“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 insurance
The larger your debt level, the more important it is to protect yourself against loss of income and other events. Insurance options include: income protection, critical illness, total and permanent disability, life insurance, and mortgage insurance.
- Fix the interest rate
Fixing provides 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.
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. An adviser can help you assess your budget and determine your affordability level. They can help you to focus on other goals you may want to achieve in the short, medium and long term and the cash flow that may be required to meet them. They can also assess your insurance needs and advise you on a range of other financial matters.
Important information and disclaimer
1 Source: Understanding human behaviour in financial decision making: Some insights from behavioural economics. Paper to accompany presentation to No Interest Loans Scheme Conference “Dignity in a Downturn” . Ian McAuley, Centre for Policy Development and University of Canberra.
2 Source: Mortgage default in Australia: nature, causes and social and economic Impacts. Authored by Mike Berry, Tony Dalton and Anitra Nelson for the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, RMIT Research Centre.
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. 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.