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Learn more about superannuation

What is an industry super fund?

If you’ve been comparing and researching superannuation funds, you’ve probably come across industry superannuation funds.

First established in the 1980s, industry super funds were intended to protect Australian workers in certain industries from high fees and commission products most commonly found in retail superannuation funds.

Back in the day, industry super funds were usually only open to members who worked in particular industries. These days, the larger industry super funds are open to anyone. However, there are some smaller industry super funds that are still restricted to employees in specific industries.

Unlike retail super funds, industry super funds don’t pay commissions or incentives to financial planners or financial advisers. Industry funds are not-for-profit organisations and are run to benefit members. As profits go back into the fund, industry super funds tend to have lower management fees than other types of retail (or for-profit) super funds. When it comes to governance, industry super funds are usually governed by trustee boards made up of both employers and employees.

Most industry super funds tend to be accumulation funds. Accumulation-style super works similarly to a regular bank account where the balance of your industry super account is built up by the deposits you make into it.

Funds are accumulated into industry super funds by way of:

  • compulsory employer contributions;
  • any additional contributions you make;
  • spouse contributions, or;
  • government co-contributions.

Your super contributions are then invested by your industry super fund into an investment option, either chosen by you, or chosen by your industry super fund as a default investment.

What is superannuation?

Superannuation (or ‘super’) is money paid into a specialised fund to go towards your retirement. By regularly investing money in a superannuation fund over the course of your career, you can build up a superannuation balance to enjoy when you retire.

To deal with an increasingly ageing population and reduce reliance on the government pension, superannuation became compulsory in Australia in 1992. Prior to this, retirees were relying on a mixture of their savings and the government pension to maintain a quality of life in retirement.

The current superannuation rate, known as the superannuation guarantee, is 9.5 per cent, which the government is set to gradually increase up to 12 per cent by 2025.

If you’re an employee, your employer must pay compulsory contributions of at least the superannuation guarantee rate. These contributions come from your pre-tax salary, and are deposited into your nominated super fund, whether it’s an industry super fund or another type. Regardless of whether you’re a full-time, part-time or casual employee, if you fit the criteria, your employer must make compulsory superannuation contributions on your behalf.

In addition to mandatory employer contributions, you also have the option of making voluntary contributions to your super account balance. There are limits to the amount of pre-tax income you can contribute into your super, so check with a financial adviser before you make any additional super contributions.

While superannuation is currently compulsory for employees in Australia, if you’re self-employed, you can still choose to open an industry super fund, but the responsibility is on you to make voluntary contributions to your account.

Pros and cons of industry super funds

When comparing the benefits and drawbacks of industry super funds, and how they stack up against other types of super funds, like retail or SMSF options, here’s what you need to know:

Pros

  • May suit time-poor workers: Industry super funds may suit Australian workers who don’t have the time or resources to manage their own super.
  • Often have fewer fees: As industry super funds are non-profit, with profits deposited back into the fund to benefit the members, they tend to have fewer fees than retail funds.
  • Simple, no-frills options available: Some industry super funds offer MySuper accounts, which are no-frills options offering lower fees and simple, easy-to-understand features.

Cons

  • May have fewer investment options: Industry super funds may have fewer types of investment options than funds offered by other financial institutions. While this may not be an issue for some people, those wanting more flexibility and diversification in their investment strategy might want to also compare either a retail super fund or a SMSF.
  • May have hands-off advice and assistance: When it comes to advice, financial services and other ongoing assistance, industry super funds tend to be less hands-on than retail funds. That’s not to say you’ll get no support, though if you’re looking for a super fund that offers more advice and interaction, you may want to also investigate other, more hands-on options.

How to compare industry super funds?

With so many different super funds on the market, comparing industry super funds and working out which one may suit your needs can be confusing. When comparing industry super funds, here’s what you need to know:

  • Investment options: Historically, industry super funds have offered fewer options than other types of super funds, but this has changed in recent years. Some people prefer to pick their own investments, so if you want this flexibility, search for an industry super fund that suits your preference.
  • Performance: While past performance is never a reliable indicator of future performance, it can help give you a rough idea of the type of investment returns you might be able to expect from your industry super fund. Compare the past five years of investment performance for different funds to get an idea of where you could potentially stand.
  • Fees and charges: Ongoing costs and maintenance fees can add up over the long term. As industry super funds invest profits back into the fund, this generally means that low-cost industry super funds have low fees and/or charge fewer fees than other retail or for-profit funds. With any superannuation fund, compare the fees and charges to the features and benefits, and consider whether the cost of fees will make an impact on your super balance, so you can be confident you’re getting what you pay for.
  • Insurance: These days, it’s common for super funds to offer insurance as an option within the fund. When you’re comparing industry super funds, check what insurances are on offer and whether the level of cover stacks up to policies held outside an industry super fund. An advantage of holding insurance within an industry super fund is that policies like life insurance, total and permanent disability (TPD) insurance, and income protection insurance are usually discounted. Also, premiums on insurances offered through an industry super fund are usually deducted from your super account, which can be tax effective in some cases.

Superannuation is a long-term investment designed to support you well into your retirement. Some people can compare super funds and still feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable deciding which fund works best for them and their financial situation. In that instance, a financial adviser or financial planner may be able to help you narrow down your options and provide financial advice. Before making any decisions, it always pays to do your research, read the product disclosure statement (PDS) and compare your options.

Frequently asked questions

What is a superannuation fund?

A superannuation fund is an institution that is legally allowed to hold and invest your superannuation. There are more than 200 different superannuation funds in Australia. They come in five different types:

  • Retail funds
  • Industry funds
  • Public sector funds
  • Corporate funds
  • Self-managed super funds

Retail funds are usually run by banks or investment companies.

Industry funds were originally designed for workers from a particular industry, but are now open to anyone.

Public sector funds were originally designed for people working for federal or state government departments. Most are still reserved for government employees.

Corporate funds are arranged by employers for their employees.

Self-managed super funds are private superannuation funds that allow people to directly invest their money.

How many superannuation funds are there?

There are more than 200 different superannuation funds.

What is the difference between accumulation and defined benefit funds?

A majority of Australians are in accumulation funds. These funds grow according to the amount of money invested and the return on that money.

A minority of Australians are in defined benefit funds – many of which are now closed to new members. These funds give payouts according to specific rules, such as how long the worker has been with their employer and their final salary before they retired.

How do I choose the right superannuation fund?

Different superannuation funds charge different fees, offer different insurances, offer different investment options and have different performance histories.

So you need to ask yourself these four questions when comparing superannuation funds:

  • How many fees would I have to pay and what would they cost?
  • What insurances are available and how much would they cost?
  • What investment options does it offer? How would they match my risk profile and financial needs?
  • How have these investment options performed historically?

What happens to my superannuation when I change jobs?

You can keep your superannuation fund for as long as you like, so nothing happens when you change jobs. Please note that some superannuation funds have special features for people who work with certain employers, so these features may no longer be available if you change jobs.

How do I combine several superannuation accounts into one account?

The process used to consolidate several superannuation accounts into one is the same process used to change superannuation funds. This can be done through your MyGov account or by filling out a rollover form and sending it to your chosen fund.

What happens to my insurance cover if I change superannuation funds?

Some superannuation funds will allow you to transfer your insurance cover, without interruption, if you switch. However, others won’t. So it’s important you check before changing funds.

What are personal contributions?

A personal contribution is when you make an extra payment into your superannuation account. The difference between personal contributions and salary sacrifices is that the former comes out of your after-tax income, while the latter comes out of your pre-tax income.

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).

What are government co-contributions?

A government co-contribution is a bonus payment from the federal government into your superannuation account – but it comes with conditions. First, the government will only make a co-contribution if you make a personal contribution. Second, the government will only contribute a maximum of $500. Third, the government will only make co-contributions for people on low and medium incomes. The Australian Taxation Office will calculation whether you’re entitled to a government co-contribution when you lodge your tax return. The size of any co-contribution depends on the size of your personal contribution and income.

How much superannuation should I have?

The amount of superannuation you need to have at retirement is based on how much money you would expect to spend each week during your retirement. That, in turn, depends on whether you expect to lead a modest retirement or a comfortable retirement.

The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA) estimates you would need the following amount per week:

Lifestyle Singles Couples
Modest $465 $668
Comfortable $837 $1,150

Here is the superannuation balance you would need to fund that level of spending:

Lifestyle Singles Couples
Modest $50,000 $35,000
Comfortable $545,000 $640,000

These figures come from the March 2017 edition of the ASFA Retirement Standard.

The reason people on modest lifestyles need so much less money is because they qualify for a far bigger age pension.

Here is how ASFA defines retirement lifestyles:

Category Comfortable Modest Age pension
Holidays One annual holiday in Australia One or two short breaks in Australia near where you live Shorter breaks or day trips in your own city
Eating out Regularly eat out at restaurants. Good range and quality of food Infrequently eat out at restaurants. Cheaper and less food Only club special meals or inexpensive takeaway
Car Owning a reasonable car Owning an older, less reliable car No car – or, if you do, a struggle to afford the upkeep
Alcohol Bottled wine Casked wine Homebrew beer or no alcohol
Clothing Good clothes Reasonable clothes Basic clothes
Hair Regular haircuts at a good hairdresser Regular haircuts at a basic salon Less frequent haircuts or getting a friend to do it
Leisure A range of regular leisure activities One paid leisure activity, infrequently Free or low-cost leisure activities
Electronics A range of electronic equipment Not much scope to run an air conditioner Less heating in winter
Maintenance Replace kitchen and bathroom over 20 years No budget for home improvements. Can do repairs, but can’t replace kitchen or bathroom No budget to fix home problems like a leaky roof
Insurance Private health insurance Private health insurance No private health insurance

Can my employer use money from my superannuation account?

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

How do you claim superannuation?

There are three different ways you can claim your superannuation:

  • Lump sum
  • Account-based pension
  • Part lump sum and part account-based pension

Two rules apply if you choose to receive an account-based pension, or income stream:

  • You must receive payments at least once per year
  • You must withdraw a minimum amount per year
    • Age 55-64 = 4%
    • Age 65-74 = 5%
    • Age 75-79 = 6%
    • Age 80-84 = 7%
    • Age 85-89 = 9%
    • Age 90-94 = 11%
    • Age 95+ = 14%

If you want to work out how long your account-based pension might last, click here to access ASIC’s account-based pension calculator.

Is superannuation paid on overtime?

As the Australian Taxation Office explains, there are times when superannuation is paid on overtime and times when it isn’t.

Here is the ATO’s summary:

Payment type Is superannuation paid?
Overtime hours – award stipulates ordinary hours to be worked and employee works additional hours for which they are paid overtime rates No
Overtime hours – agreement prevails over award No
Agreement supplanting award removes distinction between ordinary hours and other hours Yes – all hours worked
No ordinary hours of work stipulated Yes – all hours worked
Casual employee: shift loadings Yes
Casual employee: overtime payments No
Casual employee whose hours are paid at overtime rates due to a ‘bandwidth’ clause No
Piece-rates – no ordinary hours of work stipulated Yes
Overtime component of earnings based on hourly-driving-rate method stipulated in award No

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.

Is superannuation included in taxable income?

Superannuation is not included when calculating your income tax. So if you have a salary of $50,000, your assessable income would be $50,000, not $50,000 plus superannuation.

That said, superannuation itself is taxed. It is generally taxed at 15 per cent, although if you earn less than $37,000, you will be reimbursed up to $500 of the tax you paid.

How does superannuation affect the age pension?

Most Australians who are of retirement age can qualify for the age pension. However, depending on the size of your assets and post-retirement income, you might be entitled to only a reduced pension. In some instances, you might not be entitled to any pension payments.

What happens if my employer falls behind on my superannuation payments?

The Australian Taxation Office will investigate if your employer falls behind on your superannuation payments or doesn’t pay at all. You can report your employer with this online tool.

Can I buy a house with my superannuation?

First home buyers are the only people who can use their superannuation to buy a property. The federal government has created the First Home Super Saver Scheme to help first home buyers save for a deposit. First home buyers can make voluntary contributions of up to $15,000 per year, and $30,000 in total, to their superannuation account. These contributions are taxed at 15 per cent, along with deemed earnings. Withdrawals are taxed at marginal tax rates minus a tax offset of 30 percentage points.

Voluntary contributions to the First Home Super Saver Scheme are not exempt from the $25,000 annual limit on concessional contributions. So if you pay $15,000 per year into the First Home Super Saver Scheme, you have to make sure that you don’t receive more than $10,000 in superannuation payments from your employer and any salary sacrificing.

How do I change my superannuation fund?

Changing superannuation funds is a common and straightforward process. You can do it through your MyGov account or by filling out a rollover form and sending it to your new fund. You’ll also have to provide proof of identity.