When you retire early, you’re going to have to make a few decisions. The tax implications of your retiring before the age of 60 can depend on whether you take your super as a lump sum and/or income stream.
Are you taking your super as a lump sum, an income stream or a combination of both?
Note: Remember that you must also satisfy a condition of release to access your super benefits before the age of 60. A condition of release includes retiring after reaching your preservation age, taking a transition-to-retirement pension (gives you access to up to 10% of your super benefits each year), suffering a permanent disability, to name a few.
Lump sum only
When you take all of your superannuation as a lump sum, you pay your concessional rate of tax and leave the super system.
Super benefits can be made up of two components – tax-free and taxable. If you receive a superannuation lump sum on or after the age of 55 (but before the age of 60), you can take advantage of the low-rate cap, an indexed lifetime limit that applies to your taxable component. You can receive up to $180,000 (for the 2013/2014 year) of your taxable component tax-free, provided your component is a taxed element (unless you’re a long-term public servant, the taxable component of your super benefit will be a taxed element).
If you retire on or after the age of 55, you can receive up to $180,000 (for the 2013/2014 year) of the taxable component of your lump sum, tax-free. The $180,000 low-rate cap is in addition to any tax-free component making up your super benefit. If your superannuation lump sum includes a tax-free component, you also receive that part of the benefit tax-free.
Note: Note that the single low-rate cap applies to all benefits received over your lifetime, rather than a fresh limit applicable for each benefit payment. If you have withdrawn super benefits in the past, you may have used up some, or all, of your low-rate cap of $180,000 (for the 2013/2014 year), which means you may have to pay tax on the taxable component when you take additional lump sums.
Income stream only
By putting the right structure in place and choosing an appropriate income stream, you can avoid paying tax altogether when taking super benefits before the age of 60. Further, any earnings on assets used to finance your income stream are tax-free.
Lump sum and income stream
You can have the best of both worlds. You may receive tax-free lump sums from your benefit’s taxable component, totalling up to $180,000 (for the 2013/2014 year). You can receive even more super as a tax-free lump sum, if your benefit includes a tax-free component.
You can also start an income stream before the age of 60 (subject to satisfying the payment rules), which enables you to access a 15% tax rebate on your pension income (assuming you’re aged 55 or over). The 15% pension tax offset does not apply to super pensions started before the age of 55, or if the super pension is from an untaxed source (certain public sector funds).
Note for public servants: If you are, or were, a long-term public servant, you may receive all or part of your super as an ‘untaxed benefit’. An untaxed benefit is a benefit that hasn’t been subject to contributions tax or earnings tax, while a ‘taxed benefit’ has been subject to contributions and earnings tax. Some public sector superannuation schemes (now closed to new members) haven’t paid these super taxes on employer contributions that are in excess of Superannuation Guarantee contribution requirements. This is because the additional employer contributions aren’t paid by the Federal Government until the benefit is payable. Untaxed benefits paid from such schemes are then hit with a higher tax to recoup the super taxes when the Government finally hands over the cash. If you belong to an ‘untaxed’ super scheme, then check with your super fund about your entitlements.
For more information on how your super benefits are taxed when withdrawing super before the age of 60, including a handy summary table of applicable super taxes, see SuperGuide article Retiring before the age of 60: the tax deal.