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Access superannuation

It's true that superannuation is your money and you have a right to access it.

Usually that right can't be exercised until you reach the minimum age set by law and you've permanently retired. But if you're experiencing severe financial hardship or have medical, disability or funeral expenses you just can’t afford, you may have the right to apply to have some of your superannuation released before you retire.

Accessing superannuation

Accessing your superannuation is not something to be taken lightly, since there are serious consequences. Here, we'll explain the advantages and the risks, and explain the process of applying, to make sure you go into it with your eyes open.

Early access to superannuation is available because there are times when a person should have access to their money to avoid serious financial harm or to meet certain needs. The grounds for early access are therefore very limited.

You should only consider this option after you’ve considered all other options, and preferably spoken to one of our financial counsellors.

If you've done that, and still see your present need as greater than your future need in retirement, accessing super may help you get greater control of your debts and/or meet expenses. For example:

  • you can use your own funds to manage your debt
  • your lenders and creditors will stop calling you to demand payment and threatening to repossess your home while the payment covers your arrears
  • you'll be under less stress

But remember, there are serious consequences (see 'Risks' below).

 

Eligibility

Most superannuation funds allow access to a lump sum once every 12 months, if your application is based on either:

Severe financial hardship
For “reasonable immediate family living expenses” including loan repayments, rent arrears, outstanding bills, car repairs and medical expenses.

Compassionate grounds
To pay medical, disability or funeral expenses; or to prevent the sale of your house by your mortgage holder or the council.

 

How to apply

If you've spoken to a financial counsellor about the options, and are confident that early access to superannuation is the right course of action for your situation, you can apply in one of three ways, depending on the reason you're applying:

  1. Applying due to severe financial hardship
    If you're applying for early release of your superannuation on the basis of severe financial hardship or terminal illness, apply directly to your superannuation fund.
    More information

  2. Applying on compassionate grounds
    If you're applying for early release of superannuation on compassionate grounds - such as medical, disability or funeral expenses - your application is processed by the Department of Human Services (DHS).
    More information

  3. Applying to pay mortgage arrears or council rates
    If you're applying for early release of superannuation to pay mortgage arrears or council rates, apply using your Centrelink MyGov account.
    More information

Risks of accessing your super early

Superannuation scams

An offer to help you get your superannuation money early might seem like a great idea! But if you agree to it, you could end up in a lot of trouble. There are illegal schemes exploiting people in financial hardship by charging excessive fees for their services.

Be aware that accessing your super before age 55 (at the earliest) is illegal except in very limited circumstances. Don't be tempted to accept an illegal offer.

MoneySmart shows you how super scams operate so that you can protect your retirement savings.

Less available in retirement

Less superannuation will be available to you in retirement, or if you face another period of financial hardship.
 

Loss of protection from creditors

Funds in superannuation accounts are protected from creditors, however, when released early they lose this protection.

Higher tax rate

Funds released prior to retirement are taxed, and taxed at a higher rate.

Fees and charges

Superannuation funds may charge a service fee and other costs for making the funds available early.

May not pay off all your debts

Unless early release pays off all your debts, you may pay your money to your creditors and still end up in debt, or, at worst, losing your home.