Your super could be changing and now is the time to really read the fine print

This article is authored by Norman Hermant and is originally published by ABC.

For most young workers, super is a mystery. Happy to land a job, there is often a tendency for new employees to scan the fine print, sign the forms and just get to work.

Key points:

  • Planned law changes mean some workers will have to opt in to insurance in their super
  • Changes would also see the Government roll some super accounts together for you
  • Funds are warning getting insurance will become more difficult and more expensive for some workers

For 23-year-old Erin McIver, super was the last thing on her mind when she started working in retail.

“They just gave me a contract, they said this is the super fund that we recommend. So, I was just like, cool, whatever. I don’t care,” she said.

“So [I] just signed whatever they advised and went with that.”

But every time you switch jobs, you could be leaving behind super — and lots of it.

When Erin landed a full-time job in media marketing, she decided to check on her super funds.

“I found out they were all over the place, I had three different funds, not much in each of them.”

She’s not alone. The Government estimates there are 9.5 million super accounts with a balance of less than $6,000.

And that’s a shame, because super funds do better when they are together and the Government now wants to make that happen for you.

Because the smaller the fund, the more quickly it gets eaten away by fees and deductions.

What’s changing?

The Government is trying to pass the Protecting Your Super Package bill in the Senate that will bring big changes to the way super works.

There are three main changes being proposed:

  • The Government will be able to consolidate some super accounts for you
  • Fees and administrative charges will be capped
  • And, for people under the age of 25, they will now have to opt-in to insurance cover. It won’t happen by default

The planned changes will affect what’s referred to as “low balance” funds in particular.

It will allow the Australian Tax Office (ATO) to gather up any “ghost accounts” that have been inactive for 13 months with balances less than $6,000.

They will roll the accounts into the fund with the biggest active balance.

All those low-balance ghost accounts add up.

“We’re talking about $6 billion here. This is a lot of money that’s currently being whittled away,” Assistant Treasurer Stuart Robert said.

“The ATO … is the perfect organisation to actively reach out and say ‘Hey, we’ve got some money, it’s from this account. Where do you want to put it?'”

Even if you’ve lost track of your super, there are fees that keep whittling it away.

The new bill will cap administrative charges at 3 per cent for low-balance accounts and the exit fees will be scrapped when people switch funds.

The estimate is that will save Australians $37 million per year.

How will it help young workers?

You might not be thinking about retirement, but that doesn’t mean you should set and forget your super.

The law changes have been designed to help young Australian workers because the old model of work is gone and most people won’t be employed by one company for 30 years.

“[There is] no question we’re moving more into a gig economy, ” Mr Robert said.

“For younger members … this is about [asking] how do we increase your super balance and your capacity to have a good life in retirement?”

You may be paying for default insurance through your super that you don’t know about.

The insurance could be life insurance, in the event of death, or cover for total permanent disability (TPD insurance).

The Government said as many as 5 million Australians paid default insurance through their superannuation where premiums were automatically deducted from accounts.

Under the new bill, people aged younger than 25 will see that automatic opt-in stop for inactive accounts or accounts with a low balance.

You’d have to choose to opt in for insurance coverage and while the Government says that could save $3 billion in premiums, there could be huge consequences.

What should I do?

1. Find your super
You can track them down yourself, or try the easier route and sign onto your MyGov account to find your “lost” super.
2. Ask about your super
You can go online to find out how much money your super is earning. You can also find out about fees and administrative charges and automatic default payments for things like insurance.
You can also check what insurance cover you’ve got and make changes.
3. Consolidate your funds
Under the new changes, some funds will be automatically consolidated by the ATO, but if you have active funds with more than $6,000 you can consolidate them yourself.
You can nominate a fund through a form from the ATO website. You also need a MyGov account for this to work.

Insurance could be ‘life-changing’ if you’re injured

Cbus superannuation, with a membership dominated by building and construction workers, said 200,000 members under 25 would lose default insurance.

For Jason Apps, that would have been devastating.

In 2016, when he was 20 years old, a snowboarding accident in Canada left him a quadriplegic.

He was an apprentice carpenter at the time and did not know he had insurance through his super fund, but his mum thought to check.

“Having that insurance there as default, definitely was life-changing,” Mr Apps said.

After he returned to Australia, it helped pay expenses during his long recovery.

He says if he had the choice, there is no way he would have opted in for insurance coverage.

“No definitely not,” he said.

“I was only an apprentice … if I had more money on the weekends, that’s definitely what I would have chosen.”

Many of those who start out in the building trades do not know they have this automatic insurance through their super fund, but when they do find out about it, they like it.

“It’s good. I want to keep it. Because if something happens to me then there’s something for my son to provide him with,” carpenter Brock Heathcote, 21, said.

Fellow apprentice Youssef Ahmad’s wants the cover because “you never know”.

“I’ve got a mortgage, if I don’t do it, my missus, she’s in trouble,” he said.

“So us workers, us apprentices, we all need insurance.”

Funds themselves are issuing warnings

The Government is determined to put insurance cover under an opt-in arrangement.

Insurers and super funds argue removing thousands of members from the risk pool will drive premiums up for those who still have cover.

They also say it will be difficult for some members to get “opt-in” coverage due to the high-risk nature of their work, but the government is not convinced.

“This is not about stopping insurance, this is about giving people choice,” Mr Robert said.

“If you wish to have insurance in your super, you can choose to have that.”

The Government said it was negotiating with crossbench and Labor senators to try to pass the new super bill in November.

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