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Learn more about superannuation

How does superannuation work?

Before you start a superannuation search, it’s important to understand how superannuation works. If you’re an Australian citizen and you’re employed by an Australian company, your employer has to make compulsory superannuation contributions on your behalf. 

According to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), the current super guarantee is 9.5 per cent of your pre-tax income. Given the fact that Australians are living longer into retirement, the rate is set to steadily increase to 12 per cent by 2025. 

When you start a new job, you’ll need to provide your employer with details of your superannuation fund. If you don’t nominate a super fund, your employer will pay your compulsory contributions into a fund they nominate. Once they’ve received the contributions, your superannuation fund will invest the money on your behalf with the intention of growing your account balance steadily, until you retire. 

This is why it's invaluable to keep track of your super, as you may find you've got super money in a number of funds open in your name - particularly from when you first started working. There may also be hundreds or thousands in unclaimed super in your name out there. 

When you’re ready to retire, you can choose to access your super in a lump sum or take it as a regular retirement income stream or opt for a combination of the two. You may also supplement your income with the age pension, but keep in mind that your super balance and any assets can limit the age pension income you qualify for. 

There are a few financial situations where superannuation contributions are not mandatory, including:

  • If you’re an employee and you earn less than $450 a month
  • If you’re under 18 and work less than 30 hours each week
  • If you’re not an Australian resident and you work outside Australia

Superannuation is also not currently compulsory for Australians who are self-employed. Even though it’s not mandatory, it’s recommended that self-employed Australians make super contributions and invest in their retirement.

How can you add to your super?

Employer contributions are generally the main source of super because it’s mandatory for all Australian employers to contribute to this. When you’re running a superannuation search, you may notice that there are various ways you can contribute to your super fund and boost your super balance.

Depending on how much you earn, you may choose to make concessional contributions to your superannuation account. To do this, you can arrange for your employer to salary-sacrifice a portion of your pre-tax salary into your super fund. 

In addition to growing your super balance, there are some tax advantages to making concessional contributions. What you’re essentially doing is reducing your potential taxable income and taking advantage of the fact your concessional contributions will be taxed at just 15 per cent. There are limits, though, to how much you can contribute to your super via concessional contributions.

While concessional contributions are made from your pre-tax salary, you also have the option to make non-concessional contributions from your post-tax salary. This isn’t generally as tax-effective, and there are also limits on the amount you can contribute from your post-tax salary.

Low-income earners may be eligible for the government co-contribution if their income is below a certain threshold and they choose to make non-concessional contributions. Government co-contributions work by adding $0.50 for every post-tax dollar you deposit into your super balance. There is a cap on the amount the government will co-contribute. Low-income earners may also be eligible for the Low-Income Superannuation Tax Offset.

How to search for superannuation funds

With so many different options on the market, searching for a superannuation fund can be complicated.

When you’re conducting a superannuation search, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. You’re essentially looking for a super fund that fits your needs and gives you the greatest return on your contributions.

Here are the things you need to compare in your superannuation search:

  • Investment options

Start by looking at what investment options the fund offers and look at the historical performance to get a gauge on what type of returns you might be able to expect. While past performance is not a guarantee for future returns, looking back at the returns in the past five years may give you a very rough idea of the return you can expect.

When it comes to investment options, some people prefer having the flexibility to pick their investments. If you want a fund that lets you choose your investment based on industry or life stage, search for a super fund that suits your preference.

Depending on your level of interest and ability, some funds let members do their own investing. If you prefer a greater say in your investments, look for a fund that gives you the control to put your money where you want it. You may also opt for total control of your superannuation investments through a self-managed super fund (SMSF). 

Some managed super funds offer an ethical investment option. If you prefer your funds to be invested in, say, renewable energies as opposed to mining, then search for a superannuation fund that offers the investment options you’re looking for.

  • Fees

As you cannot predict future returns, experts recommend focusing your superannuation search on funds with low fees. Generally speaking, the lower the fees, the better. As superannuation is generally a long-term investment, fees can add up considerably over time.

Not all fee structures are the same – some funds charge additional fees for extra services like advice or different types of investments. Before you make any decisions, find out exactly what the fees are for and work out if the costs outweigh the benefits. For a full breakdown of any potential fees, use the fund's online services to view its Product Disclosure Statement. 

  • Insurance

When you’re searching for superannuation, you may notice different types of insurance offered by each fund.

The majority of superannuation funds will offer insurance as an option, and one of the advantages of taking insurance through your superannuation fund is that the policies are often discounted. Terms and conditions of insurance funds within super differ greatly, so do your research to make sure the type of cover holds up if you need it and that the premiums are worth the cost.

Common types of insurance within a super fund are:

  • Life insurance
  • Total and permanent disability (otherwise known as TPD insurance)
  • Income protection insurance

It’s worth noting that some funds offer insurance on an opt-in basis, which means that it’s not automatically enabled when you open the super account. If you want insurance, check the details to make sure you’re covered.

How to compare super performance

The tricky thing about super is that, unlike a home loan or credit card, you cannot just look to the interest rate and potential rate of return to compare your options. Just as no one could predict the COVID-19/Coronavirus pandemic, no one can predict the future, which is why super funds warn that past performance is not indicative of future results.

That being said, when comparing super funds, you are still able to view the past five years returns as a rough gauge of how your retirement savings may fair with said fund. And a super fund with a weak or strong performance history may also indicate how said fund invests its money and takes risks. 

When searching for a superannuation fund, take a look at the super performance against other fund options, but don't take it as the sole reason to join the fund. Unless you have a crystal ball, experts recommend focusing your search on a fund with low ongoing fees.

How to switch your super fund

If you’ve spent some time searching for the right superannuation fund and you’ve compared your options, you may decide to switch super funds. Before you make the switch, look out for any exit or withdrawal fees you’d be charged for moving your super fund to a different fund. Some funds may penalise you for moving and, depending on your age, circumstances and super balance, this may affect your insurance cover and benefits.

In theory, making the switch is relatively simple and can be done anytime you want, but before you make any decisions, we recommend spending some time searching for a superannuation fund that fits your needs and lifestyle.

If you're still not sure how to switch your super fund, consider reaching out for financial advice from a financial adviser, or even speaking with an accountant.

Frequently asked questions

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 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 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).

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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.

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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.

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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).

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.

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 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.

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 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.

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.

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 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 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

 

What is an SMSF?

An SMSF is a self-managed superannuation fund. SMSFs have to follow the same rules and restrictions as ordinary superannuation funds.

SMSFs allow Australians to directly invest their superannuation, rather than let ordinary funds manage their money for them.

SMSFs are regulated by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). They can have up to four members. All members must be trustees (or directors if there is a corporate trustee).

Unlike with ordinary funds, SMSF members are responsible for meeting compliance obligations.

What should I know before getting an SMSF?

Four questions to ask yourself before taking out an SMSF include:

  1. Do I have enough superannuation to justify the higher set-up and running costs?
  2. Am I able to handle complicated compliance obligations?
  3. Am I willing to spend lots of time researching investment options?
  4. Do I have the skill to make big financial decisions?

It’s also worth remembering that ordinary superannuation funds usually offer discounted life insurance and disability insurance. These discounts would no longer be available if you decided to manage your own super.

When did superannuation start?

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.