What is superannuation?

What is superannuation?

Before you can prepare for retirement, you need to understand how to go about the process!

Australia's superannuation system helps people shift into their post-work years without coming under financial strain. While a savings account is good to have throughout your life, superannuation ensures dedicated retirement funds are locked away until you reach a certain age.

There are strict rules surrounding superannuation, not to mention many ways to grow your wealth. Here are some helpful tips to the system, which is colloquially referred to as super.

What is superannuation?

Preparing for retirement is not an overnight process. Instead, you'll need to grow your nest egg over a long period of time. 

If you're a salaried employee aged 18 years or older and earn $450 or more per month before tax, your employer is obliged to make super contributions on your behalf. At the time of writing, this amount is 9.5 percent of your salary and is paid by your employer into your selected super fund, however the proportion will increase over time.

You can also make payments yourself, to top up the employer contribution.

What is a super fund?

Your employer will need to make their contributions to a super fund on your behalf. 

In many cases, you get to elect which super fund you want to go for. In other instances, there may be an applicable employment award or a clause in your employment agreement that dictates a default fund, which you have to use. It's best to check with your employer if you're unsure.

You'll need to take your age into consideration when choosing a fund. If retirement is fast approaching, a conservative fund may be your best option — with less time on your side, you won't be able to weather short- to medium-term losses as well as someone who's younger.

By contrast, if you're fairly new to the workforce, a fund with a more aggressive investment strategy could be right for you. While there's potential for losses, you can generally ride these out over time and experience favourable growth overall.

How can I boost my superannuation?

While employer contributions will help build a healthy retirement fund, it's a smart idea to make extra contributions, where possible.

You can ask your employer to contribute additional money to your super from your salary, which is known as a salary sacrifice or concessional contribution. This is made before your salary is taxed. For many individuals, this is a favourable option, as the money is taxed at the concessional rate of 15 percent.

Alternatively, you can make non-concessional contributions. There is a limit to the level of such contributions, however. If you exceed it, there is a significant tax rate applied to subsequent amounts.

Finally, be sure to check how many super funds you have! If you've switched employers, you may have more than one super account, which could be sucking up precious money in extra fees.

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Learn more about superannuation

How do you open a superannuation account?

Opening a superannuation account is simple. When you start a job, your employer will give you what’s called a ‘superannuation standard choice form’. Here’s what you need to complete the form:

  • The name of your preferred superannuation fund
  • The fund’s address
  • The fund’s Australian business number (ABN)
  • The fund’s superannuation product identification number (SPIN)
  • The fund’s phone number
  • A letter from the fund trustee confirming that the fund is a complying fund; or written evidence from the fund stating it will accept contributions from your new employer; or details about how your employer can make contributions to the fund

You might want to provide your tax file number as well – while it’s not a legal obligation, it will ensure your contributions will be taxed at the (lower) superannuation rate.

What superannuation details do I give to my employer?

When you start a job, your employer will give you what’s called a ‘superannuation standard choice form’. Here’s what you need to complete the form:

  • The name of your preferred superannuation fund
  • The fund’s address
  • The fund’s Australian business number (ABN)
  • The fund’s superannuation product identification number (SPIN)
  • The fund’s phone number
  • A letter from the fund trustee confirming that the fund is a complying fund; or written evidence from the fund stating it will accept contributions from your new employer; or details about how your employer can make contributions to the fund

You should also provide your tax file number – while it’s not a legal obligation, it will ensure your contributions will be taxed at the (lower) superannuation rate.

What is superannuation?

Superannuation is money set aside for your retirement. This money is automatically paid into your superannuation fund by your employer.

Can I take money out of my superannuation fund?

Superannuation is designed to provide Australians with money in their retirement. The government has strict rules around when people can take that money out of their fund because it wants to prevent people eroding their savings before they reach retirement.

As a general rule, you can only take money out of your superannuation fund when you reach:

  • Age 65
  • Your ‘preservation age’ and retire
  • Your preservation age and begin a ‘transition to retirement’ while still working

That said, you can take money out of your superannuation fund early based on one of these seven special conditions:

  • Compassionate grounds
  • Severe financial hardship
  • Temporary incapacity
  • Permanent incapacity
  • Superannuation inheritance
  • Superannuation balance under $200
  • Temporary resident departing Australia

How can I increase my superannuation?

You can increase your superannuation through a ‘salary sacrifice’. This is where your employer takes part of your pre-tax salary and pays it directly into your superannuation account. Like regular superannuation contributions, salary sacrifices are taxed at 15 per cent when they are paid into the fund.

What are reportable employer superannuation contributions?

Reportable employer superannuation contributions are special contributions that an employer makes on top of the regular compulsory contributions. One example would be contributions made as part of a salary sacrifice arrangement.

What are concessional contributions?

Concessional contributions are pre-tax payments into your superannuation account. The payments made by your employer are concessional payments. You can also make concessional contributions with a salary sacrifice.

What are reportable superannuation contributions?

For employees, there are two types of reportable superannuation contributions:

  • Reportable employer super contributions your employer makes for you
  • Personal deductible contributions you make for yourself

How do you create a superannuation account?

Before you create a superannuation account, you’ll need to check if you’re allowed to choose your own fund. Most Australians can, but this option doesn’t apply to some workers who are covered by industrial agreements or who are members of defined benefits funds.

Assuming you are able to choose your own fund, the next step should be research, because there are more than 200 different superannuation funds in Australia.

Once you’ve decided on your preferred superannuation fund, head to that provider’s website, where you should be able to fill in an online application or download the appropriate forms. You’ll need your tax file number (assuming you don’t want to be charged a higher tax rate), your contact details and your employer’s details (if you’re employed).

How do you set up superannuation?

Before you set up a superannuation account, you’ll need to check if you’re allowed to choose your own fund. Most Australians can, but this option doesn’t apply to some workers who are covered by industrial agreements or who are members of defined benefits funds.

Assuming you are able to choose your own fund, the next step should be research, because there are more than 200 different superannuation funds in Australia.

Once you’ve decided on your preferred superannuation fund, head to that provider’s website, where you should be able to fill in an online application or download the appropriate forms. You’ll need your tax file number (assuming you don’t want to be charged a higher tax rate), your contact details and your employer’s details (if you’re employed).

How long after divorce can you claim superannuation?

You or your partner could be forced to surrender part of your superannuation if you divorce, just like with other assets.

You can file a claim for division of property – including superannuation – as soon as you divorce. However, the claim has to be filed within one year of the divorce.

Your superannuation could be affected even if you’re in a de facto relationship – that is, living together as a couple without being officially married.

In that case, the claim has to be filed within two years of the date of separation.

Either way, the first thing to consider is whether you’re a member of a standard, APRA-regulated superannuation fund or if you’re a member of a self-managed superannuation fund (SMSF), because different rules apply.

Standard superannuation funds

If your relationship breaks down, your superannuation savings might be divided by court order or by agreement.

The rules of the superannuation fund will dictate whether this transfer happens immediately, or in the future when the person who has to make the transfer is allowed to access the rest of their superannuation (i.e. at or near retirement).

Click here for more information.

SMSFs

If your relationship breaks down, you must continue to observe the trust deed of your SMSF.

So if you and your partner are both members of the same SMSF, neither party is allowed to use the fund to inflict ‘punishment’ – such as by excluding the other party from the decision-making process or refusing their request to roll their money into another superannuation fund.

This no-punishment rule applies even if the two parties are involved in legal proceedings.

Click here for more information.

Financial consequences

Superannuation funds often charge a fee for splitting accounts after a relationship breakdown.

Splitting superannuation can also impact the size of your total super balance and how your super is taxed.

Click here for more information.

Can my employer use money from my superannuation account?

No, your employer can’t touch the money that is paid into your superannuation account.

Can I choose a superannuation fund or does my employer choose one for me?

Most people can choose their own superannuation fund. However, you might not have this option if you are a member of certain defined benefit funds or covered by certain industrial agreements. If you don’t choose a superannuation fund, your employer will choose one for you.

How much extra superannuation can I add to my fund?

There is an annual limit of $25,000 for concessional contributions – that is, money paid by your employer and extra money you pay into your account through salary sacrificing. There is also a limit on non-concessional contributions. Australians aged between 65 and 74 have a limit of $100,000 per year. Australians aged under 65 have a limit of $300,000 every three years.