Getting your super
When you reach retirement you'll need to work out if you will
access your super as a regular pension, a lump sum or a combination
of both. There are rules around accessing your super early and
heavy penalties if you break them.
Here we explain when you can legally gain access to your super
and what factors determine how much you'll get.
When can you legally
access your super?
You can access your super when you reach your 'preservation
age'. This is the
minimum age, set by law, that your super must be 'preserved' until.
Your preservation age is currently between 55 and 60, depending on
when you were born.
When you reach preservation age, you can access your super as
long as you are permanently retired (or reached age 65). If you
haven't permanently retired, you can still access part of your
super via a transition to retirement
Work out when you can access your super.
and pension age calculator
Defined benefit super members
Members of some defined benefit
super funds can access a defined benefit pension from age 55,
regardless of when they were born. Speak to your fund for
eligibility requirements as each fund is different.
Taking your super as a
retirement income stream, lump sum or both
You can choose to receive your super as a lump sum; a retirement
income stream (e.g. $600 a fortnight), also known as an
account-based pension; or a combination of both. If you choose to
receive your super as a regular income stream, the money that
you're not accessing continues to work for you and earn an
Transferring your accumulation account to an account-based pension account
means you will continue to receive a regular income. Many people
find this much easier than having to look after a large sum of
An account-based pension is similar to your super accumulation
account, except instead of putting money into it you will be
drawing money out of it. There is a minimum amount you must
withdraw each year depending on your age, for example if you are
aged between 65 and 74 you must withdraw at least 5% of the balance
each year as income payments.
Investment returns of an account-based pension are not taxed and
if you are aged 60 or over your income payments will also be tax
free. Different rules may apply to untaxed or defined benefit
funds. Check with your super fund for more information.
Transfer balance cap
On 1 July 2017 a limit was introduced on how much money can be
held in an account-based pension. This is called the transfer balance
cap and is currently set at $1.6 million. Details are available on
the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) transfer balance cap webpage.
Cashing in your super
When you retire you can take your super as a lump sum. You don't
have to take it all at once, you may decide to leave it in super
and withdraw it a bit at a time as you need it.
Taking your super as a lump sum can have tax and Centrelink
implications and is often not the best way to deal with your super.
The returns on investments outside super are usually taxable. If
you make a mistake you might not be able to put the money back into
If you are aged 60 or over you can withdraw your super tax free.
If you are under age 60 you may have to pay tax depending on the
components of your super. See Retirement income and tax
for information about what makes up the different components of
Super lump sum plus pension
Your third option is to take some cash and convert the rest to a
pension. Most accumulation accounts and some defined benefit funds
will allow you to do this. This gives you the flexibility to take a
holiday, renovate your home or upgrade your car, for example, but
still receive a regular income. Most account-based pensions will
also let you withdraw lump sums in the future so you don't need to
make these decisions straight away.
While having the flexibility is great, remember that anything
you take out as a lump sum may reduce the amount of regular income
you receive and affect how long you money will last. Seek financial
advice if you need help working out what's best for you.
How much super will you
Your final retirement benefit depends on:
- your employer's contributions over your working life
- your own additional contributions
- your investment returns
- how much you pay in taxes and fees.
You may be entitled to a full or part Age Pension from
Centrelink so your super can be used to top up your Centrelink
income and improve your standard of living.
Work out how much income you are likely to have at
Can you access your super
There are some very limited circumstances when you can access
your super before you reach your preservation age:
- Incapacity - if you suffer permanent or
- Severe financial hardship - if you have
received Commonwealth benefits for 26 continuous weeks but are
still unable to meet immediate living expenses.
- Compassionate grounds - to pay for medical
treatment if you are seriously ill.
- Terminal medical condition - if you have a
terminal illness or injury likely to result in death within 2
years, as certified by two registered medical practitioners, at
least one of whom is a specialist.
You may also be able to access your super early if you are
permanently leaving Australia or if you have less than $200 in your
Carefully consider whether you really need to access your super
early. Seek advice if you're unsure. Accessing your super now may
not be a long-term financial solution if money is tight and
will reduce the amount you have for retirement.
See the ATO's early access to your super
webpage for more information.
Super death benefits
Making choices about your super death benefit is
very important, so it's worth spending a few minutes filling in the
form from the super fund to set out where your money should go if
you die. This will give comfort for you and your family, and avoid
confusion and delays at the worst possible time.
Discuss your plans with your family and close friends so there
are no surprises if they ever need to make a claim.
Who gets your super if you die
If you die, your super fund trustee
normally pays your death benefit to one or more of your dependants
or to your estate.
Update your nominations if your marital status changes or
you have children.
For super death benefits, the term 'dependants' includes:
- your spouse (this includes same-sex de facto partners)
- your children
- people with whom you had an interdependency relationship
- people who depend on you financially.
Most super funds let you nominate who you want your death
benefit paid to, either as a non-binding or binding nomination.
If you don't nominate someone, the super fund trustee will
decide who your money goes to. This can lead to delays and may
cause fights in your family.
A binding nomination leaves your super fund trustee with no
choice as to who gets your death benefit because you choose whether
the money goes to:
- one or more dependants; or
- your legal personal representative, who must pay out the money
according to your will.
A non-binding nomination guides the super fund trustee on who
will get your super benefit. However, the trustee still has the
final say, especially if you nominate someone who doesn't depend on
you. The trustee is not required to follow the instructions in your
How much is the death benefit?
The death benefit includes the total amount of money in your
super account at the time of death plus any life insurance cover
through the super fund.
Death benefit = super account
balance + any life insurance payment
Defined benefit funds sometimes have
different payment rules. If you're in a defined benefit fund,
contact the fund to find out more.
Claiming super death benefits
If you have to make a claim for a death benefit, contact the
deceased person's super fund and find out exactly what you need to
do. It's a good idea to take notes and ask the trustee to send you
copies of all the relevant forms and policies. This process may
take several months, depending on the circumstances.
The way tax is applied to super death benefits depends on
whether you're a dependant of the deceased person or not, and if
the benefit is paid as a lump sum or income stream. See Tax and super
for more information.
Super is a lifetime investment that will provide
for you when you retire. Grow your super before you stop working so
you can make the most of it after you retire.
Last updated: 12 Feb 2019