to switch super funds?

Even if you can't access the money right now, it's important to make sure you're in a low-fee, high-performing super fund so you're not paying more than you need to in fees. Switching to a fund with lower fees could help you retire with a much larger balance later when you are able to access the money.

Name Product Past Performance - 1 Year Past Performance - 3 Years Performance - 5 Years Calculated fees p.a. on $50,000 balance
AustralianSuper - Pre-mixed, Balanced option
0.56%
6.67%
7.37%
$411.18
AustralianSuper is an award-winning industry super fund and the largest super fund in Australia. The Balanced fund invests in a mix of different assets like shares, property and cash.
Virgin Money Super - Lifestage Tracker
-0.86%
6.46%
$358
Virgin Money Super's Lifestage Tracker invests in a range of different assets in line with your age, reducing your risk as you get older, and has some of the lowest fees in the market.
Sunsuper Lifecycle Balanced
-1.69%
5.7%
6.45%
$453
Sunsuper is an award-winning super fund with more than 1.4 million members. Its Lifecycle Balanced option invests your super in a mix of growth assets, and reduces your risk when you're near retirement.
QSuper Lifetime - Aspire 1
-0.35%
5.97%
6.91%
$315
QSuper is one of the largest member-owned funds in Australia. The QSuper Lifetime fund adjusts your investments each 7-10 years as you get older, so you're not taking on too much risk.
HESTA Balanced Growth
N/A
5.84%
6.27%
$538.53
HESTA is an industry super fund for the health and community services sector and open to all Australians. The Balanced Growth fund invests in a mix of asset classes without taking on too much, or too little, risk.
Spaceship GrowthX
11.93%
14.45%
$573
This is a high-risk investment option that aims to deliver high returns over the long term.
Spaceship's Growth X fund invests heavily in Australian and international shares, with a focus on technology stocks. Performance figures and fees supplied by Spaceship, not Chant West.
Australian Catholic Super Lifetime - Grow
-0.39%
N/A
$588
A Catholic super fund open to all Australians and designed for people working in Catholic education, healthcare or aged care.The Lifetime One fund option changes your investment mix as you get older.
Australian Ethical Super Balanced
2.77%
6.88%
6.88%
$622
Certified by the Responsible Investment Association Australasia.
Australian Ethical seeks to invest in companies that have a positive impact on the planet, people and animals, such as renewable energy and healthcare while avoiding investments in coal, oil, tobacco and gambling.
Aware MySuper Life Cycle Growth
1.33%
6.34%
6.56%
$549.42
Aware Super is a not-for-profit fund with more than 750,000 members. The MySuper product invests your super in a pre-mixed Growth fund until you’re 60, then it’ll switch to Balanced.
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The information in the table is based on data provided by Chant West Pty Ltd (AFSL 255320) which is itself supplied by third parties. While such information is believed to be accurate, Chant West does not accept responsibility for any inaccuracy in such information. Chant West’s Financial Services Guide is available at https://www.chantwest.com.au/financial-services-guide . Finder offers no guarantees or warranties about the data and we recommend that users make their own enquiries before relying on this information. Performance, fees and insurance data is based on each fund's default MySuper product. Where the performance, fees and insurance data for the MySuper fund vary according to the member's age, results for individuals between 40-49 years of age have been shown. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance.

*Past performance data is for the period ending June 2020.

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