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 (which varies between 55 and 60 depending on your date of birth) and retire permanently.
When you reach your preservation age and choose to access some of your super balance (no more than 10 per cent 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.
Accessing super early
Accessing super early is difficult but in some life situations, you (or your family) are permitted to access your super early:
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. The payment is tax-free if you withdraw it within two years of certification.
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. These payments are taxable.
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 such as housing or accommodation costs, food expenses, essential travel costs and any other essential living costs. 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. Withdrawals paid due to sever financial hardship are sometimes taxable. If you are under 60 years old, this is generally taxed between 17 per cent and 22 per cent. If you are older than 60 years old, you will not be taxed.
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
These amounts are tax-free.
Leaving Australia permanently if you are an eligible temporary resident
These payments are taxed at up to 45 per cent (65 per cent for working holidaymakers).
Early access due to COVID-19
Last year, those financially impacted by COVID-19 could, if they met the relevant conditions, withdraw amounts from super early. That scheme ended on 31 December 2020 and no further withdrawals can be made.