What are the eligibility criteria for accessing superannuation early?

Superannuation is designed to be a long-term investment that supports you financially during retirement. However, there are some limited circumstances where you may be eligible to access your superannuation early. This article explores the eligibility criteria for early access to super in Australia.

The Importance of Preservation Age

Generally, you cannot access your superannuation until you reach your preservation age. This age varies depending on your date of birth, but typically falls between 55 and 60. Once you reach your preservation age and retire, you can access your superannuation without restrictions.

Limited Circumstances for Early Access

While superannuation is meant for retirement, there are some situations where the Australian government allows early access. These situations are strictly controlled and require meeting specific eligibility criteria. Here’s a breakdown of the main reasons for early access:

  • Severe Financial Hardship: If you’re facing extreme financial difficulty and cannot meet your basic living expenses, you may be eligible to access a limited amount of your super. To qualify, you’ll need to demonstrate your hardship to your superannuation fund. This may involve evidence of unemployment, debt, or significant medical bills.
  • Compassionate Grounds: Early access may be granted for unexpected and significant expenses related to a medical condition of yourself or a close family member. This could include expenses for palliative care, medical treatment not covered by Medicare, or funeral costs.
  • Terminal Illness: If you have a medical diagnosis with a life expectancy of less than 12 months, you may be eligible to access all or part of your superannuation.
  • Temporary Incapacity: In some cases, if you’re temporarily unable to work due to illness or injury, you may be able to access your superannuation as an income stream to cover your living expenses. This access is usually through insurance benefits linked to your super account.
  • Leaving Australia Permanently: If you’re a permanent resident who is permanently leaving Australia, you may be eligible to withdraw your superannuation.
  • Unrestricted Non-preserved Super: If you have any unrestricted non-preserved super in your account, you may be able to access it. This typically refers to after-tax contributions made before 1 July 1999.
  • Small Account Balance: If the total balance in your superannuation account is less than $200, you can close the account and withdraw the remaining funds.

Important Considerations Before Applying for Early Access

  • Tax implications: Withdrawing superannuation before retirement may have tax consequences. Depending on your situation, you may be taxed at your marginal tax rate or a special rate for early withdrawals.
  • Impact on Retirement Savings: Accessing your superannuation early reduces the amount of money available to fund your retirement. Superannuation benefits from compound interest over time, so an early withdrawal can significantly impact your future financial security.
  • Alternatives to Early Access: Before considering early access, explore all other options. This may include seeking government assistance, negotiating payment plans with creditors, or selling assets you don’t need.

How to Apply for Early Access

The process for applying for early access will vary depending on the reason for your withdrawal and your superannuation fund. Your superannuation fund will have specific forms and requirements you need to meet. It’s advisable to contact your super fund directly to discuss your situation and understand the application process.


Early access to superannuation is a complex issue. While it can provide financial relief in difficult circumstances, it’s important to understand the eligibility criteria, potential tax implications, and the long-term impact on your retirement savings. Carefully consider all options before accessing your super early and seek professional guidance if needed.


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