Access superannuation

Your superannuation is for retirement, with rules about when you can access it.

Normally, it’s after a certain age or official retirement. But if you’re facing serious financial issues or unmanageable medical, disability, or funeral costs, you might be able to apply for early access.

Accessing superannuation early

Considering early access to your superannuation? It’s a decision that requires careful thought due to potential consequences.

Early access is allowed in very limited circumstances, such as to pay certain expenses on compassionate grounds, as well as terminal illness, incapacity, and severe financial hardship.

Before opting for early access, explore alternative options, including seeking hardship assistance from creditors, and ideally, consult with one of our financial counsellors. If, after doing so, you find your current needs more pressing than future retirement needs, early access might be beneficial. For instance:

  • Use funds to pay outstanding debt and bills.
  • Creditors will cease contacting you for payment.
  • Lender threats of home repossession will stop if payment covers arrears.
  • Reduced stress.

However, be aware of serious consequences (see ‘Risks of accessing your super early’ below). It’s crucial to understand both sides before deciding.

In this section, we’ll cover early access due to severe financial hardship and on compassionate grounds.

If you are looking for information about early access due to a terminal medical condition, permanent or temporary incapacity, please see this ATO page for more information.

Access due to severe financial hardship:

If you are in severe financial hardship, you may be able to request early access to some of your super.

Applications are submitted to your super fund.

To be eligible, you must provide the relevant documents and meet both conditions:

    • You have been getting an eligible government income support payment continuously for 26 weeks; and
    • You are unable to pay reasonable and immediate family living expenses.

See our page Early Release of Superannuation Due to Severe Financial Hardship for more information on eligibility and how to apply.

Access on compassionate grounds:

You may be able to withdraw some of your super early on compassionate grounds to pay for:

Applications are submitted to the ATO.

You will need to meet all eligibility conditions and provide relevant documents to support your application.

Releasing your super funds

Your super fund is not obligated to release funds early, so check with them first.

  • If they don’t allow early access, and after consulting with a financial counsellor, you’re confident it’s the right move, you can switch some or all funds to a super fund allowing early access and then apply.
  • Note that if you switch funds, your existing super fund will need to turn your investments into cash, and this will involve transaction costs.
  • Typically, your super will include insurance cover in the event of your death or total and permanent disability. Consider potential loss of any insurance cover you have in your current fund and whether insurance in the new fund will meet your needs.

Speak to one of our financial counsellors

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and need some help to deal with your financial hardship, you can speak with one of our financial counsellors.

Financial counsellors aren’t judgmental about your circumstances – they’re here to offer you free, confidential and independent advice and assistance.

To speak to a financial counsellor you can:

  • Call the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007 – open Weekdays from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm.
  • Use our live chat service by clicking the chat icon in the bottom right corner of your screen. Live chat is available 9:00 am-8.00 pm weekdays. If you send a message outside these hours a financial counsellor will get back to you.
  • Make an appointment to see a financial counsellor in your local area – Find a local Financial Counsellor.

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 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 age, income and whether the money in your superannuation fund was a concessional or non-concessional contribution. If you are under 60 years old, on average, tax of approximately 22% will be deducted from the lump sum payment.

Your super fund should tell you about any tax payable on withdrawal.

See ATO – Early access to super – Tax on super benefits for more information about 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 and/or mortgage arrears, you may still remain in debt to your creditors or, at worst, lose your home.

That is why it is important to speak with a financial counsellor to go through all your options, including hardship assistance, before accessing your super.

May affect government income support payments

Accessing your super early, before retirement, does not generally impact government income support payments. However, the impact will vary depending on the type of income support or pension you receive, your age, and how much you withdraw.

Contact Centrelink or Department of Veterans Affairs first to check the potential impact based on your individual circumstances.