Accessing your Super: the good, the bad and...

The good

  • Superannuation is a tax effective way to save for your retirement. Funds come from contributions made to your super fund by your employer and any top –ups from your own money. Sometimes the government will add to your super through co-contributions and the low income super contribution.

  • Your employer must pay 9.5% of your salary into a super fund. This is the Super Guarantee and is gradually increasing to 12%.

  • Your super receives “concessional” tax treatment when you make contributions, whilst your funds are invested, and with super benefits[1]/withdrawals. However the tax on super benefits can be complex. (see MoneySmart: how is super taxed for more information)

  • Your super benefits are made up of 3 components:

(a)    Unrestricted non- preserved – which you can access anytime. These are generally after-tax amounts you have contributed to a super account

(b)    Restricted non-preserved – generally accessible when you stop working for the employer who contribute to your account

(c)     Preserved[2] – you can only access this in some circumstances, as per superannuation law.

Access to preserved super [3]

  • Generally you can only access preserved super when you

1.       permanently retire after reaching your preservation age (which depends on birth date[4]) or

2.       stop employment at age 60, or

3.       reach age 65, or

4.       stop working and you start a non-commutable[5] income stream (non-commutable means you generally cannot access lump sums from the pension until you reach retirement)

5.       reach preservation age, still working and you have a non-commutable income stream(TTR)

6.       have a preserved amount which is less than $200

7.       stop employment and have some pre-1999 super benefits

The not so good

  • You may be able to access your super under special circumstances, if you

8.    become permanently incapacitated or disabled, or

9.    have a temporary disability or

10.   qualify on compassionate grounds or

11.   qualify due to severe financial hardship, or

12.   are suffering from a terminal medical condition, or

13.   have an expired or temporary resident visa and have permanently left Australia.


14.   Your family can also access your super when you die.

So, there are only very limited circumstances where you can access your super savings early. These circumstances are mainly related to specific medical conditions or severe financial hardship.

What to do next

  • Please check your super statement which you should receive each year for further information and details about your individual fund balance. Or you can go on-line to check balances and amounts if you have set this up with your fund.

Retail and Industry super funds must also provide you with a PDS[6] to explain features of the fund.

  • For help with sorting out access to your super or any other queries, please feel free to call me on 0412 786 676 or contact me at to arrange time for a chat.



[1] This is because superannuation funds operate as a trust structure.

[2] From 1 July 1999, all contributions & investment earnings are preserved. Preserved means funds are locked away, NOT a guaranteed amount. Non preserved amounts accumulated before 1 July 1999 stay non-preserved

[3] Known as  “conditions of release”

[4] See preservation age table and ATO for additional details

Date of birth Preservation age

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 19 59

From 1 July 1964 60


[5] You can’t cash this in, but can start a transition to retirement, under certain conditions

[6] PDS = Product Disclosure Statement. This is a document that financial service providers (eg super funds) must provide to you when they recommend or offer a financial product. It must include information about the product’s key features, fees, commissions, benefits, risks and the complaints handling procedure.


Elizabeth Hatton