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Lost and unclaimed super: The lowdown

Tags Retirement Savings Financial Lessons
Category Personal Finance Financial Health Barometer

Lost money on the beach

By Nick Petrovic

With RaboDirect’s 2012 National Savings and Debt Barometer finding that 30 per cent of baby boomers intend to use their superannuation to pay off their mortgage, we can only assume that our reliance on our super funds will only increase as housing prices and living expenses continue to rise.

Having said this, many of us are not aware that we may have unclaimed super. Perhaps we changed our name, changed jobs or simply lost track of how many super funds we have. Whatever the reason, over $17 billion of lost super was reported by the ATO earlier this year. And although this is a 14% reduction from $20.2 billion in 2009/10, considering roughly one in two Aussies have lost super, chances are either you or your partner could be missing out. By locating and consolidating what may be various lost super accounts, you reduce the fees charged and maximise the interest generated.

Lost or unclaimed?

While the terms lost and unclaimed are often used interchangeably, technically the two are different super scenarios. A super fund can be classified as ‘lost’ when it has been inactive for five years, when the balance drops below $200 or if your fund is unable to contact you. Unclaimed super, on the other hand, is where a member meets the eligibility requirements for withdrawing super, for example aged 65 years or over, but cannot be contacted by the fund.

Where does super go?

Although the idea of lost super may leave you feeling that the money is gone, in reality lost super resides with the ATO, or in what are called Eligible Rollover Funds (ERF), for safekeeping until claimed. These superannuation funds are specifically set up to hold lost super accounts and reunite them with their owners. While lost super could be accumulating interest, the fees and charges associated with their maintenance makes it even more important to locate any funds belonging to you.

Beginning the search

For many of us, the idea of tracking down super may seem like a tedious and potentially thankless task. However, the average value of a lost super fund was found to be $4800, so it may well be worth the effort. In addition, what was once a process consisting of filling out paper forms is now becoming an increasingly simple process with online search options.

A great place to start is the ATO SuperSeeker website. You can gain access to your accounts, view unclaimed or lost super and use the online transfer form by simply supplying your name, tax file number and date of birth. It is important to remember that the details need to be current for the time that the super was lost, so if your name has changed, be sure to search under your previous name.

When you know you have lost super but can’t find it

It is important to remember that although you may consider an old super fund as lost, your fund may not realise your contact details are no longer valid, and so may not report you as lost. Try to find any old statements and contact the fund directly. If you can’t remember which fund your super was paid into, try contacting your previous employer or colleagues for more details.

Finally, to avoid lost super in the future, in addition to updating your contact and employer details when they change, it can also be a good idea to provide your super fund with your tax file number.