What Is An Account Based Pension?

You’ve worked hard to earn your superannuation – now you get to enjoy it. Account-based pensions can be a simple and tax-effective way to live the retirement lifestyle you desire; provided you follow the rules.

Account-based pensions, also known as allocated pensions, are a regular income stream you can use once you reach preservation age. It works by rolling over your superannuation balance in your “accumulation” account into a new “account-based pension” account. Based on current rules, the earnings on your investment in the account-based pension are tax-free; you will be required with withdraw a certain minimum percentage of your account balance each year, with the percentage based on your age.

If you’re eligible for the government Age Pension as well as your account-based pension, you can receive varying levels of income from both your account-based pension and the Age Pension.

Thanks to the superannuation guarantee (SG) scheme that has been in place for 24 years now, most workers in Australia will have some superannuation when they retire. When they reach their preservation age, they have the choice to do one of four things:

  • Leave their superannuation alone if they don’t need it yet.
  • Withdraw their superannuation as a lump sum to spend or invest elsewhere.
  • Use their superannuation to purchase or “roll over” into an account-based pension.
  • Withdraw part of their superannuation as a lump sum and roll over the remainder into an account-based pension.

An account-based pension is easy to set up. Most super funds have specially designed accounts for pensions, offering you the ability to draw down your account balance at regular intervals (e.g. monthly, quarterly, half-yearly, or annually). It can feel like receiving a regular wage again, except that it’s coming from your account-based pension account, not your employer.

An account-based pension has one large advantages over withdrawing your money in a lump sum, which is that it is a tax-effective way to receive your super as the earning on your moneyh in the account-based pension environment are tax free.

There are just a few rules that you have to follow in order to satisfy the ATO’s requirements for an account-based pension. The main rules are as follows.

Rule 1: You must be “old enough” or meet other conditions to retire

You can access your superannuation only if one of three “conditions of release” are met:

  1. You have permanently retired from the workforce after reaching your preservation age; or
  2. You have reached age 65; or
  3. You have become totally and permanently disabled.

Your preservation age depends on when you were born. You can find out what your preservation age is using the ASIC MoneySmart super and pension age calculator.

A transition-to-retirement (TTR) pension is also a possibility, although the government has announced upcoming changes to the tax rules relating to TTR strategies; discuss these changes with your financial adviser.

Rule 2: Cash withdrawal must be made each year

If you’ve chosen to open an account-based pension rather than leaving your super untouched, then you must withdraw between 4-14% each year. How much you must withdraw each year depends on your age:

Age Withdrawal/year
(% of account balance)
55-64 4%
65-74 5%
75-79 6%
80-84 7%
85-89 9%
90-94 11%
95+ 14%
Source: ASIC (MoneySmart)

You can make these income payments happen as often as you want (monthly, quarterly, half-yearly, or annually) but you must continue drawing down money until the account balance is exhausted.

How much you draw down will affect how much you are eligible to receive from the government Age Pension.

You can withdraw some or all of your pension account in a larger lump sum, but again, this will then be taxed if you invest it elsewhere, and it will affect your eligibility for the Age Pension. If you want to, you can roll over the lump sum back into a super accumulation account like you used to have before opening the account-based pension account.

Your fund is responsible for ensuring you draw down the minimum amount each year – but if you have an SMSF type super fund, that means you are responsible for making sure you get it right. CANSTAR would always advise that SMSF Trustees get qualified financial advice about how much to withdraw in a given year.

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Rule 3: If you’re in transition to retirement, you can’t withdraw it all

Normally, you can withdraw some or all of your account-based pension balance in a lump sum. However, if you are in a transition-to-retirement (TTR) pension, you cannot withdraw all of your balance and you can only withdraw up to 10% of your balance each year.

Rule 4: It doesn’t last forever

This one isn’t so much a rule as a fact of life. Your account-based pension is not guaranteed to last for a set period of time or even for the entirety of your retirement.

How long your superannuation pension lasts will depend on how much you withdraw each year, the returns on the investments your account balance is invested in, and the amount of fees you pay.

You can use the ASIC MoneySmart account-based pension calculator to give you a rough idea of how long you could expect an account-based pension with a certain balance to last.

Rule 5: An account-based pension may affect your Age Pension

If you have an account-based pension, this will affect your eligibility to receive the Age Pension.

This is because your entitlement to a full or part Age Pension depends on the government’s income test and assets test – and your account-based pension is assessed under both of these tests. The more assets and income you are judged as having, the less Age Pension you are entitled to receive.

Under the assets test, the entire balance of your account-based pension is counted as an asset.

Under the income test, it depends on when you started your pension. If you started receiving an account-based pension before 1 January 2015, then only part of your pension income is counted as income in this test. If you started receiving an account-based pension on or after 1 January 2015, then the entire balance of your account-based pension is counted as income in this test.

You can contact a Centrelink Financial Information Service Officer or your financial adviser to see how your income will affect your Age pension eligibility. A good financial planning adviser should be able to tell you how you should structure your withdrawals so that you can receive the maximum benefit from both the Age Pension and your account-based pension.

Rule 6: When you die, the money goes to your beneficiary or your estate

When you pass away, any remaining balance in your pension account is paid to the beneficiary you have nominated with your super fund.

Reversionary beneficiaries: If you nominate a “reversionary beneficiary”, then that person can actually receive your account-based pension withdrawals until the account runs out. If that person is a child, they can receive your account-based pension withdrawals until age 25, when they will receive any remaining balance as a lump sum.

Death benefit payments: If your beneficiary is your spouse or dependant, they can choose to receive the death benefit payment from your superannuation as a pension income stream or as a lump sum. Non-dependent beneficiaries can only receive super death benefits as a lump sum.

Choosing the right fund

There is no obligation to remain with your current superannuation fund when you are ready to enter the pension phase and open your account-based pension. There are many different providers and products to choose from.

In 2016, CANSTAR has researched and rated 64 account based pension products from 58 different providers. You can preview these products below in our comparison table snapshot. Please note that this table has been formulated on the basis of a balance less than $250,000 and is sorted by the total annual cost at $100,000 (lowest to highest).

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Compliance Disclosure and Liability Disclaimer

This information has been prepared without taking into account your individual investment objectives, financial circumstances or needs. Before you decide whether or not to acquire a particular financial product you should assess whether it is appropriate for you in the light of your own personal circumstances, having regard to your own objectives, financial situation and needs. You may wish to obtain financial advice from a suitably qualified adviser before making any decision to acquire a financial product. CANSTAR provides information about superannuation products. It is not a superannuation provider and in giving you information it is not making any suggestion or recommendation to you about a particular credit product. Please refer to CANSTAR’s FSG for more information.

Important Notes: The Star Ratings in this table were awarded in May 2017. The search results do not include all providers and may not compare all features relevant to you. View the CANSTAR Account Based Pensions Star Ratings Methodology and Report. The rating shown is only one factor to take into account when considering products.

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