COVID-19: Early release of superannuation stirs debate as fraudsters strike

COVID-19: Early release of superannuation stirs debate as fraudsters strike

Some of the money lost from dipping into superannuation early as a response to COVID-19 will be offset by higher pension payments, research by a non-partisan think tank suggests.

One of the economic bandaids 3 million people tapped into in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic is to withdraw $10,000 from their superannuation if they suffered a loss of income, according to the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority. In 1.1 million of those cases, they’ve done so twice.

And in more than half a million cases, superannuation funds have been cleared out altogether.

But the Federal Government’s decision to allow people to withdraw funds from their retirement nest egg has drawn ire from the opposition party, who allege the coming generation has carried the burden of dealing with the government’s coronavirus response.

Pensions will offset superannuation withdrawals: Grattan

New modelling from the Grattan Institute acknowledges younger people will be out of pocket by dipping into their superannuation early, but suggests that some of these losses will be offset by being eligible for higher pension rates. 

The non-partisan think tank published their findings on The Conversation, after studying 80,000 federal enterprise agreements made between 1991 and 2018 for its recent report, No free lunch: Higher superannuation means lower wages.

They cited a 35 year old earning the median income as an example. Were they to withdraw $20,000 from their superannuation, their balance would be $58,000 less.

But the lower superannuation would be offset by higher pension repayments, due to the government’s pension means test, resulting in their retirement income falling by $24,000 -- a loss of $4000.

This would equate to them earning 88 per cent of their income before retiring, as opposed to 89 per cent, the modelling showed.

Grattan acknowledged the example was a generality that is not necessarily applicable to everyone.

The “very lowest income earners will receive less extra pension to compensate, and will have less of a cushion”, the authors wrote.

The findings of the report precedes a mandatory rise in superannuation under legislation supported by both sides of Federal Parliament, which will see contributions increase from 9.5 per cent of wages to 12 per cent by July 2025.

‘Young Australians have borne the brunt of the crisis’

The Labor Party, which has referred the Federal Government’s early release superannuation scheme to the Auditor General citing the plundering of fraudsters, said the government’s coronavirus response had been paid for by people between 20 to 35 years of age.

“Instead of receiving timely government support, young Australians have borne the brunt of this crisis and will be forced to continue to pay the cost in years to come,” Stephen Jones said, the shadow assistant treasurer and shadow minister for financial services.

Mr Jones said a 25 year old who withdraws $20,000 from their superannuation will be $80,000 to $100,000 worse off in retirement, after taking into account the cost of inflation and living expenses.

He said a 35 year old would be $65,000 worse off, a figure slightly above the Grattan Institute’s estimate of $58,000. 

“Collectively under 35s, will be at least $51 billion worse off at retirement,” Mr Jones said.

“So far, more than 606,000 Australians have emptied their superannuation accounts. 494,000 of those are under 35 years of age.”
Fraudsters pillage superannuation

Labor referred the scheme to the Auditor General on Sunday

The superannuation scheme, announced in March as the first wave of COVID-19 plummeted cities across the country into lockdowns, is alleged to have been targeted by fraudsters who plundered the retirement savings of unsuspected victims.

“Government ministers are … yet to reveal how many fraudulent claims have been made, or what the government is doing to compensate victims after the ATO directed their super fund to make a payment to a fraudulent account,” Mr Jones said.

That same morning, the Australian Federal Police charged three people with allegedly submitting false claims to gain early access to superannuation under the Government's early release of superannuation measure.

An ATO-led task force alleges they submitted several fraudulent applications -- claiming to be other superannuation fund-holders -- to attempt to access early release of superannuation payments totaling $113,500.

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Learn more about superannuation

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 work?

Superannuation is paid by employers to employees, at least once every three months. The ‘superannuation guarantee’ 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 guarantee 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.

Superannuation is generally taxed at 15 per cent. However, if you earn less than $37,000, you will be automatically reimbursed up to $500 of the tax you paid. Also, if your income plus concessional superannuation contributions exceed $250,000, you will also be charged Division 293 tax. This is an extra 15 per cent tax on your concessional contributions or the amount above $250,000 – whichever is lesser.

You can withdraw your superannuation when 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

 

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

What is superannuation?

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

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 taxed?

Superannuation is taxed. It is generally taxed at 15 per cent. However, if you earn less than $37,000, you will be automatically reimbursed up to $500 of the tax you paid. Also, if your income plus concessional superannuation contributions exceed $250,000, you will also be charged Division 293 tax. This is an extra 15 per cent tax on your concessional contributions or the amount above $250,000 – whichever is lesser.

How do you calculate superannuation?

Superannuation is calculated at the rate of 9.5 per cent of your gross salary and wages. So if you had a salary of $50,000, your superannuation would be 9.5 per cent of that, or $4,750. This would be paid on top 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 is superannuation calculated?

Superannuation is calculated at the rate of 9.5 per cent of your gross salary and wages. So if you had a salary of $50,000, your superannuation would be 9.5 per cent of that, or $4,750. This would be paid on top 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.

What is the superannuation rate?

The superannuation rate, or guarantee rate, is the percentage of your salary that your employer must pay into your superannuation fund. The superannuation guarantee has been set 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 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

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 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.

How much is superannuation?

Superannuation 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 many superannuation funds are there?

There are more than 200 different superannuation funds.