Superannuation is a waiting game: it takes a working lifetime to build and grow a retirement nest egg, and then there are restrictions on when you can start spending it.
Access depends on your age, as does the tax that you may have to pay.
But there are ways to get to your super early. We asked superannuation experts how to do it and what pitfalls to avoid.
The age that you’re eligible to access your superannuation depends on the year that you were born. This is also known as your ‘preservation age’.
If you were born before 1 July 1960, your preservation age is 55. If you were born after 1964, your preservation age is 60.
If you injure yourself or are unwell, then you may be able to access your superannuation before your preservation age, says First Super CEO Bill Watson.
“You can get early access to your super if you’ve got permanent incapacity or a terminal medical condition, but there’s certain tax rules that might apply,” Mr Watson says.
Over the age of 65, you are automatically entitled to access your full superannuation, whether you are retired or not.
Once you have retired, you have the option to either receive your super in lump sums or as a pension.
CareSuper CEO Julie Lander recommends keeping your savings in an interest-earning tax-free super account.
“There certainly are benefits to taking out a pension compared to even investing that money outside of super,” Ms Lander says.
“It gains investment earnings and there’s no tax on those earnings when they’re in pension mode.”
First Super’s Mr Watson also highlights the benefit of the tax-free environment.
“For the people who are in the allocated pension, they don’t pay any tax on their earnings. That means they save 15 cents in the dollar,” Mr Watson says.
Transition to retirement pension
If you reach your preservation age and want to keep working, you are eligible for a transition to retirement pension.
“You can look at taking a transition to retirement pension, which means that you’re restricted about the amount that you can draw down, but you can transfer your super balance into the tax-free section of the fund,” Ms Lander says.
“The whole idea of a transition to retirement pension is that you might be able to cut down your hours, and work less, but you’re supplementing your income with the pension from the TTR.
“When you finally retire you would transfer that into a full pension.”
How is tax assessed
If you decide to retire before 60, whether your preservation age is below 60 or not, you will pay tax on superannuation.
“In the circumstances where you’re between the age of 55 and 60, what people need to do is get financial planning advice and find out what the implications for them are,” says Mr Watson.
Once you reach the age of 60 there is no tax on superannuation pensions.
Watch for pitfalls
Ms Lander warns against splurging and removing your savings from your superannuation account once you have access to it.
“Everybody deserves to spoil themselves a bit when they finish work, but keep in mind that you could have up to 30 or 40 years in retirement these days,” she says.
“It disappoints me sometimes to see people just taking the money and we’re aware that they just put in it a bank account where they’re not probably going to maximise their return, and it could be taxable.”