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How to make the most of your super at each life stage

Written and accurate as at: May 08, 2024 Current Stats & Facts

Take it seriously and your super will likely end up among the most important financial assets you own. But how you go about this will often depend on your age and the strength of your financial position. Below, we run through a few goals to keep in mind for those looking to boost their super, no matter their age.

Your 20s

If you’re in your 20s, chances are your super isn’t a big priority. If it warrants any thought at all, it’s probably only when nominating an account at the start of a new job.

But there’s value in being proactive at this stage — after all, this is when the foundations of your future retirement are being laid.

One thing you can do is confirm that you’re getting paid the amount you’re owed, in full and on time. Bosses are required to pay their employees’ super on at least a quarterly basis, but beginning in 2026 they’ll have to pay it at the same time salary and wages go out.

And if you worked a string of jobs as a teenager and now have multiple super accounts, think about consolidating them into one. Not only can this make your super easier to manage, you might be able to cut down on any unnecessary fees that are eating into your retirement savings.

Your 30s

By the time you reach your 30s, you’ll hopefully be on a stronger footing, financially-speaking. That might mean a steady job and enough savings that goals like entering the property market or starting a family are beginning to feel within reach.

But it’s important to keep an eye on your super amid all the goal setting and long-term planning. If your financial situation allows it, think about making extra contributions. Since you’re still decades out from retirement, your money will have more time to grow thanks to the power of compound interest (that is, the interest earned on your initial investment plus the interest it has already accrued). 

Your 40s

At this point, you’ll probably be well-established in your career and more confident managing your finances. Even if you’re not tracking your spending day-to-day, chances are you’ve scanned enough bills and statements to have a fair idea of how much money is coming and going each month. 

While your family, mortgage or rent will probably be your prime concerns, try to give some thought to your super too. If your balance is lower than what’s needed to achieve the retirement you want, you might have to make some changes in your life. 

Salary sacrificing is just one option. This involves directing your employer to put a part of your salary directly in your super instead of your bank account each month. These contributions are taxed in your fund at a rate of 15%, which is lower than what would apply had you received them as income instead.

And if your spouse has a low income or is taking time off work to care for your kids, it might also be worth making a spouse super contribution. Depending on your situation, you may be able to claim an annual tax offset of up to $540 on the first $3,000 you contribute to their account.

Your 50s

If you haven’t done so already, now might be a good time to think about who will receive your super if you pass away. Unlike other money and assets, your super doesn’t automatically form part of your estate. That means you’ll have to nominate a valid beneficiary via your fund.

Super death benefits can generally only be paid out to dependents (e.g. a spouse, child, financial dependent, or someone with whom you have an interdependency relationship). If you prefer it goes to someone else, there’s the option to nominate your legal personal representative. This way, your death benefit will be paid into your estate upon your death and distributed according to your Will.

If you have a partner, it’s also worth thinking about who will have access to their super first. It might be worth channelling contributions to the oldest partner, or splitting concessional contributions to that member so you both have access to the funds sooner.

Your 60s

Once you meet a condition of release and decide to access your super, you’ll have a few options for how to do it. Some people decide to withdraw it as a lump sum, while others prefer to commence a retirement phase account-based income stream. 

If you opt for the latter, you can draw on your super as needed while your fund continues to invest your money. While in the investment phase, you won’t pay any tax on any earnings, and the pension payments you receive are also tax-free if you’re over the age of 60. 

Of course, you’ll have to be mindful of the minimum drawdown requirements, which spell out the minimum amount of super you must pay yourself each financial year. They start at 4% if you’re under 65 and increase as you get older.

There’s no perfect formula for achieving the retirement you want, but one of the most important things you can do is be proactive with your super. For more information, consider speaking to a qualified financial adviser.

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