tax and super

Tax. The Beatles sang about it, and we know it as one of life’s certainties. But while you do pay tax on super, for many people, it’s at a lower rate than other types of investments. In fact, that’s one of the main perks of investing through super. That’s why it pays to understand how it works.





tax and super: how it works


Your super may be taxed:

  • when money arrives in your account
  • on the investment earnings
  • when you withdraw your super
  • when you pass away (super death benefits).

    Read on to find out everything you need to know about how super is taxed.








    tax when money is put into your account (also known as contributions)


    The way super contributions are taxed depends on whether they’re paid with before or after-tax income.

    Before-tax contributions (also known as concessional contributions)

    Money paid into your super account by your employer (Superannuation Guarantee contributions) or as a salary sacrifice contribution is taxed at 15%.  

    As with everything in super (and life) – there are exceptions to this: 

    1. If you’re on a lower income: If you earn $37,000 or less per year, any tax you pay on your super contributions may be returned to you through the low-income super tax offset (LISTO). If you’re eligible for LISTO, the Government will add the payment into your account automatically. You don’t have to do anything to claim the offset.
    2.  If you’re on a higher income: You could be taxed more than 15% if your income and super contributions combined are more than $250,000 per year.


    You can find out about all the exceptions to the way before-tax contributions are taxed in the How super is taxed booklet (pdf).


    Case study

    How tax works when adding to your super using salary sacrifice

    Jacob is looking to grow his wealth and is able to find an extra $5,000 a year to support his goal. Let’s compare contributing $5,000 per year to his super using salary sacrifice to saving $5,000 each year outside of super. Salary sacrifice, reduces your taxable income, so you may pay less income tax.

    Jacob has a marginal tax rate of 34.5% (including the 2% Medicare levy) whereas his super contributions are taxed at 15%, so he decides to contribute $5,000 per year to his super as a salary sacrifice. Making the contribution through salary sacrifice reduces the amount of tax he pays (as his taxable income has been reduced).

    By contributing $5,000 per year to his super via salary sacrifice Jacob has:

    • reduced the amount he pays in income tax by $1,725
    • paid contributions tax of only 15% ($750)
    • which has resulted in a net tax saving of $975.




    After-tax contributions (also known as non-concessional contributions)

    Contributions made to your account from after-tax income (aka take-home pay) aren’t taxed again when they hit your super account. However, any investment earnings you receive on these contributions will be taxed.

    After-tax contributions from your take-home pay can be a great way to increase your super balance and best of all – they can be claimed as a tax deduction when you're doing your tax return. 


    Case study

    Get a tax deduction and grow your super savings with after-tax contributions

    Alice is a HESTA member earning $60,000 per year. This financial year she makes an after-tax contribution of $2,000 to her super account. Alice notifies HESTA that she intends to claim a tax deduction on her contribution. This means Alice will be able to claim a tax deduction for the $2,000 in her tax return, reducing her taxable income to $58,000 for the year.

    Alice’s marginal tax rate is 34.5%* (including the 2% Medicare levy), which means after claiming the tax deduction, she pays $690 less tax.

    * Assuming no other sources of income or tax deductions, Alice’s marginal tax rate is 34.5%, including the 2% Medicare levy. She will pay 15% tax on the $2,000 that has gone into her super. Effectively, she is paying $690 less income tax, but the overall tax saving is only $390. 



    tax on investment earnings


    Any earnings made by the investments in your super or transition to retirement (TTR) account are generally taxed at 15%. That tax is deducted before the earnings are applied to your account.

    When you fully retire and move your super into a Retirement Income Stream, investment earnings are no longer subject to tax, because you’ve earned it.



    tax when withdrawing your super


    Most of us look forward to winding down and enjoying retirement. After all, that’s why we’ve worked hard for so long.

    Super is tax free from age 60 if you withdraw it after you’ve met a ‘condition of release’ such as reaching your preservation age (the age at which you can start accessing your super, if you have stopped working):


    Date of birth Preservation age
    Before 01/07/60 55
    01/07/60 - 30/06/61 56
    01/07/61 - 30/06/62 57
    01/07/62 - 30/06/63 58
    01/07/63 - 30/06/64 59
    After 30/06/64 60


    Other ‘conditions of release’ include:

    • Ceasing an employment arrangement on or after the age of 60
    • Turning 65 (even if you are still working).


    For more information about when you can access your super tax free, read How super works (pdf)



    tax on death benefits


    It’s not a nice topic, but it is important to understand how a death benefit is taxed. A super death benefit is paid when someone passes away. It’s usually paid to the person(s) they’ve nominated to receive their benefit if they die (the beneficiary).

    The amount of tax paid by a death benefit beneficiary depends on: 

    • whether they’re a dependant for tax purposes
    • the tax-free and taxable components of the super being paid out, and 
    • whether the beneficiary takes the benefit as an income stream or a lump sum. 

    The best place to find more information about tax on death benefits is on the ATO website.


    Case study

    The importance of choosing the right beneficiary for tax purposes

    Robyn had a partner and daughter with half her assets held in super and half her assets held outside of super. She wanted to split her estate equally between the two of them and minimise tax where possible in the process. She makes a binding nomination in favour of her partner and then outlines in her will who receives the remainder of her estate.

    As the partner is a dependant for tax purposes, they will receive the super benefit tax free.

    The daughter then receives the remainder of the estate as Robyn has instructed under her will.

    If the super nomination had been made 50/50, the partner would still receive their portion of the benefit tax free, however the daughter would pay tax of up to 17% on her portion of the benefit.

    This story highlights the importance of ensuring you not only keep your death benefit nominations up-to-date, but that you understand who is a dependant for tax purposes. After all, the tax man receives enough of our hard-earned money during our lifetime — let’s make sure he doesn’t receive more when we’re gone.



    other helpful things to know


    Supply your tax file number

    To ensure you don’t pay too much tax on contributions, make sure you supply your tax file number (TFN) to your super fund. If you don’t supply it, any before-tax contributions your employer makes to your super will be taxed at the top marginal tax rate, which is currently 47% including the 2% Medicare levy. (Note, if you’ve paid too much tax on your super, the extra tax paid will be returned to your account once you supply your TFN within 3 years as long as you remain at the same fund. So it’s best to supply your TFN upfront!) 

    You can add your TFN in the 'Personal details' section of your online account.

    Get advice

    Everyone’s situation is different and it’s important you get the right advice about the effect of tax on your super.

    Find out more about how we can help.





    Make the most of your super at every stage in life

    Book an appointment with a HESTA Superannuation Adviser for a chat about how to make the most of your super.