Early Access to your Superannuation – When and How

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Economic hardship can arise at any time. Perhaps you lose your job, perhaps you suddenly find yourself afflicted with a serious illness. Whatever the reason, one of the first questions people want an answer to is whether it’s possible to access your super fund early in order to temporarily or permanently alleviate financial difficulty.

Sadly, the answer is mostly – but not always – no.

When I can I access super normally?

In the ordinary course of events, you can access your superannuation in any of four ways:

  • When you reach the age of 65, regardless of whether you retire or not.
  • When you reach your preservation age (see below) and retire permanently. To retire means that you give up working permanently, either full-time or part-time. The definition of part-time is a minimum of 10 hours per week, so it is still possible to work less than 10 hours per week and still be retired, provided you cut ties with your current employer. Your super fund will expect to receive a signed declaration that you never again intend to be gainfully employed for more than 10 hours per week.
  • When you reach your preservation age and choose to access some of your super balance (no more than 10% each year) as a transition to retirement pension while remaining employed on a full- or part-time basis.
  • If your employment is terminated after you reach the age of 60 (without necessarily retiring permanently). In these circumstances, you can be considered ‘retired’ for the purposes of accessing super, even though you may well opt to return to full time work.

Super preservation age

Your super preservation age depends on the date you were born. The younger you are, the later your preservation age:

Date of birth

Preservation age
(years)

Before 1 July 1960

55

1 July 1960 – 30 June 1961

56

1 July 1961 – 30 June 1962

57

1 July 1962 – 30 June 1963

58

1 July 1963 – 30 June 1964

59

After 30 June 1964

60

Accessing super early

Accessing super early is difficult but in some life situations, you (or your family) are permitted to access your super early:

  • Death. If you die, super benefits are paid to your spouse, dependants or personal legal representative.
  • Diagnosis with a terminal medical condition. In order to access your super due to ill health, you must satisfy the definitions of “terminal medical condition” as defined by the Federal Government, being certification from two registered medical practitioners that you are suffering from an illness, or have incurred an injury, that is likely to result in your death within two years of the date of certification. In addition, at least one of those certifying practitioners must be a specialist practising in an area related to the particular illness or injury you are suffering from.
  • Permanent incapacity. Another way of accessing super on medical grounds is if you become so incapacitated through illness that you are unlikely ever to be able to work in a job for which you are qualified.  At least two medical practitioners will need to certify your permanent incapacity.
  • Severe financial hardship. To qualify, you must have received Commonwealth income support for 26 weeks, and must be unable to meet reasonable and immediate family expenses. If you qualify, you can access up to $10,000 of your super benefit in each 12-month period (with a minimum withdrawal of $1,000). The 12-month period starts from the first payment.
  • Compassionate grounds. Examples of what could constitute compassionate grounds include:
    • Paying for medical treatment for yourself, a spouse, a child or a dependent. The medical condition must be life threatening or must generate chronic pain and suitable treatment must not be easily available through the public health system
    • Paying your mortgage so as to avoid losing your home (you can withdraw up to three months of repayments plus 12 months of loan interest in any 12 month period)
    • Expenses to deal with a severe disability, either for yourself or a dependent, such as costs incurred in modifying your home or car
    • Payments for palliative care for yourself or a dependent, such as hospice fees
    • Paying for funeral or burial expenses where you have no other way of funding the expense other than through your super
  • Termination of employment with an employer where your super fund has less than a $200 balance.
  • Leaving Australia permanently if you are an eligible temporary resident.
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