Many Australians are facing hard times, especially with structural change transforming our economy. The harsh reality is that mortgage repayments and everyday living expenses continue even when you suffer redundancy, illness or other forms of misfortune.
We receive hundreds of emails from our 3 million website users annually (including visitors from around the world) asking when, and how, you can claim your Australian super benefits.
Withdrawing superannuation benefits means you must satisfy certain super rules. In simple terms, there are 14 ways to unlock your super early (or for your family to unlock your super if you die), which are listed later in the article.
Note: This article provides an excellent overview and summary of the 14 main ways you access your super. You can also use this article to access more than 50 articles (you can find the links contained within this article), answering different aspects of accessing super benefits early. This summary article, and the 50-plus related articles, are a product of the most popular questions asked by readers on the topic of accessing super early. For a sample of some of the popular questions on accessing super early, see SuperGuide articles Accessing super early: 16 popular Q and As.
Why is ‘preservation age’ so important?
In most cases you cannot withdraw your superannuation until you reach your preservation age and retire. Preservation age is age 55 for those born before July 1960, but at least 56 years for those born after June 1960, and at least 57 years for those born after June 1961, and at least 58 years for those born after June 1962. If you were born after June 1964, your preservation age is 60 years. Your preservation age can be age 55, or 56, or 57, or 58, or 59, or age 60, depending on your date of birth (see table below).
‘Preservation’ in this context simply means locked away, although some Australians who have had superannuation accounts prior to 1999 may also have some ‘unrestricted non-preserved’ benefits which they can access at any time.
Note: ‘Preserved’ benefits do not mean that your superannuation benefits are a fixed, guaranteed amount; just that they are locked away until you reach your preservation age and retire, or, satisfy another condition of release. See table below, and for more information on your preservation age see SuperGuide articles What age can you access your super (Preservation Age)? and Retirement Age Reckoner: Discover your preservation age and Age Pension age.
What is my preservation age?
|Date of birth||Your preservation age|
|Before 1 July 1960||55|
|From 1 July 1960 until 30 June 1961||56|
|From 1 July 1961 until 30 June 1962||57|
|From 1 July 1962 until 30 June 1963||58|
|From 1 July 1963 until 30 June 1964||59|
|On or after 1 July 1964||60|
Source: Adapted from Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Regulations 1994, sub-Regulation 6.01
When can I access my superannuation benefits?
In most cases, you can only withdraw your super if you satisfy a condition of release. Satisfying a condition of release means your preserved benefits can be accessed immediately (or as soon as practicable), provided the rules of your fund also let you withdraw your super.
Important: Although the broader super rules may permit early access, some super funds don’t permit access to super benefits where an individual has applied on ‘severe financial hardship’ grounds or ‘compassionate grounds’. You will need to check with your super fund whether your fund allows early access on these grounds.
Set out below are what SuperGuide considers are the 14 ways to legally withdraw your super benefits. You can click on the links below to go directly to the condition of release that interests you, or scroll down the page to access all items.
The Conditions of Release under the superannuation rules are
- Aged from 60 years to 64 years and cease employment
- Reach the age of 65
- Decision to start a transition-to-retirement pension (TRIP)
- Preserved amount is less than $200
- Cease employment and have certain pre-1999 super benefits
- Severe financial hardship
- Compassionate grounds
- Terminal medical condition
- Temporary resident leaves Australia permanently
- Permanent disability or permanent incapacity
- Temporary incapacity
- Decision to take your benefit as a lifetime pension or annuity
Retirement is the most common condition of release. You can retire when you have reached your preservation age AND you retire. Preservation age now ranges from age 58 to 60 years, depending on date of birth – refer table earlier in this article. Your super fund will usually require a retirement declaration verifying that you have retired.
The following SuperGuide articles help explain what ‘retirement’ means when accessing super benefits, and also what happens if you decide to return to work:
- Retirement definition
- If I retire before 60, when can I access my super?
- Accessing super: Turning 55 (or 56 or 57 or 58 or 59) is not enough
- Super for beginners, Part 9: If I retire and take my super, can I return to work?
- Accessing super early: Living overseas and reached preservation age
- Retirement Age Reckoner: Discover your preservation age and Age Pension age
There is a special ‘retirement’ rule for individuals aged 60 or over who cease an employment arrangement. A relatively unknown sub-category of the ‘retirement’ condition of release is where a person is aged 60 or over but under the age of 65 and they cease an employment arrangement, they can be considered ‘retired’. In these circumstances, the person can be considered ‘retired’ for the purposes of accessing super, even though they have no intention of retiring, and they may return to work. If an employment arrangement continues however, then turning 60 on its own is not considered a condition of release. See also condition of release No 3 (Reach the age of 65).
The SuperGuide article Accessing super: Ceasing employment after 60 explains how this exception works.
As soon as you reach the age of 65, you can withdraw your entire superannuation benefit (if you wish), even when you haven’t retired from the workforce, but you don’t have to.
The following SuperGuide articles help explain why you can access your super benefits when you reach the age of 65, even if you choose to continue working:
You can access a portion of your benefit each year by starting a super pension without retiring, provided that you’ve reached your preservation age and you withdraw no more than 10 per cent of your account balance as a pension payment/s each year. Preservation age is 55 years if born before July 1960, or from 56 if born before July 1961, or from 57 if born before July 1962, or from 58 if born before July 1963 or up to 60 years, if born after June 1960. A TRIP is non-commutable, that is, you cannot convert your pension account to a lump sum payment.
The following SuperGuide articles help explain how a transition-to-retirement pension (TRIP) works:
- Did tax kill the transition to retirement magic pudding?
- Guide to transition to retirement pensions (TTRs or TRISs)
You can access your preserved benefit if you leave a job where your employer was contributing to your fund on your behalf, and the preserved superannuation benefit is less than $200.
Note: The super laws also allow a super benefit that is less than $200 to be withdrawn where, the super account is considered to be owned by a lost member, the account is subsequently found by the fund member, and the value of the super benefit when released is less than $200.
For more information on lost super, see SuperGuide article The easy way to find and consolidate your lost super.
If you’ve been a member of a super fund since before 1 July 1999, you can cash your ‘restricted non-preserved benefit’ (certain benefits accumulated up to 30 June 1999) only when you cease employment with your employer, who has been your employer since before July 1999. A restricted benefit is a special category of super benefit that Australians may hold, but only if they were super fund members before 1 July 1999, and even then, they may not hold such benefits.
For more information on non-preserved super benefits, and how this exception works, see SuperGuide article Unrestricted access to super, sometimes.
If you fall on hard times, you may be able to get some of your superannuation back if you satisfy the special conditions that constitute the government’s view of ‘severe financial hardship’. The trustee of your fund may give you access to a portion of your benefit, subject to certain conditions. In general terms, here are the rules:
a. You have been receiving Commonwealth Government income support, for example, unemployment benefits, for at least 26 weeks, continuously, and the trustee of your super fund is satisfied that you can’t meet immediate reasonable family expenses. Any payment is for the purposes of meeting everyday living expenses and can be one payment of no more than $10,000 (including tax) in any 12-month period.
b. If you’ve reached your preservation age (from age 55 to 60, depending on date of birth), you may be able to receive your entire superannuation benefit provided that you’ve been in receipt of government income support for at least 39 weeks.
The following SuperGuide articles help explain some of the scenarios that may fall within the special condition of ‘severe financial hardship’, and also circumstances that fall outside the rules:
- Early release of super due to severe financial hardship
- 10-point guide to First Home Super Saver Scheme
Before you retire, your super fund can release, part or all of your preserved benefits if you’re suffering a life-threatening illness, or trying to prevent the bank selling your home because of overdue loan repayments. You can also apply for early release of superannuation on compassionate grounds to pay for funeral or medical expenses, or palliative care. If you, or one of your dependants, is severely disabled, you can apply to access your super if this disability requires your home or car to be modified due to the disability.
First, contact your fund to find out whether it permits early release of any preserved benefits. If your fund does permit this type of early access, you can then apply to the Department of Human Services (www.humanservices.gov.au) for early release of your preserved benefit on compassionate grounds. The following SuperGuide articles help explain some of the scenarios that may fall within the special condition of ‘compassionate grounds’, and also circumstances that fall outside the rules:
If you suffer a terminal medical condition as defined by the super laws, you will be able to access your super benefits early. In addition, you won’t have to pay any benefits tax on those benefits. ‘Terminal medical condition’ has a specific definition, as defined in the super laws. A “terminal medical condition exists in relation to a person at a particular person if the following circumstances exist:
(a) Two registered medical practitioners have certified jointly or separately, that the person suffers from an illness, or has incurred an injury, that is likely to result in the death of the person within a period (the ‘certification period’) that ends not more than 24 months after the date of the certification;
(b) At least one of the registered medical practitioners is a specialist practising in an area related to the illness or injury suffered by the person
(c) For each of the certificates, the certification period has not ended
For more detail on this condition of release, see SuperGuide article Early release of super due to a terminal medical condition.
Note: If you’re suffering a serious illness, or a family member is suffering a serious illness, also check out condition of release no 8 (compassionate grounds).
If you’re a non-resident of Australia, you can access your Australian superannuation benefit when you permanently leave Australia. You’re a non-resident if you enter Australia on an eligible temporary resident visa.
Note: Under this specific condition, if you are an Australian and New Zealand citizen, or a permanent resident of Australia, or you hold a retirement visa, then you cannot access your super benefits when you leave Australia permanently, although New Zealand citizens may be able to transfer Australian super benefits to a KiwiSaver account.
The following SuperGuide articles help explain who is eligible (and who is not eligible) to access super benefits when they depart Australia permanently:
- Early release of super through the Departing Australia Superannuation Payment (DASP)
- Accessing super early: Living overseas and reached preservation age
- KiwiSaver: Only 3 super funds accept super transfers from NZ to Australia
If you suffer chronic illness or serious disability you may be able to claim on a total and permanent disability insurance policy that may be attached to your super account. Check with your super fund for the terms and conditions of any insurance policy.
Under the super rules, you can also access your super benefits early if you’re suffering ‘permanent incapacity’, which has a special definition. You can access your preserved super benefits if you become permanently incapacitated, that is, the trustee of your super fund is satisfied that, due to ill health, you’re unlikely ever to be able to work in a job for which you’re reasonably qualified by education, training or experience. For more information on permanent disability or permanent incapacity see the following SuperGuide articles:
- Early release of super due to permanent incapacity
- TPD insurance through super: A definitive guide
- Early release of super on compassionate grounds
Your fund may automatically provide income protection insurance, or you may be able to apply for such insurance via your superannuation fund. If you suffer prolonged illness or disability you can claim on this insurance cover and receive a regular income, usually for up to two years. For more information, see SuperGuide articles:
- Income protection insurance through super: A definitive guide
- Does shift work count for SG entitlements and income protection insurance?
If you die, your superannuation fund pays your death benefit to your estate, or to your spouse or other dependants. The following SuperGuide articles help explain what happens to your super benefits if you die:
- Death and taxes: Guide to superannuation death benefits
- Estate planning, super and SMSFs: Getting your house in order
- SMSF: If I die young, will my wife pay super tax on the life insurance payout?
Provided you take your super as a non-commutable lifetime pension or annuity, you can access your super at any age. A non-commutable lifetime pension or annuity is one that you receive for your lifetime and which you can’t convert to a lump sum amount. Typically, this lifetime pension option is only available in older public sector super funds.