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Accessing superannuation assets before reaching your preservation age

Recently I was asked under what conditions could you access some or all of your superannuation funds before reaching your preservation age.
First a quick reminder, the preservation age is currently 55 but will be increased to 60 on a phased in basis:
For a person ...
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
After 30 June 1964                    60
Before reaching your relevant preservation age you may be able to access your superannuation under one of the following conditions of release:

- Permanent incapacity
- Permanent departure from Australia in limited circumstances
- Severe financial hardship
- Compassionate grounds
- Temporary incapacity
The two conditions that need further explanation are financial hardship and on compassionate grounds.
To be eligible under the financial hardship conditions a person needs to have received, and still be receiving at the time of application Commonwealth income support payments for a continuous period of 26 weeks and the trustee of the fund must be satisfied that the person is unable to meet reasonable and immediate living expenses.  The maximum payment is $10,000.
Payments may also be able to be made on compassionate grounds including:
- paying for medical treatment of medical transport for the person or dependant
- enabling the person to make a payment on a loan to prevent foreclosure of a mortgage on the person's principal residence
- paying expenses associated with a dependant's palliative care in the case of impending death.
Updated 17th March 2009