Find lost super

TOM LETTS
Sub Editor · 28 January 2021
If you’ve ever switched jobs, lived overseas, or changed your name or address during your working life, you may have lost track of some of your superannuation along the way. Here’s an overview of what lost super is, as well as some steps you could consider to help you find and recover any lost super you may have.
According to the latest figures from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), there were more than 6.2 million lost and unclaimed superannuation accounts as at 30 June 2019, adding up to almost $21 billion in misplaced super money. And while the ATO has now begun to “proactively reunite” workers with some of this money under new legislation, there are still many Australians with lost or unclaimed super that their fund or the ATO is holding for them.

What is lost superannuation?

According to the ATO, your super fund will report you as a ‘lost member’ if any of the following situations apply:

  • they have not been able to contact you
  • they have not received any contributions or rollover amounts for you in the last five years
  • your account was transferred from another fund as a lost member account and no new address has been found

The ATO stresses that it is technically super members who can become ‘lost’ under Australia’s super laws, not their accounts or the money in them. This means, for example, that if a member confirms their address or tells the fund they want to continue being a member, then they generally wouldn’t be considered lost, even if they’re no longer paying money into the account. The legislation also excludes self-managed super fund (SMSF) members from being considered lost, the ATO notes.

The money in a lost member’s super account is generally held by their super fund until they claim it, unless it totals less than $6,000. In that case, the fund typically must pay the balance of these ‘small lost member accounts’ to the ATO instead, and the money is considered ‘unclaimed’ rather than lost.

What is unclaimed superannuation?

Unclaimed super is different to lost super in that the person it belongs to isn’t necessarily inactive or uncontactable, and that it sits with the ATO rather than with individual super funds. Funds generally have to report and pay unclaimed super money to the ATO twice a year. The ATO then adds the money to its Unclaimed Super Money (USM) register, and holds onto it until its owner claims it.

According to the Association of Super Funds of Australia’s Super Guru website, unclaimed super can include super belonging to:

  • members aged over 65
  • non-member spouses (where a person’s super has been split following breakdown of their marriage or de facto relationship)
  • deceased members
  • former temporary residents
  • lost members with ‘small’ account balances of less than $6,000
  • lost members with ‘insoluble’ accounts, meaning their super fund didn’t have enough information about them to verify they were entitled to the money. 

The good news is that unclaimed and lost super is still considered to be owned by the member it belongs to, and it may be easier than you think to claim it.

How do I find lost or unclaimed superannuation?

The ATO and Moneysmart outline three main ways you can find any lost or unclaimed superannuation that may belong to you, so you can decide whether you want to consolidate it into an active super account:

  1. Search online via myGov
  2. Call the ATO’s lost super search line
  3. Download and fill out a paper form

Here are some more details on how each of these processes generally works.

Searching online via myGov

If you have a myGov account linked to the ATO, the ATO says you can log into it and click ‘Manage my super’ to search for lost super money. If you have your tax file number (TFN) ready, you can also use this ‘Manage my super’ function in myGov to search the ATO’s USM register for any unclaimed super it may be holding for you. The ATO provides more details on how myGov’s online services work, along with instructions on setting up a myGov account if you don’t have one already.

Calling the lost super search line

Another option to track down your lost or unclaimed super is to call the ATO’s automated ‘lost super search line’ on 13 28 65.

If you do so, the ATO says you will need to be ready to provide some or all of the following personal information on request:

  • your personal details
    • tax file number (TFN)
    • name
    • date of birth
    • visa holder status (if applicable)
  • your contact details
    • current postal address
    • daytime phone number
    • email address (if applicable)
  • your super fund details – any super fund where contributions may have been made on your behalf
    • super fund name
    • account number
    • beneficiaries
    • period of contributions
  • your previous details
    • name
    • address
    • employment (if applicable)

Filling out a paper form

A third option is to download, print and fill out a paper form from the ATO, then mail it back to the tax office. The ATO provides a link to this form on its website, and you can fill it out either on your computer or with a pen. The ATO’s postal address that you will need to send the form to is listed at the base of the form itself.

Recovering your lost or unclaimed super

Whichever method of finding your super you choose, if you decide to recover it you can choose whether to consolidate it into another active account of yours, or withdraw it if you have met a condition of release. Each of these options has some potential advantages and disadvantages. Withdrawing your super could help with your day-to-day cashflow needs, but could reduce your retirement nest egg. On the other hand, consolidating your super can mean you avoid paying multiple sets of fees and insurance premiums, but if your lost super is still tied to a super fund and has insurance associated with it, you may want to consider whether you still need this insurance.

Can the ATO give me back my lost or unclaimed super automatically?

Under the Protecting Your Super Package legislation introduced in 2019, the ATO can now collect the unclaimed money in ‘inactive low-balance super accounts’ and pay it back to the people it belongs to, without them needing to do anything. This law change is designed to protect the small balances in these accounts from being eroded by fees, the ATO explains.

To be eligible, the super account must meet the legal definition of an ‘inactive low-balance account’. Generally speaking, this refers to an account with less than $6,000 in it and no insurance associated with it, where the person it belongs to hasn’t met a condition of release and hasn’t paid any money into it or made any changes to it for at least 16 months. SMSF and defined benefit accounts are excluded from this definition.

Alternatively, the ATO says it will actively pay you any super it is holding for you if it is less than $200 or you are at least 65 years old.

If an account meets these criteria, the super fund managing it must pay the money to the ATO, which says it will then “proactively consolidate” the money into an active super account of yours, on your behalf. The ATO says it will seek to notify you, where possible, if it transfers money into an active account for you.

In terms of lost super, the ATO notes it can also consolidate a “small” or “insoluble” lost member account into an eligible active account, assuming it can work out who the money belongs to.

It is important to note that these criteria are fairly strict, meaning the ATO can only return lost or unclaimed money to people in certain circumstances. This means that depending on your situation, it could be worth working out if you have any lost or unclaimed super and then tracking it down yourself, rather than waiting for the ATO to do it for you.

How does super get lost or go unclaimed?

Based on the national average tenure of three years and four months per job, according to recent data from McCrindle Research, a school leaver today could have as many as 17 employers in their lifetime, assuming they start work at 18 and finish by age 75. Considering it’s not uncommon for people to open a new super account when they start a new job, that’s potentially a lot of different superannuation accounts in your name.

People might also have lost track of their super. For example, they may not have updated their contact details with their super fund (or funds) when they moved house or changed their name.

Choosing a superannuation account

Want to consolidate all your lost super but are unsure which fund to choose? You can get an idea of some of the factors to consider when comparing superannuation accounts in our article about this topic: How to choose a super fund.

It’s worth noting that consolidating super funds is beneficial for many people but isn’t right for everyone, so the pros and cons should be carefully weighed up. When looking for a suitable fund, there are many factors to consider, such as the fees charged, whether the insurance offering is suitable for you and the education and advice available. Past performance is an important consideration because it gives an indication of what a fund has been capable of delivering in the past through varied market conditions. However, investments can go up and down, so past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance.

If you’re comparing superannuation funds, the comparison table below displays some of the products currently available on Canstar’s database for Australians aged 30-39 with a balance of up to $55,000, sorted by Star Rating (highest to lowest), followed by company name (alphabetical). Use Canstar’s superannuation comparison selector to view a wider range of super funds.

Fee, performance and asset allocation information shown in the table above have been determined according to the investment profile in the Canstar Superannuation Star Ratings methodology that matches the age group specified above.

Cover image source: Ortis/Shutterstock.com

Additional reporting: Regina Collins and James Hurwood. This article was reviewed by our Sub Editor Jacqueline Belesky and Digital Editor Amanda Horswill before it was updated, as part of our fact-checking process.

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