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Learn more about superannuation

If you’re considering buying property, you might be wondering if you can use your super money to go towards a deposit or mortgage.

There are strict rules around when you can access your super because it’s intended to provide financial stability during retirement. However, you can make contributions to super as a tax-effective way of saving to buy property.

Saving for a house with the First Home Super Saver Scheme

In the 2017 federal budget, the government introduced the First Home Super Saver Scheme to help first home buyers enter the property market. The scheme is intended to increase the amount of money people can put towards a deposit thanks to the concessional tax rate and the higher rate of earnings through super.

As of 1 July 2017, you can make voluntary contributions into a superannuation account to save for purchasing a first home. As of 1 July 2018, contributions and returns made can be withdrawn at a concessional tax rate to put toward a house deposit.

Most people can salary sacrifice income to make pre-tax contributions to super as part of the First Home Super Saver Scheme. If you’re self-employed or don’t have the option to salary sacrifice, you can still make contributions and claim a tax deduction.

These voluntary contributions are included in the total super contribution cap for each financial year.

Pros and cons of the First Home Super Saver Scheme

For many people, the First Home Super Saver Scheme is a tax-effective way to save for a first home. However, it’s worth going over the positives and negatives.

Pros

  • Tax advantages – Money put into super from pre-tax income or as a voluntary contribution is taxed at a discounted rate, as are earnings generated. Plus, investing in the scheme can reduce your taxable income, and therefore lower the tax you pay on your income.
  • Higher returns – Typically, you will earn more on your investment than you would by putting your money into a savings account.
  • Contributions are made individually – If you’re part of a couple, you can both make contributions to the scheme within separate caps, then withdraw to put toward the one home deposit.

Cons

  • Funds can only be used to buy a property – Once you make contributions to your super, funds can only be withdrawn for the purpose of buying a property. Otherwise, it’ll be locked in your fund until your reach your preservation age.
  • Returns are fixed – The rate of return on contributions within the scheme is fixed. This means if your fund makes a bigger return, the additional money will stay in your account until you retire.
  • You may not have enough for a deposit – Depending on where you live in Australia, the money you’ve saved through the scheme may still not be enough for a deposit on a home – meaning you could also have to dip into other savings.

Can you invest in property through super?

If your super is part of a managed fund, some of your investment mix will typically include investments in property. In these cases, your fund’s trustee is responsible for investing your money. So, while you may be able to choose what percentage of your money you want to go towards property, the investment decision-making ultimately lies with the trustee.

If you have a self-managed super fund (SMSF), you can use your money to borrow and invest directly in property. However, the property has to be deemed as solely providing retirement benefits to fund members (i.e. you). That means it must be purchased as an investment rather than to live in.

Rules for buying property through an SMSF

To buy property through a self-managed super fund, the following rules apply:

  • The property has to be bought for the sole purpose of providing retirement benefits to you
  • You can’t buy the property from a relative or anyone associated with your SMSF
  • The property can’t be lived in by you or anyone associated with your SMSF
  • The property can’t be rented by you or anyone associated with your SMSF

While you can’t buy a property to live in through an SMSF, it is possible to buy a property that you use for business purposes – allowing you to pay rent to your SMSF.

Borrowing money with an SMSF to buy property

Generally, your SMSF can’t borrow money, but there are some exceptions, such as if you need cash to pay a member’s benefit or settle a share transaction. You can also borrow (“gear”) your super into property by investing in managed funds that borrow money.

Borrowing money to buy property using a self-managed super fund happens under strict borrowing conditions called a 'limited-recourse borrowing arrangement'. This arrangement can only be used to purchase a single asset, such as a residential or commercial property.

There are a number of risks to gearing an SMSF, such as higher loan costs, tax losses and the potential for substantial losses to your super. If you’re considering moving to an SMSF or borrowing through an SMSF, talk to a financial professional to make sure you understand the risks and obligations.

Frequently asked questions

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.

Can I transfer money from overseas into my superannuation account?

Yes, you can transfer money from overseas into your superannuation account – under certain conditions. First, you must provide your tax file number to your fund. Second, if you are aged between 65 and 74, you must have worked at least 40 hours within 30 consecutive days in a financial year. (Australians under 65 aren’t subject to a work test; Australians aged 75 and over cannot receive contributions to their superannuation account.)

Money transferred from overseas will generally count to both your concessional contributions limit and your non-concessional contributions limit. You will have to pay income tax on the applicable fund earnings component of any money transferred from overseas. You might also be liable for excess contributions tax.

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.

How do I set up an SMSF?

Setting up an SMSF takes more work than registering with an ordinary superannuation fund. 

An SMSF is a type of trust, so if you want to create an SMSF, you first have to create a trust.

To create a trust, you will need trustees, who must sign a trustee declaration. You will also need identifiable beneficiaries and assets for the fund – although these can be as little as a few dollars.

You will also need to create a trust deed, which is a document that lays out the rules of your SMSF. The trust deed must be prepared by a qualified professional and signed by all trustees.

To qualify as an Australian superannuation fund, the SMSF must meet these three criteria:

  • The fund must be established in Australia – or at least one of its assets must be located in Australia
  • The central management and control of the fund must ordinarily be in Australia
  • The fund must have active members who are Australian residents and who hold at least 50 per cent of the fund’s assets – or it must have no active members

Once your SMSF is established and all trustees have signed a trustee declaration, you have 60 days to apply for an Australian Business Number (ABN).

When completing the ABN application, you should ask for a tax file number for your fund. You should also ask for the fund to be regulated by the Australian Taxation Office – otherwise it won’t receive tax concessions.

Your next step is to open a bank account in your fund’s name. This account must be kept separated from the accounts held by the trustees and any related employers.

Your SMSF will also need an electronic service address, so it can receive contributions.

Finally, you will need to create an investment strategy, which explains how your fund will invest its money, and an exit strategy, which explains how and why it would ever close.

Please note that you can pay an adviser to set up your SMSF. You might also want to take the Self-Managed Superannuation Fund Trustee Education Program, which is a free program that has been created by CPA Australia and Chartered Accountants Australia & New Zealand.

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

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 will the superannuation fund do with my money?

Your money will be invested in an investment option of your choosing.

Is superannuation compulsory?

Superannuation is compulsory. Generally speaking, it can’t be touched until you’re at least 55 years old.

How much is superannuation in Australia?

Superannuation in Australia is currently 9.5 per cent – which means that your employer must pay you superannuation equivalent to 9.5 per cent of your salary.

The ‘superannuation guarantee’, as it is known, has been at 9.5 per cent since the 2014-15 financial year. It is scheduled to rise to 10.0 per cent in 2021-22, 10.5 per cent in 2022-23, 11.0 per cent in 2023-24, 11.5 per cent in 2024-25 and 12.0 per cent in 2025-26.

How does the age pension work?

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.

How do you access superannuation?

Accessing your superannuation is a simple administrative procedure – you just ask your fund to pay it. You can access your superannuation in three different ways:

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

However, please note that your superannuation fund will only be able to make a payout if you meet the ‘conditions of release’. The conditions of release say you can claim your super when you reach:

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

The preservation age has six different categories:

Date of birth Preservation age
Before 1 July 1960 55
1 July 1960 – 30 June 1961 56
1 July 1961 – 30 June 1962 57
1 July 1962 – 30 June 1963 58
1 July 1963 – 30 June 1964 59
From 1 July 1964 60

There are also seven special circumstances under which you can claim your superannuation:

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

How many superannuation funds are there?

There are more than 200 different superannuation funds.

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 unused annual leave?

If your employment is terminated, superannuation will not be paid on unused annual leave.

Am I entitled to superannuation if I'm a part-time employee?

As a part-time employee, you’re entitled to superannuation if:

  • You’re over 18 and earn more than $450 before tax in a calendar month
  • You’re under 18, you work more than 30 hours per week and you earn more than $450 before tax in a calendar month

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.

When did superannuation start in Australia?

Australia’s modern superannuation system – in which employers make compulsory contributions to their employees – started in 1992. However, before that, there were various restricted superannuation schemes applying to certain employees in certain industries. The very first superannuation scheme was introduced in the 19th century.

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.

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.