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Superannuation is your retirement fund and is often paid via your employer. If you started working later in life or have not earned superannuation previously, you can choose to sacrifice more of your income to go towards it. It’s unlikely that you will be able to access this before your retirement age. However, you may be granted access due to financial hardship or on compassionate grounds.
Superannuation, or super, is money put aside by your employer and/or you over your working life that will fund your retirement. The money held in a super account is invested by the super fund that manages the account. Your employer automatically enrols you in their preferred super fund but you can also choose your own. You can also choose your own investment options within your own super fund.
Generally, (apart from the compassionate grounds mentioned above) you will not be able to access this money until you reach your ‘preservation age’ – the minimum age, set by law, you must reach before you can access your superannuation funds. 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 if you are permanently retired (or have reached age 65). If you haven’t permanently retired, you can still access part of your super by a transition-to-retirement pension.
Your employer will contribute to your super fund, and you can top up this fund with your own money. The government may also make contributions if you are a low-income earner. More information about government contributions to your superannuation fund can be found at the ATO website.
- check for any annual superannuation statement issued to you – this will give you a good indication of where your superannuation is held and how much you have
- if you don’t know or have lost track of your superannuation, you can check by registering for the Australian Taxation Office’s online services via myGov – this will allow you to see details of all your super accounts, including any you may have lost or forgotten about
- once you have found all your super accounts, you can consolidate them into one account using your myGov account
If you are entering the workforce for the first time and have not accrued any superannuation in the past, your employer will put the money into a ‘default’ super fund, known as a MySuper account. You can also choose a specific superannuation fund to have your super paid into, if you wish.
In most cases, you will be able to choose the fund that you’d like to have your super contribution paid into. For more information see the MoneySmart’s information page on choosing a superannuation fund.
Some industrial awards specify a fund or a choice of a few funds that superannuation must be paid into. In these cases, you may have limited or no choice of fund.
Once you have chosen your super fund, notify your employer by filling in a standard choice form from the Australian Taxation Office or from your employer.
Super after separation
Getting your superannuation sorted after your relationship ends is an important step in planning for your future. Once you separate or get divorced, superannuation is treated as a type of property and can be divided by agreement or by court order.
Splitting from your partner does not mean you can convert your superannuation into cash – it is still subject to superannuation laws.
Separating couples may either:
- Have a lawyer certify a written agreement that splits you and your former partners superannuation – you do not need to go to court but you must both retain a copy of the agreement
- seek consent orders to split superannuation
- seek a court order to split superannuation (if you cannot reach an agreement with your former partner)
You should get legal advice about these options. These websites have helpful resources on dividing superannuation:
In certain very limited circumstances, you can access your superannuation early. These include:
- on compassionate grounds, including making a payment on your home loan or council rates, so you don’t lose your home
- under severe financial hardship
The Australian Taxation Office recognises that severe financial hardship often arises from Family and Domestic Violence circumstances and offers a range of support for people in this situation, including early access to superannuation.
Early access to your superannuation means that a reduced amount of superannuation will be available when you reach retirement age.
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