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Learn more about superannuation

What is superannuation?

Superannuation (also known as ‘super’) is a compulsory savings scheme that forces Australian employees to put aside some of their income so they have a nest egg waiting for them when they retire.

How does superannuation work?

Your employer is responsible for paying your superannuation.

Your annual superannuation must be at least 9.5 per cent of your annual salary. For example, if you earn $100,000 (before tax), your employer must pay you at least $9,500 in super per year (a policy known as the ‘superannuation guarantee’).

Employers must make payments into your super fund at least once every three months.

What types of superannuation are available?

There are six types of superannuation funds:

  • Retail super funds
  • Industry super funds
  • Public sector super funds
  • Corporate super funds
  • Eligible rollover super funds
  • Self-managed super funds
 Fund Description Availability
Retail Run by for-profit institutions such as banks and financial services companies Everyone
Industry Run by not-for-profit institutions Some industry funds restrict membership to certain industries 
Public sector Created for federal and state government departments Public servants
Corporate Run by companies Employees of those companies
Eligible rollover Special holding accounts; can’t receive contributions from employers For lost members or inactive members with low balances
SMSF Self-managed super funds are for Australians who want to manage their own investments Everyone

Those six types of superannuation funds come in two different flavours:

  • Accumulation funds 
  • Defined-benefits funds

Most Australians are in accumulation funds. When you retire, the fund will pay you whatever superannuation you accumulated during your working life.

Everyone else is in defined-benefit funds. When you retire, the fund will pay you based on a formula. For example, you might receive an ongoing payment calculated as a percentage of your final salary, or a lump sum calculated on the number of years you spent with your employer. Defined-benefit funds tend to be:

  • Used only by corporate or public sector super funds
  • Closed to new members

What type of superannuation should you get?

Few Australians now have the chance to register with a defined-benefit scheme, so you will almost certainly have no choice but to use an accumulation scheme.

As a result, there are really only two questions you need to ask when comparing super:

  1. Do I want to manage how my superannuation is invested or do I want professionals to manage it for me?
  2. If I want professionals to manage my superannuation, do I want to register with a retail fund, an industry fund, a public sector fund or a corporate fund?

Australia’s financial services regulator, ASIC, says you should think twice about getting an SMSF if you:

  • Have a superannuation balance of less than $500,000
  • Want a simple super solution
  • Don’t want to manage your own investments
  • Don’t have enough time to manage your own investments
  • Don’t have enough skill to manage your own investments
  • Have a low level of financial literacy

“SMSFs may be an attractive option for investors wanting more control over their superannuation investment strategy, but it requires real skill, care and diligence to manage your own superannuation,” according to ASIC commissioner Danielle Press.

“SMSFs are not for everyone simply because not everyone can meet the significant time, costs, risks and obligations associated with establishing and running one.”

If you don’t want to open a self-managed super fund, your next decision is what type of fund to choose – retail, industry, public sector or corporate.

You have a lot of choice when it comes to superannuation – there are about 190 different funds in Australia (although not all of these funds are open to everyone). So make sure you do your research and compare how different funds compare in terms of fees, investment options, investment performance, insurance options and customer service.

What can you use superannuation for?

Superannuation is meant to be used to fund retirement. So, apart from a few exceptions, you can access your superannuation only in your latter years:

  • If you’re permanently retired – you can access your superannuation when you reach your ‘preservation age’ (which is between 55 and 60, depending on when you were born)
  • If you’re still working – you can access your superannuation when you turn 65

However, you can access your superannuation early due to some exceptional circumstances:

  • If you’ve suffered permanent or temporary incapacity
  • If you’ve received commonwealth benefits for 26 continuous weeks but still can’t meet your immediately living expenses
  • If you’re seriously ill and need to pay for medical treatment
  • If you have a terminal condition and are likely to die within two years

Compare superannuation

How do you compare superannuation?

There are five main ways to compare superannuation funds:

  1. Fees
  2. Investment options
  3. Investment performance
  4. Insurance options
  5. Customer service
  6. All things being equal, a super fund with lower fees is better than one with higher fees. That said, it’s certainly possible that a fund with higher fees might offer better value than one with lower fees.

It’s also important to realise that super funds might charge several different fees, including:

  • Administration fees
  • Investment fees
  • Advice fees
  • Switching fees
  • Buy-sell spread fees
  • Activity-based fees
  • Indirect costs
  • Insurance premiums

You also want to research the different investment options being offered. You want to make sure you’re comfortable with:

  • The amount of risk you would be taking
  • The asset classes you would be investing in
  • The proportion of your super that would be going to each asset class

While you’re researching each fund’s investment options, you should also research how those options have been performing. Find out what their net returns (i.e. after fees) have been. ASIC (Australia’s financial services regulator) suggests choosing a fund that has “performed well over the last five years” rather than “last year’s best performer”.

Next, if you’re interested in taking out insurance via a super fund, investigate the different insurance offers, including their premiums and conditions. Super funds commonly offer three different types of insurance:

  • Life insurance
  • Total and permanent disability insurance
  • Income protection insurance

Finally, research what sort of customer service you might receive from different super funds. This might involve comparing the promises made by funds with the feedback left on online review sites.

Why should you compare superannuation?

Australians have access to about 190 superannuation funds and 40,000 investment options, according to APRA, so it’s important you do your research so you can find the best super fund and best investment option for you.

Choosing the wrong super fund or investment option can be costly. 

Imagine you worked from age 22 to 67 and earned a salary of $75,000 the whole time. And imagine you chose the ‘balanced’ investment option (with an investment return of 4.8 per cent, tax on earning of 6.5 per cent and investment fees of 0.5 per cent). Here’s how much you would have at retirement based on different fee levels, according to the ASIC superannuation calculator:

Fee level Contribution fee (%)  Admin fees (p.a.) Indirect cost ratio (% p.a.) Final total
 Low 0% $50 0% $404,893
 Low-medium 0% $50 0.3% $381,156
 Medium 0% $50 0.6% $359,194
 Medium-high 2% $0 1.3% $309,247
 High 4% $0 2% $266,059

Now, let’s slightly change the scenario. 

Again, imagine you worked for 45 years at a salary of $75,000. Also, imagine you chose a fund with ‘medium’ fees (with a contribution fee of 0 per cent, admin fees of $50 per annum and an indirect cost ratio of 0.6 per cent per annum). Here’s how much you would have at retirement based on different investment options:

Investment option Investment return (% p.a.) Tax on earning (% p.a.) Investment fees (% p.a.) Final total
Cash 2.7% 15% 0.05% $247,429
Conservative 3.8% 10.6% 0.3% $295,529
Moderate 4.4% 8.3% 0.4% $331,780
Balanced 4.8% 6.5% 0.5% $359,194
Growth 5% 5.8% 0.6% $369,607
High growth 5.3% 4.1% 0.7% $393,595


What features of superannuation should you look out for?

The five main features of superannuation are:

  • Fees – does the fund have a competitive fee structure?
  • Investment options – does the fund offer a suitable investment strategy and risk level?
  • Investment performance – does the fund have a strong record over the past five years?
  • Insurance options – does the fund have the right insurance products at a competitive price (assuming you want to take out insurance through your super)?
  • Customer service – does the fund make it easy for you to manage your super?

What are the benefits of superannuation?

There are two main benefits of superannuation:

  • You build a nest egg for retirement
  • You save and invest in a tax-effective structure (super is taxed at only 15 per cent)

What are the disadvantages of superannuation?

The main disadvantage of superannuation is that its compulsory. So instead of getting access to your money today (in the form of a higher take-home salary), it gets locked away – potentially for decades.

How do you choose a superannuation fund?

The first thing you need to do is check that you can, indeed, choose a superannuation fund. Most Australians will be able to choose their own super fund, but some workers may not be able to do so if their job is covered by a certain industrial agreement.

It’s also possible you may not want to choose a super fund. Why? Well, some Australians in certain jobs have access to special ‘defined-benefit’ funds, which may offer more generous terms than the standard ‘accumulation’ funds used by most Australians.

However, if you are in a situation where you are choosing a super fund, your aim should be to find the best super fund in Australia.

What’s the best super fund? This will differ from person to person, because we all have our own personal preferences and financial situations. So what’s best for one won’t be best for another.

Once you’ve chosen what you believe is the best super fund for your situation, contact the institution or visit their website for more information. Joining a super fund is usually a straightforward task.

How do you find the best superannuation fund?

The best superannuation fund is the one you believe will offer you the best value. 

The definition of ‘best’ will differ from person to person. Australia’s financial services regulator, ASIC, has some advice on finding the best super fund:

  • Fees: “The lower the better”
  • Investment options: “Make sure there are options that suit your needs and comfort with risk”
  • Performance: “Pick a fund that has performed well over the last five years – do not chase last year's best performer”

What is the cheapest superannuation fund?

Identifying the cheapest superannuation fund in Australia is an impossible task for two reasons.

First, there are many different types of fees, including admin fees, investment fees, advice fees, switching fees, buy-sell spread fees, activity-based fees, indirect costs and insurance premiums. The same super fund might impose one lot of fees on one member and a different lot of fees on another member, depending on the members’ balance, activity, investment preferences and insurance preferences. The level of fees might also differ from person to person. So an apples-for-apples comparison is impossible.

Second, not only are there many different types of fees, there are also many different super funds (about 190). So at any point in time, there’s a good chance that one of these funds has just changed or is about to change one of its fees. That means that even if you could make an apples-for-apples comparison to find the cheapest super fund, the identity of the cheapest fund might change regularly.

Is the cheapest superannuation fund the best?

The cheapest superannuation fund won’t always be the best superannuation fund for your situation.

Each Australian will have their own definition on what constitutes the ‘best’ super fund. But if you believe the ‘best’ super fund is the one that will help you accumulate the most superannuation ahead of your retirement, it would be more relevant to focus on ‘net returns’ rather than fees. The net return is all the money your fund earns for you (through investing) minus all the money your fund takes from you (through fees).

It’s possible for a higher-fee fund to deliver higher net returns than a lower-fee fund if the higher-fee fund achieves stronger investment results than the lower-fee fund.

That’s why, if you believe the ‘best’ superannuation fund is the one that allows you to accumulate the most superannuation, the cheapest super fund won’t always be the best super fund.

Which superannuation fund should you choose?

You should choose whatever superannuation fund you believe is the best.

Each person will have their own definition of ‘best’, depending on their preferences. Some possible definitions might include:

  • The fund that has delivered the highest net returns over the past five years
  • The fund that has earned the highest approval ratings on online review sites
  • The fund that has the most appealing investment options

Those are just examples – you might have your own definition of what constitutes the best super fund.

The key thing is to do your research, compare your options and then choose the super fund you believe is the best.

Who can get superannuation?

Most Australian workers can get superannuation. To get super, you need to fit one of these two profiles:

  • Be at least 18 years and earn at least $450 (before tax) in a calendar month
  • Be under 18 years, earn at least $450 (before tax) in a calendar month and work more than 30 hours in a week

These conditions apply even if you’re a temporary resident, a casual worker or a part-time worker.

Please note that a small number of Australians may not be able to get superannuation if they have a job that is covered by a particular industrial agreement.

How can you get superannuation?

Superannuation is an entitlement for most Australian workers.

Assuming you’re entitled to super, your employer should give you the chance to nominate your own fund when you start a new job.

If you don’t choose a fund, your employer should register you with a fund (and choose that fund’s MySuper option).

How can you apply for superannuation?

You apply for superannuation by filling out a standard choice form. You will need to provide:

  • Personal details
  • Information about your preferred super fund

Your employer will also need to fill out part of the form.

How much does superannuation cost?

You don’t have to pay money to join a superannuation fund. However, the fund will charge you fees to manage your money.

The range of possible fees may include:

  • Administration fees
  • Investment fees
  • Advice fees
  • Switching fees
  • Buy-sell spread fees
  • Activity-based fees
  • Indirect costs
  • Insurance premiums

How can RateCity help you save on superannuation?

You can use RateCity to compare superannuation funds and superannuation products, including:

  • Investment performance
  • Fees
  • Features
  • SuperRatings awards

You can then use that information to choose what you believe is the best superannuation fund for your situation.

Superannuation companies

Frequently asked questions

Superannuations Frequently Asked Questions

Am I entitled to superannuation if I'm not an Australian citizen?

Yes, permanent and temporary residents are entitled to superannuation.

How do you create a superannuation account?

Before you create a superannuation account, you’ll need to check if you’re allowed to choose your own fund. Most Australians can, but this option doesn’t apply to some workers who are covered by industrial agreements or who are members of defined benefits funds.

Assuming you are able to choose your own fund, the next step should be research, because there are more than 200 different superannuation funds in Australia.

Once you’ve decided on your preferred superannuation fund, head to that provider’s website, where you should be able to fill in an online application or download the appropriate forms. You’ll need your tax file number (assuming you don’t want to be charged a higher tax rate), your contact details and your employer’s details (if you’re employed).

How much superannuation do I need?

According to the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA), here is how much you would be able to spend per week during retirement:

Lifestyle Singles Couples
Modest $465 $668
Comfortable $837 $1,150

Here is the superannuation balance you would need to fund that level of spending:

Lifestyle Singles Couples
Modest $50,000 $35,000
Comfortable $545,000 $640,000

These figures come from the March 2017 edition of the ASFA Retirement Standard.

The reason people on modest lifestyles need so much less money is because they qualify for a far bigger age pension.

Here is how ASFA defines retirement lifestyles:

Category Comfortable Modest Age pension
Holidays One annual holiday in Australia One or two short breaks in Australia near where you live Shorter breaks or day trips in your own city
Eating out Regularly eat out at restaurants. Good range and quality of food Infrequently eat out at restaurants. Cheaper and less food Only club special meals or inexpensive takeaway
Car Owning a reasonable car Owning an older, less reliable car No car – or, if you do, a struggle to afford the upkeep
Alcohol Bottled wine Casked wine Homebrew beer or no alcohol
Clothing Good clothes Reasonable clothes Basic clothes
Hair Regular haircuts at a good hairdresser Regular haircuts at a basic salon Less frequent haircuts or getting a friend to do it
Leisure A range of regular leisure activities One paid leisure activity, infrequently Free or low-cost leisure activities
Electronics A range of electronic equipment Not much scope to run an air conditioner Less heating in winter
Maintenance Replace kitchen and bathroom over 20 years No budget for home improvements. Can do repairs, but can’t replace kitchen or bathroom No budget to fix home problems like a leaky roof
Insurance Private health insurance Private health insurance No private health insurance

How can I keep track of my superannuation?

Most funds will allow you to access your superannuation account online. Another option is to manage your superannuation through myGov, which is a government portal through which you can access a range of services, including Medicare, Centrelink, aged care and child support.

How does superannuation affect the age pension?

Most Australians who are of retirement age can qualify for the age pension. However, depending on the size of your assets and post-retirement income, you might be entitled to only a reduced pension. In some instances, you might not be entitled to any pension payments.

Am I entitled to superannuation if I'm a contractor?

As a contractor, you’re entitled to superannuation if:

  • The contract is mainly for your labour
  • You’re over 18 and earn more than $450 before tax in a calendar month
  • You’re under 18, you work more than 30 hours per week and you earn more than $450 before tax in a calendar month

Please note that you’re entitled to superannuation even if you have an Australian business number (ABN).

What is salary sacrificing?

A salary sacrifice is where your employer takes part of your pre-tax salary and pays it directly into your superannuation account. Salary sacrifices come out of your pre-tax income, whereas personal contributions come out of your after-tax income.

How does superannuation work?

Superannuation is paid by employers to employees, at least once every three months. The ‘superannuation guarantee’ is currently 9.5 per cent – which means that your employer must pay you superannuation equivalent to 9.5 per cent of your salary. The guarantee is scheduled to rise to 10.0 per cent in 2021-22, 10.5 per cent in 2022-23, 11.0 per cent in 2023-24, 11.5 per cent in 2024-25 and 12.0 per cent in 2025-26.

Superannuation is generally taxed at 15 per cent. However, if you earn less than $37,000, you will be automatically reimbursed up to $500 of the tax you paid. Also, if your income plus concessional superannuation contributions exceed $250,000, you will also be charged Division 293 tax. This is an extra 15 per cent tax on your concessional contributions or the amount above $250,000 – whichever is lesser.

You can withdraw your superannuation when you meet the ‘conditions of release’. The conditions of release say you can claim your super when you reach:

  • Age 65
  • Your ‘preservation age’ and retire
  • Your preservation age and begin a ‘transition to retirement’ while still working

 

How do I choose the right superannuation fund?

Different superannuation funds charge different fees, offer different insurances, offer different investment options and have different performance histories.

So you need to ask yourself these four questions when comparing superannuation funds:

  • How many fees would I have to pay and what would they cost?
  • What insurances are available and how much would they cost?
  • What investment options does it offer? How would they match my risk profile and financial needs?
  • How have these investment options performed historically?

How much superannuation should I have?

The amount of superannuation you need to have at retirement is based on how much money you would expect to spend each week during your retirement. That, in turn, depends on whether you expect to lead a modest retirement or a comfortable retirement.

The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA) estimates you would need the following amount per week:

Lifestyle Singles Couples
Modest $465 $668
Comfortable $837 $1,150

Here is the superannuation balance you would need to fund that level of spending:

Lifestyle Singles Couples
Modest $50,000 $35,000
Comfortable $545,000 $640,000

These figures come from the March 2017 edition of the ASFA Retirement Standard.

The reason people on modest lifestyles need so much less money is because they qualify for a far bigger age pension.

Here is how ASFA defines retirement lifestyles:

Category Comfortable Modest Age pension
Holidays One annual holiday in Australia One or two short breaks in Australia near where you live Shorter breaks or day trips in your own city
Eating out Regularly eat out at restaurants. Good range and quality of food Infrequently eat out at restaurants. Cheaper and less food Only club special meals or inexpensive takeaway
Car Owning a reasonable car Owning an older, less reliable car No car – or, if you do, a struggle to afford the upkeep
Alcohol Bottled wine Casked wine Homebrew beer or no alcohol
Clothing Good clothes Reasonable clothes Basic clothes
Hair Regular haircuts at a good hairdresser Regular haircuts at a basic salon Less frequent haircuts or getting a friend to do it
Leisure A range of regular leisure activities One paid leisure activity, infrequently Free or low-cost leisure activities
Electronics A range of electronic equipment Not much scope to run an air conditioner Less heating in winter
Maintenance Replace kitchen and bathroom over 20 years No budget for home improvements. Can do repairs, but can’t replace kitchen or bathroom No budget to fix home problems like a leaky roof
Insurance Private health insurance Private health insurance No private health insurance

How much money do you get on the age pension?

Pension payments can be reduced due to the income test and asset test (see ‘What is the age pension’s income test?’ and ‘What is the age pension’s assets test?’).

Here are the maximum fortnightly payments:

Category

Single

Couple each

Couple combined

Couple apart due to ill health

Maximum basic rate

$808.30

$609.30

$1,218.60

$808.30

Maximum pension supplement

$65.90

$49.70

$99.40

$65.90

Energy supplement

$14.10

$10.60

$21.20

$14.10

TOTAL

$888.30

$669.60

$1,339.20

$888.30

What happens to my superannuation when I change jobs?

You can keep your superannuation fund for as long as you like, so nothing happens when you change jobs. Please note that some superannuation funds have special features for people who work with certain employers, so these features may no longer be available if you change jobs.

What age can I withdraw my superannuation?

You can withdraw your superannuation (or at least some of it) when you reach ‘preservation age’. The preservation age is based on date of birth. Here are the six different categories:

Date of birth Preservation age
Before 1 July 1960 55
1 July 1960 – 30 June 1961 56
1 July 1961 – 30 June 1962 57
1 July 1962 – 30 June 1963 58
1 July 1963 – 30 June 1964 59
From 1 July 1964 60

When you reach preservation age, you can withdraw all your superannuation if you’re retired. If you’re still working, you can begin a ‘transition to retirement’, which allows you to withdraw 10 per cent of their superannuation each financial year.

You can also withdraw all your superannuation once you reach 65 years.

How do you pay superannuation?

Superannuation is paid by employers to employees. Employers are required to pay superannuation to all their staff if the staff are:

  • Over 18 and earn more than $450 before tax in a calendar month
  • Under 18, work more than 30 hours per week and earn more than $450 before tax in a calendar month

This applies even if the staff are casual employees, part-time employees, contractors (provided the contract is mainly for their labour) or temporary residents.

Currently, the superannuation rate is currently 9.5 per cent of an employee’s ordinary time earnings. This is scheduled to rise to 10.0 per cent in 2021-22, 10.5 per cent in 2022-23, 11.0 per cent in 2023-24, 11.5 per cent in 2024-25 and 12.0 per cent in 2025-26.

Employers must pay superannuation at least four times per year. The due dates are 28 January, 28 April, 28 July and 28 October.

How is superannuation regulated?

The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) regulates ordinary superannuation accounts. Self-managed superannuation funds (SMSFs) are regulated by the Australian Taxation Office.

What is the age pension's income test?

These are the rules for most people who want to claim the standard pension:

Single people

  • If your income per fortnight is up to $168, you’re entitled to a full pension
  • If your income per fortnight is over $168, your pension will reduce by 50 cents for each dollar over $168

Couples

  • If your income per fortnight is up to $300, you’re entitled to a full pension
  • If your income per fortnight is over $300, your pension will reduce by 50 cents for each dollar over $300

These are the rules for most people who want to claim the transitional pension:

Single people

  • If your income per fortnight is up to $168, you’re entitled to a full pension
  • If your income per fortnight is over $168, your pension will reduce by 40 cents for each dollar over $168

Couples

  • If your income per fortnight is up to $300, you’re entitled to a full pension
  • If your income per fortnight is over $300, your pension will reduce by 40 cents for each dollar over $300

For most people, the age pension cuts off if your fortnightly income exceeds these thresholds:

Category Fortnightly income
Standard pension for singles $1,944.60
Standard pension for couples living together $2,978.40
Standard pension for couples living apart due to ill health $3,853.20
Transitional pension for singles $2,038.00
Transitional pension for couples living together $3,317.00
Transitional pension for couples living apart due to ill health $4,040.00

Is superannuation taxed?

Superannuation is taxed. It is generally taxed at 15 per cent. However, if you earn less than $37,000, you will be automatically reimbursed up to $500 of the tax you paid. Also, if your income plus concessional superannuation contributions exceed $250,000, you will also be charged Division 293 tax. This is an extra 15 per cent tax on your concessional contributions or the amount above $250,000 – whichever is lesser.

How much superannuation should I have at age 40?

The amount of superannuation you should have at age 40 is based on how much money you need to have at retirement. That, in turn, is based on how much money you expect to spend each week during your retirement. That, in turn, depends on whether you expect to lead a modest retirement or a comfortable retirement.

The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA) estimates you would need the following amount per week:

Lifestyle Singles Couples
Modest $465 $668
Comfortable $837 $1,150

Here is the superannuation balance you would need to fund that level of spending:

Lifestyle Singles Couples
Modest $50,000 $35,000
Comfortable $545,000 $640,000

These figures come from the March 2017 edition of the ASFA Retirement Standard.

The reason people on modest lifestyles need so much less money is because they qualify for a far bigger age pension.

Here is how ASFA defines retirement lifestyles:

Category Comfortable Modest Age pension
Holidays One annual holiday in Australia One or two short breaks in Australia near where you live Shorter breaks or day trips in your own city
Eating out Regularly eat out at restaurants. Good range and quality of food Infrequently eat out at restaurants. Cheaper and less food Only club special meals or inexpensive takeaway
Car Owning a reasonable car Owning an older, less reliable car No car – or, if you do, a struggle to afford the upkeep
Alcohol Bottled wine Casked wine Homebrew beer or no alcohol
Clothing Good clothes Reasonable clothes Basic clothes
Hair Regular haircuts at a good hairdresser Regular haircuts at a basic salon Less frequent haircuts or getting a friend to do it
Leisure A range of regular leisure activities One paid leisure activity, infrequently Free or low-cost leisure activities
Electronics A range of electronic equipment Not much scope to run an air conditioner Less heating in winter
Maintenance Replace kitchen and bathroom over 20 years No budget for home improvements. Can do repairs, but can’t replace kitchen or bathroom No budget to fix home problems like a leaky roof
Insurance Private health insurance Private health insurance No private health insurance

 

 

How do I combine several superannuation accounts into one account?

The process used to consolidate several superannuation accounts into one is the same process used to change superannuation funds. This can be done through your MyGov account or by filling out a rollover form and sending it to your chosen fund.