Ask Paul: I have breast cancer, can I access my super?


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Dear Paul,

I have just turned 58 and my husband is 59. We have two dependent sons and are both working, with $200,000 remaining on our mortgage.

I work four days a week and, as I am the primary earner, we are not in a financial position for me to stop work so I can access my superannuation. 

ask paul clitheroe can i access my super early after being diagnosed with stage four breast cancer

Three years ago, I was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. I would now like to access my super to enjoy my remaining years without needing to work full-time.

I don't have income insurance. It's my understanding that I'm unable to retire until age 67, or to transition to retirement until age 60.

For the limited number of people in my position, it seems unfair that we are not able to access our super to enjoy our final years without needing to work.

Do you have any advice to help me from a financial perspective? - Tanya

Your question is not one that is easy to answer, Tanya.

As we all know, and I have said more times than I can remember, money gives us choices, which is great, but our own health and the health of those we love is the primary issue.

I have loved ones around me who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and it is unlikely that any of us would not know someone in this situation.

I really do appreciate that breast cancer, or any cancer for that matter, is a personal journey. Much is dependent on so many factors that come with a cancer diagnosis, but being diagnosed with stage four breast cancer three years ago is a serious issue.

Thank you for asking me to comment from a financial perspective, which I do know a bit about.

Access to your super is not likely to be an issue for you. You should talk to your fund about your situation. As you have recently turned 58, I agree with you that your birth date would most likely mean your "preservation age" is 60.

But with your cancer, this may be far too long a time to wait to access super. I am sure you will have looked at any sick leave available to you from your employer.

First, you can talk to your super fund about "compassionate grounds" to access your super. This can cover medical treatment, home loan repayments and unpaid expenses.

The next option is not easy to discuss.

But if two doctors, one being a specialist, were to consider that your prognosis is likely death within two years, you can access your super tax free. If you have total and permanent disability (TPD) in your super fund, this may also release that payment.

From a financial perspective, these are likely to be your two best options to access super early.

But with the huge strides being made with cancer treatments, my hope, of course, is that using compassionate grounds to access super may provide you with money to assist your current costs and then you can access super as you reach your preservation age and retirement.

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Paul Clitheroe AM is founder and editorial adviser of Money magazine. He is one of Australia's leading financial voices, responsible for bringing financial insight to Australians through personal finance books, the Money TV show, and this publication, which he established in 1999. Paul is the chair of the Australian Government Financial Literacy Board and is chairman of InvestSMART Financial Services. He is the chair of Financial Literacy at Macquarie University where he is also a Professor with the School of Business and Economics. Ask Paul your money question. Unfortunately Paul cannot respond to questions posted in the comments section. View our disclaimer.
Steven Robinson
June 28, 2023 8.03am

Hi Paul, lady with stage 4 cancer 2022, future economic dilemma, please advise readers the value of Superannuation "Income Protection". My wife employed 36 years Education Queensland, unvax due to cancer was despicable treated by "Emergency use Authority", suspended without income 6 months, June 2022, informed unvax return to work, on 1 Aug 2022 given disiplinary action, reduced wages for 18 weeks, employed Enterprise Agreement how was this possible? Followed in Feb 2023 a reprimand on impeccable work history. loved working with children. My wife exhausted long Service leave & holidays, was going to resign job. I submit "loss of income insurance", Q super one day I asked why so happy? Received income approval from superannuation up to about 80% for 2 years. The Q super amalgamated, the loss of income insurance has changed, 90% first 6 months then 70% thereafter? Maybe the stress of Government mandate C19 " no jab no job" turned the stage 4 cancer aggressive? I witnessed a mirical, given medical chemo treatment, almost lost her during treatment, 7 days later the tumour physical body lumps disappeared, the PET scan had no black images, still on treatment has side effects, low white cell readings receives injection to increase white cell count. I am not religious, did pray that if heaven or hell, send me to hell give my wife any heaven credits I accumulated. We were given first Granddaughter turned age one 6 June 2023, my wife still employed, has not returned to work, this little blessing was God given has raised my wife's spirits.