“Don’t sail out farther than you can row back.” This Danish saying is sound advice for anyone thinking of borrowing to buy a home, particularly now that interest rates are low and house prices are generally rising.
According to a paper1 for the Centre of Policy Development and University of Canberra, Australians have a tendency to be over-confident in our ability to repay loans. We also underestimate the likelihood of things potentially going wrong in our lives.
Have you ever heard yourself or someone else say “I’ll be able to repay my loan, provided I keep my job, don’t get sick and I’m not hit with any large unexpected bills”? Chances are you probably have. But things can and often do go wrong.
Causes of mortgage stress
A study2 was completed for the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), which looked at the specific triggers that have resulted in Australian households being unable to meet their mortgage repayments. Survey respondents were asked the initial causes and, if they changed, what the final causes were. They were also able to identify more than one cause. The graph below shows the results.
How to reduce stress
Like most things in life, it’s difficult to make borrowing a stress-free exercise, but there are a few things you can do to reduce the angst.
- Don’t borrow the maximum amount
Most financial institutions determine the maximum loan they will provide based on a multiple of your income and other factors. But if you borrow the maximum amount, you may find you are stretched from day one unless you are very disciplined with your budgeting.
- Build up a buffer
It’s a good idea to hold (or build up) a cash reserve in a mortgage offset account to provide a buffer that can be drawn upon to meet your loan repayments if you become ill or are off work for other reasons.
- Take out mortgage protection insurance
Many lenders offer insurance when you take out a home loan that covers the mortgage (often up to a specified amount and for a particular period of time) if you die, become disabled or your employment ends involuntarily.
- Take out personal insurances
While mortgage protection insurance can provide peace of mind for a limited time frame, other types of insurances should be considered. These include:
- Income Protection Insurance which can replace up to 75% of your income if you are unable to work due to illness or injury. This can ensure you are able to continue meeting the majority of your living expenses, not just your loan repayments.
- Critical Illness Insurance which can help you service or pay off your loan and meet a range of expenses in the event you suffer a specified illness, such as cancer or a heart attack.
- Total and Permanent Disability Insurance which can help you service or pay off your loan and provide an ongoing income if you become totally and permanently disabled.
- Life Insurance which can be used to service or pay off your loan and provide your family with an ongoing income if you pass away.
- Fix the interest rate
Fixing the interest rate on your home loan can provide protection against rising interest rates. The downside is there are often restrictions on making additional payments into a fixed rate loan, which would limit your capacity to build up a buffer. Many people find a combination of fixed and variable rate loans works best, as additional repayments can be made into the variable rate portion of the debt.
- Don’t add fuel to the fire
Over 40% of the people who completed the RMIT survey responded to the initial difficulty in meeting mortgage repayments by using credit cards more often than they normally would. Using debt to service debt is very likely to compound the problem.
- Seek advice
At the first sign of a problem, it’s essential to seek financial advice, as there may be a range of potentially viable options to explore. Better still, you may want to seek financial advice before you decide how much to borrow.
Important information and disclaimer
This publication has been prepared by James Marriott from Life Balance Financial Professionals Pty Ltd.
Any advice in this publication is of a general nature only and has not been tailored to your personal circumstances. Accordingly, reliance should not be placed on the information contained in this document as the basis for making any financial investment, insurance or other decision. Please seek personal advice prior to acting on this information.
Information in this publication is accurate as at the date of writing (May 2015). In some cases the information has been provided to us by third parties. While it is believed the information is accurate and reliable, the accuracy of that information is not guaranteed in any way.
Opinions constitute our judgement at the time of issue and are subject to change. Neither the Licensee nor any member of the NAB Group, nor their employees or directors give any warranty of accuracy, not accept any responsibility for errors or omissions in this document.
Any general tax information provided in this publication is intended as a guide only and is based on our general understanding of taxation laws. It is not intended to be a substitute for specialised taxation advice or an assessment of your liabilities, obligations or claim entitlements that arise, or could arise, under taxation law, and we recommend you consult with a registered tax agent.