Tax-free super for over-60s, except for some

If you withdraw your super benefits after you turn 60 years of age, you can expect to pay NO tax on those super benefits, unless you are a member of certain public sector super funds (see summary table at the end of this article).

Due to the large number of emails I receive on this topic, I’ll repeat the standard rule for most Australians: if you withdraw super benefits on or after the age of 60, your super benefit payment will be free of tax. The main exception to this standard rule is where you are a member of an untaxed scheme (some public sector funds), and some tax may still apply. I summarise the tax treatment of super benefits received by over-60s in the table at the end of this article.

Important: Although superannuation benefits are tax-free when received on or after the age of 60, you still must satisfy a condition of release, such as retiring from the workforce, to access your super benefits before the age of 65.

Note: If you are seeking information on the tax treatment of super benefits taken before the age of 60, then check out the SuperGuide article Retiring before the age of 60: the tax deal.

What about the news reports that tax-free super should be removed?

The current Liberal government, or more specifically, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, has publicly stated that no changes to the superannuation tax system will happen — ever! Although such a promise is difficult to believe from a politician who has made a few broken promises in his time, the general message that you can take from this position is that tax-free super for over-60s will continue in the foreseeable future. From the other side of the political fence, in late 2012, the former ALP government did fuel a rumour (started by themselves) that tax-free treatment of super benefits received by over-60s would be changed. The rumours fizzled out when the former ALP government realised that it would be political suicide to remove the tax-free status of retirement benefits, and for not much financial reward.

In February 2015, the rumours began again that tax-free super for over-60s may be changed. The Liberals however have drawn a line in the political sand and declared that tax-free super for over-60s will remain indefinitely.

Good luck to the government that decides to win an election by removing tax-free super for over-60s!

Background: The reason the former Liberal federal government introduced tax-free super in 2007 is that the then-treasurer Peter Costello realised, at the time, very few retirees were paying income tax, and the cost to the federal budget was not as big as the political goodwill benefits of delivering tax-free super to over-60s.

The relatively new Liberal government, elected in September 2013, has promised ‘no changes to super’ during the first term of government, and more recently has promised that there will be no changes to super taxes, ever. You have decide if you believe this promise by the Liberals, and also decide if the tough changes to the Age Pension rules are not simply changes to the super rules in reverse. Even so, every think tank and industry body is chasing media coverage for the latest ‘solution’ to Australia’s budgetary woes. What we need from both sides of parliament, and from think tanks, is a focus on the long-term retirement needs of Australians, and determining what is fiscally possible, rather than finding a budgetary lever and then yanking the super chain.

In the foreseeable future, the super tax rules for over-60s remain in place. I explain how tax-free super benefits for over-60s operate later in this article, and summarise the tax treatment in the table at the end of the article.

For the tax treatment of super benefits received before the age of 60 see SuperGuide article Retiring before the age of 60: the tax deal.

How does tax-free super for over-60s work?

If you’re aged 60 or over, and you satisfy a condition of release (such as retiring, or starting a transition-to-retirement pension, you can receive your superannuation benefits tax-free — as a lump sum, or as a superannuation pension. A pension is also known as an income stream (regular payments over a period of time). You can enjoy a tax-free income in retirement assuming you have sufficient super savings to deliver you that regular income in retirement.

Note: Tax-free super has always been a feature of Australia’s retirement system but, before July 2007, you usually had to hire advisers and get involved in creative financial gymnastics to make it happen — not unlike what you still have to do to secure tax-free income when you retire before the age of 60. And before July 2007, how much super you could receive at concessional rates was limited.

Since 2007, what is particularly attractive for retirees is that, you can earn non-super income in addition to your superannuation income and still pay little or no tax because your superannuation benefit isn’t counted as income for tax purposes. What this means is that the benefit payments from your superannuation fund are not included in your tax return. For example, you can, say, receive $80,000 income from your super fund, and $18,200 (for the 2015/2016 year) from part-time work and pay no tax, and potentially earn up to $20,542 of non-super income tax-free, when you take into account the Low Income Tax Offset. You can potentially create an annual income of $100,000 or more, and not pay a cent of income tax.

If you’re aged 65 or over, you can potentially earn even more non-super income and pay no income tax (due to the application of the Senior Australians and Pensioners Tax Offset). For more information about SAPTO see SuperGuide article No tax in retirement because you SAPTO (updated rates).

Public servants aged 60 or over may still pay tax on super: If you’re aged 60 or over and retired, your superannuation benefits from a taxed source are tax-free — most Australians are members of a taxed super fund. If your super benefits are paid from an untaxed source (some public sector funds), however, then your benefits may still subject to income tax after you turn 60, but less tax than if you were receiving your super benefits under the age of 60.

For specific tax rates for super benefits paid from an untaxed source on or after the age of 60, see summary table at the end of this article.

Turning 60, and turning 65, are significant

In the past, the retirement age of 65 used to be the main focus in retirement planning because that was the official age of retirement for many companies. Further, it was only a few years ago that you weren’t permitted to work beyond the age of 65 if you were an employee. Now, the focus (at least for tax purposes) is the age of 60.

Turning 65 remains important in super terms for those Australians who want to continue working but access all of their super benefits, either as a lump sum or an income stream. If you turn 65 years age, this milestone is considered a condition of release and you can access your super benefits without retiring or satisfying another condition of release.

Note: More importantly, the age of 65 is the Age Pension age for Australian men and women close to retirement, although Age Pension age gradually increases to 67 years from 2023, and increases to 65.5 years from July 2017 (see SuperGuide article Age Pension age increasing to 67 years (not 70 years)). If the Liberal government wins the next election, and has a majority in both houses, the Age Pension age will be increasing to age 70 for anyone born after 1964.

The Age Pension is still a very important part of retirement planning for most Australians because around 80 per cent of retired Australians of Age Pension age currently receive a full or part-Age Pension. Note that from 1 January 2017, the Age Pension assets test will become much harsher for part-Age Pensioners (for more information see SuperGuide article 300,000 retired Australians to lose some or all Age Pension entitlements).

Consider taking an income stream (superannuation pension)

Besides enjoying tax-free income in retirement, a compelling argument for starting a superannuation pension is that the earnings on assets financing your pension are exempt from tax. You receive tax-free income, and your tax-free income is sourced from assets that are invested in a tax-exempt environment.

In comparison, if you invest your savings outside the super environment, the earnings on your savings are subject to income tax.

Note: If you choose, you can leave your super account in accumulation phase indefinitely. You’re not forced to take a lump sum or start a pension. Accumulation phase means that you haven’t started a pension with your superannuation account. By choosing such a strategy, however, your super account’s fund earnings on assets in accumulation phase continue to be subject to up to 15% earnings tax.

Summary table: Possible taxes on your super WHEN 60 YEARS OF AGE OR OVER

The summary table explaining super tax treatment for over-60s is set out below, and explains the following taxes:

The summary table below contains the following information on super taxes for over-60s:

  • Contributions taxes
  • Earnings taxes (accumulation phase)
  • Benefit payment taxes applicable when taking lump sums or super pensions from a TAXED scheme (most super funds are taxed schemes)
  • Benefit payment taxes applicable when taking lump sums or super pensions from an UNTAXED scheme (certain older public sector schemes). Different tax rates apply if you’re a member of an untaxed scheme
Possible taxes on your super WHEN 60 YEARS OF AGE OR OVER
TaxTax RatesWhat Part of Your Super is Taxed?
Contributions Taxes (does not apply to ‘untaxed’ schemes)
‘Contributions’ Tax*15%Tax applies to any concessional (before-tax) contributions
Division 293 Tax15%Additional tax applies to any concessional contributions paid by those who earn more than $300,000 a year (adjusted taxable income), taking total tax on concessional contributions to 30%
Earnings Taxes** on fund income (taxed source)
Investment Income Tax15%Tax on investment earnings. No earnings tax in pension phase..
Capital Gains Tax (CGT)15% (effective rate of 10% after CGT discount)Tax on capital gains in your fund. Effective tax rate of 10% for gains on assets held for more than 12 months. No tax payable on capital gains in pension phase.
Non-Arm’s Length Income47%Income from a source that is not on a commercial arm’s length basis. Tax is also payable on this income in pension phase.
Benefit Payment Taxes for Over-60s
Super Lump Sums (60 year or over)
TaxTax RatesWhat Part of Your Super is Taxed?
Lump Sums (taxed scheme)0%No tax payable on ‘tax-free component’^ of lump sum.
Lump Sums (taxed scheme)0%No tax payable on ‘taxable component’^ of lump sum.
  Untaxed scheme (older public sector schemes)
Lump Sums (untaxed scheme)0%No tax payable on ‘tax-free component’^ of lump sum from UNTAXED source^^.
Lump Sums (untaxed scheme)15% (+ Medicare levy))Tax payable on ‘taxable component’ of benefits from UNTAXED source^^ up to the UNTAXED plan cap amount of $1.395 million (for 2015/2016 year) and $1.355 million (for 2014/2015 year).
Lump Sums (untaxed scheme)47% (+ Medicare Levy)Tax payable on ‘taxable component’ of benefits from UNTAXED source^^ above the UNTAXED plan cap amount of $1.395 million (for 2015/2016 year) or $1.355 million (for 2014/2015 year).
Super Pensions (60 years and over)
Pensions (taxed scheme)0%‘Tax-free component’^ of benefit payment is not subject to tax.
Pensions (taxed scheme)0%No tax on pension income payments sourced from ‘taxable component’^.
 Untaxed scheme (older public sector schemes)
Pensions (untaxed scheme)0%‘Tax-free component’ of super pension from UNTAXED source^^ is not subject to tax
 MTR + Medicare Levy with 10% pension offsetPension income sourced from ‘taxable component’ of benefit from UNTAXED source^^ counted as part of taxable income so subject to MTR, but received 10% pension offset against taxable component.

*Contributions are included in a super fund’s assessable income, which is subject to earnings tax of 15 per cent. In relation to contributions, this tax is commonly known as ‘contributions tax’.
**No tax payable on earnings from pension assets, that is, assets financing a pension/income stream.

^ Superannuation benefits can be made up of two components: taxable component and tax-free component. Tax-free component is always tax-free and taxable component is taxed depending on size of benefit and age of fund member.
^^An untaxed source is a super fund that hasn’t paid tax on employer super contributions and super fund earnings. Benefits from an untaxed source are benefits paid from some public sector super funds

Important: The summary table above is the copyright of Trish Power and SuperGuide holds the exclusive licence to the use of this table (unless otherwise negotiated for specific use by selected organisations). In line with our approach with all SuperGuide articles, any unauthorised copying or use will be vigorously pursued through legal channels.


  1. In 2007 the then Prime Minister John Howard introduced the tax-free super for the over sixties, if the super income comes from a so-called taxed fund.
    As a result :

    This is how the retirees are treated in Australia.
    Retiree: 1)
    Worked for 45 years and paid taxes, but did not accumulate enough assets to be completely independent of the age-pension. For every dollar of extra income for him and his wife above $6,500, the couple loses $0.50 of age pension, and if their income exceeds $45,000 per annum, the couple will pay tax of $0.315 in the dollar including medicare levy, leaving them with an income of $0.185 from every dollar extra income. For the defined benefit income a 10% tax-offset applies if paid from an Australian super fund, but not if the income comes from an overseas fund.
    Retiree 2)
    Has accumulated assets of $1.5million,mostly with huge tax concessions, and the assets are in a so-called taxed Self Managed Super Fund. To be very conservative, the assets are in a term deposit earning 7.0% income of $122,500 per annum and even if the retiree is single, he/she will not pay a cent of tax.
    Now if the assets are in fully franked shares, like banks, and return $100,000 worth of franked dividends, he/she will again pay no tax on the dividend, and the government will send him/her a cheque of $30,000 for the franking credits.
    Should the assets of these retirees fall below a certain level, they will be entitled to the age pension as anyone else, therefore why does the government provides the rich retirees with such huge tax concessions, while punishing the retirees at the lower income scale with the punitive means-test of the age pension?
    Retiree 3)
    Is an ex-politician or highly paid public servant, in receipt of a defined benefit pension of $100,000, on which he/she will have to pay tax, but he/she gets a 10% tax offset, which equals $10,000 after reaching retirement age, but before retiring, the public servant can establish a SMSF and contribute into it extra with tax concessions if the $25,000 total for under fifty and $50,000, if over fifty is not exceeded and in addition he/she can contribute $150,000 from after tax income, and the earnings from the SMSF will only attract 15% tax, and when the person reaches the age of 60 even the income will be completely tax-free for the SMSF.
    Retiree’s 2) are well represented by the media and the super industry, as well as the Unions, and retiree’s 3) are represented by the government, and ironically by the leadership of various retiree Associations, like ACPSRO and its affiliated Associations,Acoss,COTA, but who represents retiree’s 1) the part- pensioners who are being robbed of a decent standard of living in retirement by the means-test of the age pension.
    What is the fairest solution; scrap the mean test of the age pension and scrap all tax concessions for super.
    Will the government change anything, as long as the above mentioned Associations support the government; never.
    Is there any other country which treats its citizens in such a discriminatory manner?
    I would like to refer you to two recent articles;
    1st) AFR ,Dec 8-9. 2012 by Brian Toohey, “Compulsory super makes little sense.
    2nd)AFR 13.Feb 2013 by Alison Kahler, “Don’t put super over the national good.
    3rd) AFR 21.March “Call to scale back super tax breaks” by Sally Patten.
    Recently there was a lot written about changes in super, which now seems to have disappeared, because the super industry and the Unions seem to be secure that the government will not make any drastic changes to the tax concessions for super.
    Last year, a record number of Australians travelled to other countries, a drain on the Australian economy, and many of the travellers were probably self-funded retirees, who benefit enormously from the tax concessions for super.

    I challenge anyone to disprove the above point.

  2. Peter Mansell says:

    I believe it was Menzies who introduced an additional 7.5% income tax on all workers to go into a fund to support their future old age pensions. Not only has a self funded retiree foregone immediate consumption in order to build their own super for retirement but also do not draw on that additional 7.5% that they have been contributing all of their working lives. The government can not keep changing the goal posts lest all faith will disappear in saving for ones own retirement. Then the government of the day will have a greater burden to contend with.

  3. The problem for attaining a balanced policy on retirement incomes is that neither major party has the fortitude to accept independent expert advice without cherry-picking elements that suit their politics.
    Labor had several reviews but failed to implement properly. The Libs are going through a tax review that should include retirement elements, but have already declared some areas are protected, hence the result will be below par.

    On of the problems with untaxed super pensions for the very wealthy is that Peter Costello removed the tax free limit on accumulation when he removed the Reasonable Benefit Limit. No wonder there are now many individual and SMSF funds with exceptionally high (tax-free) balances, as it is still the best low tax environment. Individuals can invest $180k post-tax every year as well as the concessional values. Yes the former is all theirs, but the growth is provided by tax concessions as it attracts only 15% in accumulation then zero in pension.

    When I hear a politician say it is all their money, that has to be qualified with a note about the continuing annual tax concessions.

    As far as I am concerned, that tax concessional growth comes out of the same bucket (the tax revenue) as govt pensions are paid from. Decent govt policy would acknowledge this, but sadly we now have the middle class “wealthy” being cut back on part pensions whilst the super wealthy super pensioners are continuing to obtain unwarranted high tax concessions.

    The elephant in the room for everyone is the likely high cost of aged care, so the argument for requiring people to run down their fund balances needs to be tempered with this in mind – and this care will only increase in cost.

  4. Hi all.
    Reading these comments is interesting.
    On the one side comments are suggesting that having contributed to super there should be concessions when you reach 60.
    On the other side comments suggest you should keep paying with no concessions.
    So! I think what is lost in these comments is that superannuation was introduced in 1992 and that not everyone poured their ‘free’ money into super over the past 13 years. During that time taxes have been paid and we have been subject to all the changes in the country. It is also now not a choice to ‘retire’ as there are now 200,000 registered unemployed over 50 (ABS 2014) with a 45% increase since 2013.
    What is the balance then?
    Maybe it’s time to change our polar views and concede and that as a society we have to recognise there are different social groups and yes potentially there is a need to consider each differently.
    For those who think it’s easy living off a pension and that everyone has unlimited super funds that it should be treated as income and taxable as if it is from paid work maybe have lost site of the fact that super is compulsory, not government guaranteed and any returns are both variable and inconsistent. Taking super as unlike a regular wage!
    Can we afford not to think about a change where retirees live on what they have contributed? Some will still require the public purse ($30b increasing by $15b this yr). The main issue with self funding is the tax concession ($15b) – this is lost revenue.
    It’s a fine line!!!!

  5. Nearly all the chapters in that book John would be about the welfare system. Perhaps all those hard working self funded retirees should take a lump sum on retirement and spend iit as quickly as possible and get on the pension so other tax payers can support them. Another strategy for the young is to not bother about working hard, saving or contributing…just sit back, spend all you earn now and let tax payers support you including housing and a pension later in life and if you want to earn extra tax free income start your own cash based business so you can continue to receive those tax payer funded benefits.

    Isn’t it enough that self funded retirees are not a burden on other tax payers. Don’t forget they continue to contribute via GST.


  6. Tony Bahr says:

    I fail to see how any thinking person can dream up taxing my super after 60 . Its my money . I put it in to a super account under what ever the rules were . I paid the contribution tax . It is now after tax money just like a normal bank account .Its my money for me to do what I like with. Governments think they can legalize theft and calling it a TAX . Hands off !

  7. Hi Trish, I wonder if anyone has ever considered writing a book titled “How to enjoy the benefits of living in Australia without contributing a cent” it would surely be a best seller?.

    • Hi John
      I am sure your book suggestion would be a best seller, but i hope you are not suggesting that people who have worked all their lives, paid taxes ( not so long ago the top rate of tax was 60%) and accumulated savings for retirement ( often sacrificing current consumption), have not contributed a cent.
      All super fund members pay tax, and some pay more than they should (due to low incomes). The issue seems to be how the tax burden is distributed.

      • Hi Trish,
        You raise an interesting point.
        The question I would ask is:
        Where has this idea come from that “I’ve paid taxes all my life and I’m now 60, so I’m now entitled to live tax-free with no limits for the rest of my life”?
        When did we as a country decide that makes any sense (in principle or budget-wise)?

        The issue seems to be one of perspective.
        You seem to be suggesting that a person who has contributed heavily to superannuation has made a great sacrifice for which they should be richly rewarded.
        To my way of thinking, a person who has contributed heavily to super has saved a great deal in income tax each year through salary sacrifice and has saved a great deal in income tax on investment earnings along the way.
        For that person to now argue that they should be entitled to uncapped tax-free investment income for the rest of their lives on top of the tax concessions they’ve already received seems unjustifiable.

        Would be interested in your thoughts.


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