What is the Age Pension assets test?

TAMIKA SEETO
Finance Journalist · 24 February 2021
When assessing your eligibility for the Age Pension, one factor the government looks at is your assets.

The Age Pension is the main income support payment for seniors in Australia.  For many Australians, it forms an important part of their retirement income, in addition to their superannuation and savings.

To be eligible to claim the Age Pension, you’ll generally need to be aged 66 or older, be an Australian resident who has lived here for at least 10 years and meet the income and assets tests.

The income test looks at money you receive from employment and other earnings. The assets test looks at what you own, such as your savings, investments and property. If your income or assets are above certain thresholds, your Age Pension payment may be reduced, or you may not be eligible to receive the pension at all.

Let’s explore the assets test in more detail:

How much assets can you have on the Age Pension?

To receive the full Age Pension payment, your assets must be less than:

Your situation Homeowner Non-homeowner
Single $268,000 $482,500 
A couple, combined (including couples separated due to illness and couples where one partner is eligible)  $401,500  $616,000 

Source:  Services Australia, March 2021 

If your assets are over the threshold for your situation, your pension will be reduced and you may only receive a part pension, according to Services Australia, the government agency which administers the Age Pension. If you are a homeowner, it’s worth noting that your primary residence won’t be counted in the assets test (more on this below).

To receive a part pension, your assets must be less than:

Your situation Homeowners Non-homeowners
Single $585,750 $800,250
A couple, combined $880,500 $1,095,000
A couple separated due to illness, combined  $1,037,000 $1,251,500
A couple where one partner is eligible, combined $880,500 $1,095,000

Source: Services Australia, March 2021

If your assets exceed the applicable cut off point, you may not be eligible for the Age Pension at all. The cut-off point will be higher if you are receiving Rent Assistance with your pension, Services Australia says. Different cut-off points also apply if you are paid a transitional rate of pension (this may apply if you were getting a pension before 19 September 2009).

This information is correct at the time of writing. However, Services Australia reviews the asset test limits and cut off points in January, March, July and September each year, so it’s a good idea to check the Services Australia website for current information.

What assets are included in the Age Pension assets test?

The Age Pension assets test takes into account most types of property or possessions you or your partner own in full or in part. This includes things like money in a bank account, motor vehicles, investment properties and investments such as shares and superannuation.

Below is a summary of some of the assets that are counted. For further information, visit the Services Australia website.

Real estate

The assets test does not count your principal home and up to the first two hectares of land it is on. However, it does include other real estate you own, such as real estate that you rent out, holiday homes and homes you let someone else live in for free.

Different rules apply if you own and live on a farm, or if you give assets or money to live at a property that someone else owns (Services Australia also calls this a “granny flat interest”). If you live in a retirement village, Services Australia says you will need to tell it what you paid as your entry contribution, and it will use this information to work out whether to include your home in the assets test.

Financial investments

The assets test considers the value of your financial investments. This includes financial investments you and your partner own or partially own within and outside of Australia.

For example, these may include:

  • Account-based investments such as:
    • bank, building society, or credit union accounts
    • cash
    • term deposits
    • public and private loans
  • Market-linked investments such as:
    • managed investments
    • shares and securities
    • bonds, notes and debentures
    • gold, silver or platinum bullion
    • superannuation, for those above the Age Pension age
  • Certain income streams, specifically:
    • all account-based income streams purchased from 1 January 2015, and certain ones purchased before then
    • short-term income streams.

Services Australia says it will value income streams and account-based investments using their current balance, whereas for market-linked investments it will use their net market value – i.e. the investment’s last trade or sale price, minus any loan secured against it. Services Australia says it will revalue your market-linked investments, shares and securities on 20 March and 20 September each year.

Your superannuation, meanwhile, will be counted once you reach Age Pension age. The test will look at the balance on your latest statement, Services Australia says.

Your super won’t normally be counted if you are under Age Pension age, unless you are receiving a payment from your fund (such as a pension).

Personal assets

You’ll also need to tell Services Australia about your personal assets, including:

  • Home contents, such as furniture and appliances
  • Personal effects, such as jewellery and laptops
  • Motor vehicles
  • Boats and caravans
  • Licences, such as fishing and taxi licences
  • The surrender value of life insurance policies
  • Collections for trading, investment or hobby purposes
  • Livestock (off farms)

Gifting

If you give away assets or income, they may still be counted under the assets test, depending on the circumstances and the amount you give away. This may also apply if you sell an asset for less than it’s worth, where the difference between the sale value and the market value of the asset is counted as a ‘gift’. Services Australia may allow you to give away a limited amount of assets each year without this affecting your assets test.

Business assets

If you are involved in a business as a partner or sole trader, some assets will be counted as yours under the assets test. Additionally, if you are a controller of a private trust or company, some assets will also count as yours.

What assets are not included in the Age Pension assets test?

Not all assets will be counted in the Age Pension assets test. Some of the common exemptions include:

  • Your principal home and up to the first two hectares of land it is on  (anything over two hectares is counted in the assets test)
  • Certain income streams, including defined benefit income streams
  • Superannuation while you are under Age Pension age and not receiving a superannuation pension.

For more information on what is and isn’t counted, contact Services Australia.

What are the asset hardship provisions?

If you are in severe financial hardship and your assets would either reduce your pension payment or stop you from getting the Age Pension under the assets test, you may be able to apply for the pension under asset hardship provisions. Under these provisions, Services Australia calculates your eligibility and rate using a different method, which means you may be able to get a different rate of pay.

An example could be if you own an asset which puts you over the assets test limit, but you either cannot sell it or cannot be reasonably expected to sell it.

You can find out more on the Services Australia website.

Cover image source: Khongtham/Shutterstock.com

This article was originally written by James Hurwood. It was reviewed by our Sub Editor Tom Letts and Deputy Editor Sean Callery before it was updated, as part of our fact-checking process.

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