After years of hard work, you may want to finally claim your super. But how does one go about accessing these funds? Below is a guide to superannuation, including the legal ways to get yours early.

When can you access your super?

In most cases, supers are only accessible when you have reached your “preservation age” and are retired.

The preservation age, which is set by the law, ranges from 55 to 60 years depending on your birth date. For example, those born before July 1960 have a preservation age of 55 years. Meanwhile, the preservation age for people born after June 1964 is 60 years.

Once you have reached the eligible age and retired permanently, you can withdraw your super in full or as the rules of your fund allow. If you prefer to reduce your working hours gradually, you can also use the “transition to retirement” strategy to transfer some of your super to a pension account.

If you are 65 or older, you can access your super without retiring.

Need to get the super before preservation age? According to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), there are a few scenarios that allow for early access to super: financial hardship, compassionate grounds, terminal medical condition and incapacity.

With financial hardship, you are permitted to withdraw up to $10,000 of your super benefit. Keep in mind that you are only eligible for this if you have received government income support payments continuously for 26 weeks and are unable to meet reasonable and immediate family living expenses.

You can also access your super early on compassionate grounds – that is, if you have difficulties paying for expenses related to medical treatments, housing, special needs or death and funeral. However, the ATO will generally only approve the release of the amount needed to pay the expense in question.

Requests for early access on the grounds of terminal condition or permanent incapacity generally have to be complemented with a certification from at least two medical professionals that vouches for the seriousness of your physical or mental condition. The request should be directed to your fund. If you have any ATO-held super accounts, you can claim them directly from the agency.

How can you access your super?

You can access your super as an income stream or a lump sum, depending on what your super fund allows.

An income stream, also known as pension, is a series of regular payments (e.g. $800 fortnightly). Many Aussies find this option more convenient for managing income and spending.

On the other hand, you can also take all your super in a single payment or withdraw as needed through several lump sums. Keep in mind that once you take your super as a lump sum, the money will no longer be considered as super, and any investment returns you make with the money will be taxable.

Another option is to combine lump sum and pension – that is, to withdraw some cash and convert the rest into an income stream.

Talk to your super fund or seek professional advice to discuss the best way to access your super.

Have you accessed your super?

This article originally appeared on Over60.