Mozo guides

A guide to accessing your super early

One door is slightly ajar as accessing super early is only allowed under limited circumstances.

If you’ve fallen on hard times with your personal finances, your focus might be how to access some funds quickly. Tapping into your superannuation fund can help you out of a bind if you don’t have any other option. 

There are many things to consider with an early super release. To start, this guide will get into how early super withdrawals work, some of the eligibility requirements, and other things you might need to know if you decide to go ahead. 

What is early access to super?

Early access to super is being able to use part of your retirement fund without meeting the usual conditions of release. Typically, a condition of release might be something like reaching your preservation age and retiring, for example.

But in the case of simply withdrawing your super early, it’s only allowed under very limited circumstances. As such, determining whether you qualify should be your next step.    

Eligibility for accessing your super early

A piggy bank sits above a string as there are eligibility requirements for accessing super early

To access your super, you need to meet a certain criteria. Here are some reasons where you may be permitted to withdraw your superannuation:

  • On compassionate grounds. Your super could be used to pay for your medical treatment if you don’t have enough funds to cover the cost, for example.
  • If you have a terminal medical condition. In this instance, you could be eligible for an early super withdrawal if your life expectancy is 2 years.
  • When you’re undergoing severe financial hardship. You may be able to access your super if you’re unable to keep up with your immediate living expenses. This could be for urgent things like groceries, or rent, for instance.
  • You’re experiencing a temporary incapacity. If a medical condition has stopped you from working for a while, or has resulted in the need to reduce your work hours, you may be eligible for an early super withdrawal.
  • If you have a permanent incapacity. Super may be accessible when you’re qualified to carry out the duties of a job, but you can’t ever work in this type of role again because of a permanent medical condition.
  • A super balance lower than $200. You could be eligible for an early super withdrawal if you have some lost super that’s under $200.

Rules for accessing your super early

Two hands shake to signal understanding for the early super withdrawal rules

If you decide to access your super early, there are some rules to be aware of. They can differ based on your reasons for withdrawing.

For instance, when your reason for applying is a compassionate early super release, you will need to:

  • Be a permanent resident or citizen of either Australia or New Zealand.
  • Have an unpaid expense that requires the use of your super.
  • Only be able to partially afford your expense, or not at all. 
  • Meet the criteria for your compassionate reason. The Australian Tax Office (ATO) has a list of some expenses eligible for release on compassionate grounds that you can check out. 

But, if say, the request for an early super release is because you’re experiencing severe financial hardship, the requirements look a little different. For example, if you’ve passed your preservation age by 39 weeks, there are two conditions that you’ll need to satisfy to access super: 

  1. You were unemployed when you submitted your application and as a result, hadn’t received any income from work.
  2. Since reaching your preservation age, you’ve been receiving support income from the government for a total of 39 weeks. 

Or if you have a terminal medical condition, you’ll need two medical practitioners who are willing to issue a certificate. It should state your life expectancy is within 2 years of the document’s date. Additionally, at least one of these doctors must be a specialist in the field related to your illness.

How much super can you access early?

Wads of cash to show some Aussies might access different amounts of super early

The amount of super you can access early will depend on your circumstances. For instance, you might get access to your entire super balance if you have a terminal medical condition. 

Meanwhile, withdrawing your super on compassionate grounds only covers the cost of an expense. Or if you’re undergoing severe financial hardship, you could potentially access up to $10,000 in a given year. 

As such, the amount you can take out of your super fund is specific to your situation and what you will require the money for.

Applying for early super release

Man hauls a pie chart of his super, as he has used some of it when he made an early super withdrawal

When applying for an early super withdrawal, there are a couple of things you’ll probably want to prepare first.

Like the documents required for the process - so it’s best to have your passport, driver’s licence, and Medicare card ready. 

Super fund providers will also likely ask for evidence to support your claim to an early super release. This might include a certificate from a medical practitioner, or a letter from Services Australia as evidence of financial hardship, for example. 

Then, there’s the application process. Here’s what you might expect when applying for early access online with your super provider:  

  1. Firstly, ensuring that your super fund allows early super access. If your super provider doesn’t allow for this, you may want to consider a rollover of your account into a new fund. 
  2. Then you might review your super balance. Your next move could be checking whether you’ve got enough super to cover the taxes that you’ll probably pay.
  3. After that, visit your super fund’s website to apply. You’ll likely find a form which you can fill out with the details you’ve already gathered, along with your evidence. 
  4. Now it’s time to submit your application. The waiting times can vary depending on your situation, but it can take up to 21 days in the case of severe financial hardship, for instance. 

If you’ve been approved for an early super release, your next consideration might be how much taxes will need to be paid.

Tax on early super withdrawal

A calculator is used to determined the taxes payable on an early super release

The payable tax on early super withdrawals is subject to your circumstances. Check out the table below to determine how much of your super might be taxed with an early super release:

Payable tax
Compassionate grounds
You can typically expect to pay tax at the same rate as a super lump sum. So, if you’ve reached your preservation age but are under 60 and still working, you might withdraw up to $235,000 (the low rate cap) without paying any tax, for example. Do note though, this excludes the Medicare levy.
Terminal medical condition
It’s possible that no taxes need to be paid if you have a terminal illness within 90 days of receiving the super lump sum payment. 
Severe financial hardship
The rate at which you could be taxed on a super lump sum is between 17-22% if you’re under 60. However, it’s generally tax-free if you’re 60 years old or over - unless there’s an untaxed element of super. This is any amount that your fund hasn’t paid tax on. 
Temporary incapacity
For Aussies between 55-59 years old, withdrawals will be taxed at your marginal tax rate. This is the tax you pay in relation to your income bracket. On top of that, you’ll also have to pay for the Medicare levy.
Permanent incapacity
Having a total and permanent disability (TPD) means that super is usually taxed at 22%. However, super providers may conduct a tax-free uplift, so your tax rate could be reduced down to 1-18%.
Super balance lower than $200
Taxes aren’t usually paid for super balances lower than $200.

Illegal early release of super

A closed red door to convey that early access to super is not allowed for everyone

As you will probably spend most of your working life accumulating super, it’s important to protect your retirement fund. 

Some people may claim that you can access your super early to purchase a car, for instance, or offer to help you set up a self-managed super fund which they’ll control on your behalf. 

Always be aware of such circumstances. This is because it’s illegal to access your super early unless you qualify for it, which only happens under very limited circumstances. 

So, if you’re concerned about a potential scam, you might consider reaching out to the ATO’s superannuation enquiries hotline at 13 10 20.

Thinking of applying for early access to your super?

Nest egg when applying to access super early

Applying for an early super release is something that you could do if you’re in a tight spot and there aren’t any other options.

However, you should note that accessing your super early can impact how much you have in your super fund, leaving you with less money for your retirement. 

As such, speaking with a financial adviser about your situation is something you may want to think about as they could help you find a better alternative. 

With super having the potential to be a great future asset, you may want to learn more about super topics. If so, why not check out our superannuation guides hub and find out how you might improve the management of your fund.

Accessing your super early FAQs

What happens if I access my super when I’m not supposed to?

It’s illegal to access your super when you’re not supposed to, and by making withdrawals, you could be susceptible to additional income tax or other financial penalties.

Can my early access to super be used to pay off debt?

Yes, you can request an early super release to pay off debt, but there are conditions to be mindful of. For instance, if you’re applying for early access due to severe financial hardship, the payments can only go towards debts that are outstanding and not those that are due in future. 

What are the consequences of accessing my super early?

The consequences of accessing your super early is, of course, the money that comes out of the fund. Your super provider may require you to pay a fee when you withdraw the money, and the amount of tax you pay could be affected.

Will the early release of my super affect my tax return?

Generally speaking, an early release of super can affect your tax return as any withdrawals will be considered alongside your other income. 

Should I withdraw my super early?

Withdrawing super early might be something you do to resolve a financially tricky situation. However, it’s a good idea to think about whether this is the best move for you, and to consider reaching out to a financial adviser to help you assess all other options beforehand. 

Sophie Wong
Sophie Wong
Money writer

Coming from a background in financial services and criminology, Sophie strives to get others excited about their money journey as they reach their financial goals. She aims to make things like budgeting a fulfilling achievement rather than a dreaded task.