How do I unlock my super?

Your superannuation fund may be meant for your retirement, but with all that money sitting there, it's natural to wish you could access it a little earlier. 

According to a September 2013 report from Deloitte, Australian superannuation is worth $1.6 trillion, leaving the recently released Melbourne Mercer Global Pension Index to rank it the second best retirement savings system in the world. 

With these kind of numbers, the temptation to unlock your super early is surely only more intense. As luck would have it, there are in fact ways to make use of these hard-earned savings before you're due to retire.

How can people typically access their super early?

Under the current superannuation rules, there are only very specific exceptions to being able to access your super before reaching your preservation age. Your preservation age, by the way, differs depending on when you were born — anyone born after July 1 1964, for example, must under normal circumstances be 60 before they can make use of their super. 

However, there are rare cases where one can make an early start on using their super. Among those listed by the Department of Human Services are: 

  • severe financial hardship
  • permanent incapacity
  • terminal illness
  • permanent departure from Australia

There are also various cases of compassionate grounds where the government will agree to let you access your super. This includes paying for medical treatment for a serious illness, paying mortgage arrears to prevent your home being taken from you and expenses associated with a loved one's death. 

Of course, all of these examples are invariably grim, and involve you accessing your super out of desperation. Isn't there some other way to make use of the wealth sitting in your superannuation fund?

Leveraging your super wealth

One way is to start what's known as a transition-to-retirement-pension, which lets you access a portion of your super each year as long as you're aged 55 or over. Under this scheme you can withdraw a pension payment worth up to 10 percent of your account balance. However, it will depend on your particular circumstances, so you should seek financial advice.


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