Accessing your superannuation is not something to be taken lightly as 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 have 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).
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
Risks of accessing your super early
An offer to help you get your superannuation money early might seem like a great idea! But these schemes are often illegal.
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 funds are released early they lose this protection.
Early access to super withdrawals are taxed
Funds released prior to retirement are taxed. The tax varies depending on your financial circumstances and whether the money in your superannuation fund was a concessional or non-concessional contribution. Your super fund should tell you about any tax payable on withdrawal. See ATO information How tax applies to your super.
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.