What is superannuation and how does it work?

What is superannuation and how does it work?

11 Apr 2019

A helpful guide to understanding the basics of super for employees. 

Superannuation, commonly known as ‘super’, is money set aside while you’re working so you’ll have money for retirement. Your money is put into a fund, where it’s invested on your behalf by a trustee, to help you earn returns and grow your savings.

The amount of super you’ll end up with when you retire depends on a number of factors, including how much has been made in contributions, how long it’s been invested, the type of investment option you’ve selected, the investment returns your money has earned and the amount you’ve paid in fees.

Many people think of their super as an investment that takes care of itself but the choices you make about your super and investments could make a big difference to your quality of life in retirement.

How super works

How is money paid into super?

What is the superannuation guarantee?

In most cases, once you’re earning $450 or more before tax each month, your employer is required to contribute 9.5% of your before-tax income into a super fund. These payments are known as super guarantee (SG) contributions (also known as employer super contribution), and they typically make up the bulk of your super.

Employer super contributions are taxed at a lower rate than most income tax brackets, so it’s important to provide your tax file number (TFN) to your super fund to avoid extra tax being taken out. You’ll also need to provide your TFN if you want to make any personal super contributions.

How can I make other contributions into my super?

In addition to your SG contributions, you can also contribute more money to your super account in the form of personal contributions. You can make these contributions using either before-tax or after-tax money. In many cases, they’re taxed at a lower rate than your income, so they can be a good way to build your retirement fund while being tax-efficient.

Keep in mind that there are caps to the amount you can contribute depending on your age and circumstances.

What types of super funds are available?

There are a number of different types of super funds on the market, including:

  • Retail super funds—typically owned and run by financial services companies and open to anyone to join.
  • Industry super funds—usually tied to a specific industry. Some are open to anyone, while others are only open to employees in that industry.
  • Corporate super funds—typically arranged by a company for its employees. Some are operated by the employer (under a board of trustees), while others outsource their operation to a retail or industry fund.
  • Public-sector super funds—usually only open to employees of federal and state government departments.
  • Self-managed super funds (SMSFs)—private superannuation funds that are managed by members (one to four people).

In most cases, you can choose which fund you’d like your super to be invested with – so it pays to do your homework and find a fund that offers the investment options and features you’re looking for.

How do I choose a super fund?

Most employees can choose their own super fund when they start a new job. If this is the case, your employer will give you a standard choice form when you start working for them.

You’ll typically have a choice between your employer’s default fund or one you select, which could be a fund you joined with a previous employer, an SMSF, or a new fund altogether. If you don’t choose a fund, your SG contributions will be paid into your employer’s default fund.

There are a few things to consider when choosing a super fund. These include the fees charged, investment options, insurance cover available and its cost, and the fund’s investment performance. It’s a good idea to compare super funds online and weigh up your options.

Also remember that most super funds charge fees – so it might be worthwhile sticking to one fund even if you change employers to avoid doubling up on costs.

If you think you might have lost or unclaimed super, and you happen to be an AMP customer, we can do the legwork for you, free of charge.

Alternatively, log in or create a myGov account via the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), or contact your previous employers to find out which super funds they may have paid contributions to on your behalf.

What is MySuper?

Many super funds offer a simple and cost-effective super account called MySuper, which comes with low fees, basic features and a simple, default investment option.

If you haven’t chosen your super fund in the past or nominated a fund with your new employer, your super will be automatically transferred into a MySuper account. Like any other super fund, you have the option of moving from a MySuper account to another fund further down the track.

How do I grow my super?

When it comes to how your money is invested in super, many funs offer various investment options that you can choose from depending on your circumstances. For example, you might decide to take on higher-risk investments with the potential for higher returns at a younger age, and transition to more stable investments like cash deposits as you move towards retirement.

When can I access my super?

You usually can’t access your super money until you reach what’s known as your ‘preservation age’ (typically around the time you retire). However, if you’re a first homebuyer and make extra contributions, you could be eligible to withdraw these contributions and put them towards a home deposit under the First Home Super Saver Scheme.


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