What is mortgage stress?

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on October 23, 2020
What is mortgage stress?

Photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash

COVID-19 has flung many Australians into mortgage stress with thousands losing their jobs and resorting to repayment deferrals.

As many as 1.5 million Aussies are estimated to be experiencing mortgage stress as a result of COVID and the first recession in 29 years, according to Digital Finance Analytics (DFA).

On top of that, almost 100,000 borrowers could default on their home loans as a result, which could lead to a rise in forced sales.

So what is mortgage stress, how can you avoid it and what help is available if you’re currently experiencing it?

Buying a home or looking to refinance? The table below features home loans with some of the lowest interest rates on the market for owner occupiers.

Lender
Advertised rate Comparison rate* Monthly repayment Rate TypeOffsetRedrawOngoing FeeUpfront FeesLVRLump Sum RepaymentAdditional RepaymentsPre-approval

VariableMore details
LIMITED TIME OFFER

Smart Booster Home Loan Discounted Variable - 2yr (LVR < 80%)

  • Fast turnaround times, can meet 30-day settlement
  • For purchase and refinance, min 20% deposit
  • No ongoing or monthly fees, add offset for 0.10%
LIMITED TIME OFFER

Smart Booster Home Loan Discounted Variable - 2yr (LVR < 80%)

  • Fast turnaround times, can meet 30-day settlement
  • For purchase and refinance, min 20% deposit
  • No ongoing or monthly fees, add offset for 0.10%
VariableMore details
ZERO APPLICATION FEESFEE FREE OFFSET

Owner Occupier Accelerates - Celebrate (LVR < 60%) (Principal and Interest)

  • We lower your rate based off how much you’ve paid down your loan
  • Automatic rate match
  • No upfront or ongoing fees
ZERO APPLICATION FEESFEE FREE OFFSET

Owner Occupier Accelerates - Celebrate (LVR < 60%) (Principal and Interest)

  • We lower your rate based off how much you’ve paid down your loan
  • Automatic rate match
  • No upfront or ongoing fees
FixedMore details
USE A MARKET LEADING APP TO HELP YOU PAY OFF YOUR LOAN SOONER

Fixed Home Loan 1 year (Principal and Interest) (LVR < 80%)

  • Make up to $20,000 additional repayments per fixed term
  • Redraw available – lets you access any extra loan repayments you’ve made
  • Choose to rate lock for 90 days (fee applies)
USE A MARKET LEADING APP TO HELP YOU PAY OFF YOUR LOAN SOONER

Fixed Home Loan 1 year (Principal and Interest) (LVR < 80%)

  • Make up to $20,000 additional repayments per fixed term
  • Redraw available – lets you access any extra loan repayments you’ve made
  • Choose to rate lock for 90 days (fee applies)
VariableMore details
REFINANCE IN MINUTES, NOT WEEKS

Variable Owner Occupied, Principal and Interest (Refinance Only)(LVR <75%)

  • No application or ongoing fees.
  • 100% free offset sub account.
  • Fast online application, approval in minutes not weeks.
  • Mobile app, Visa debit card, Apple and Google Pay
  • Refinance loans and variable rates only.
REFINANCE IN MINUTES, NOT WEEKS

Variable Owner Occupied, Principal and Interest (Refinance Only)(LVR <75%)

  • No application or ongoing fees.
  • 100% free offset sub account.
  • Fast online application, approval in minutes not weeks.
  • Mobile app, Visa debit card, Apple and Google Pay
  • Refinance loans and variable rates only.

Rates correct as of January 25, 2022. View disclaimer.

What is mortgage stress?

Mortgage stress is commonly defined as when a household is spending more than 30% of their gross (pre-tax) income on their mortgage repayments.

However, this can be seen as an overly simplistic definition. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the 30% rule mostly applies to households whose equivalised disposable household income falls into the bottom 40% of Australia’s income distribution (referred to as the 30/40 rule of housing affordability). If a low-income household is spending more than 30% of their income on their mortgage repayments (or rent) it means they are in housing stress.

But the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) says the 30% rule isn’t always a reliable measure of housing stress for low-income households.

“By repaying their mortgages, households are both paying for housing and also actually saving their money in a tax-effective wealth asset that they may draw upon in the future,” AHURI says on its website.

“In addition, a lower-income household may choose to pay more than 30 per cent of household income in order to speed up the full repayment of their mortgage debt, which can save the household significant amounts of money on interest repayments in the future, or draw down on their housing loan (and its cheaper interest rate than a personal loan) for non-housing purchases such as a new car or an expensive holiday.”

On the other hand, a high-income household may be comfortable spending 30% or more of their income on their mortgage repayments without it eating into their ability to afford other things.

But not everyone defines mortgage stress by the 30% rule. DFA defines it as when household cashflows are negative and money coming in isn’t enough to cover the cost of mortgage repayments and other outgoing expenses.

Confused? The bottom line here is that if you’re not earning stacks and stacks of money and you’re spending more than 30% of your before-tax income on your mortgage repayments, you’re probably financially maxed out. You’ll most likely already know if this is the case anyway if you’re finding that you’re regularly struggling to afford things after making your monthly repayments.

How to avoid mortgage stress

1. Buy a house you can afford

A common trap home buyers fall into is borrowing too much to get their dream home. Just because the bank approves you for a home loan up to a certain amount doesn’t mean you necessarily need to spend that much.

Instead of buying at the very top of your price range, try to buy less house than what you can actually afford (especially if you’re a first home buyer). That way you could pay your loan off quicker and maybe even build up equity faster. It pays to be realistic about how much you can comfortably afford to spend on your mortgage repayments once you’ve taken your spending habits into account.

2. Be honest about your spending habits before you take out a home loan

Before taking out a mortgage, track your spending habits for a few months to see what you’re spending your money on and to identify any areas you can cut back. If you’re earning $4,000 a month but your mortgage repayments will be around $2,000 and you want to try and save $800 a fortnight but you’re also spending $200 a week on food, $65 a week on your F45 membership, not to mention paying for dinners out three times a week and cocktails every weekend as well as Sunday morning brunches - the maths just don’t add up.

This is why it’s a good idea to track your spending habits for at least three months to see what your usual spending habits are and if there are areas you can improve on or cut out altogether. Then create a budget that allows you to comfortably make your mortgage repayments while still saving at least 10-20% of your income. This will prevent you from taking out a mortgage you can’t comfortably afford because your spending habits don’t align with your income.

3. Get an offset account

An offset account is a transaction account linked to your home loan and it acts just like a regular transaction account but with one very important difference - the money that’s in it is ‘offset’ against your home loan debt when the interest is calculated, reducing the amount of interest you owe.

For example, if you have a $400,000 home loan on a 2.58% p.a. rate over 30 years and have a starting offset balance of $1,000 and make monthly $250 deposits, you could save over $36,000 in interest and shave over five years off the loan term.

If your current lender doesn’t offer offset accounts it may be time to consider refinancing to a lender that does.

4. Refinance to a lower rate

Speaking of refinancing, if you think your current home loan interest rate is too high (some rates have even fallen below 2%), then you’re probably right and it may be time to think about getting a cheaper interest rate.

For example, if your current home loan interest rate is a high 4.00% p.a. for a $450,000 loan with a 30-year loan term, refinancing to a 2.47% p.a. interest rate could save you $377 per month in repayments. That may not sound like a lot, but over the course of a year that monthly saving adds up to over $4,500! Over the course of five years, it equates to over $22,500 saved - you get the picture. That money could go towards a holiday, a new car, or into your savings.

When you look at it like that, the hassle of refinancing could definitely be worth it. 

Mortgage hardship assistance

If you’re really struggling to keep your head above water right now, there is help available.

1. Contact your lender

The first step to take is to contact your lender and find out what help they can offer. All lenders have hardship teams ready to help borrowers who are struggling to make their mortgage repayments.

Your lender may be able to change the terms of your loan, pause or reduce your repayments (this is known as a hardship variation).

Many lenders have been allowing borrowers to temporarily defer their mortgage repayments during COVID but this support is beginning to wind up and many are now resuming their repayments. However, if you are still struggling to make repayments, there is still assistance the banks can provide.

See also: Have a mortgage deferral? Here's how your lender is expected to help when it ends

2. Sell your home

If the worst comes to the worst, it may be prudent for you to sell your home. While this is obviously not an ideal situation, it’s arguably better than the bank taking possession of your home and selling it for whatever price they can get to recoup your outstanding loan balance.

Selling your property is a major decision so it’s best to seek legal or financial advice first. You can get free legal aid via the National Association of Community Legal Centres.

You can also get financial help by contacting the below numbers.

AUS

National Debt Helpline

1800 007 007

QLD and NT

National Legal Aid

(03) 6236 3813

WA

Consumer Credit Legal Service

(08) 9221 7066

TAS

Consumer Credit Helpline

1800 232 500

Savings.com.au’s two cents

Mortgage stress is obviously not a great financial situation to be in, so if you can, try to avoid ending up in this scenario by borrowing and living within your means.

If it’s too late to do this and you’ve already purchased a home you can’t comfortably afford or your financial situation has changed (thanks COVID) there are steps you can take, like contacting your lender and asking what hardship measures they have in place to support you.

Being under mortgage stress can take an enormous mental toll, so if you’re really struggling right now, remember that you can always reach out to Lifeline on 13 11 14.


Disclaimers

The entire market was not considered in selecting the above products. Rather, a cut-down portion of the market has been considered. Some providers' products may not be available in all states. To be considered, the product and rate must be clearly published on the product provider's web site. Savings.com.au, yourmortgage.com.au, yourinvestmentpropertymag.com.au, and Performance Drive are part of the Savings Media group. In the interests of full disclosure, the Savings Media Group are associated with the Firstmac Group. To read about how Savings Media Group manages potential conflicts of interest, along with how we get paid, please visit the web site links at the bottom of this page.

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Emma Duffy is Assistant Editor at Your Mortgage and  Your Investment Property Mag, which are part of the Savings Media Group. In this role, she manages a team of journalists and expert contributors committed to keeping readers informed about the latest home loan and finance news and trends, as well as providing in-depth property guides. She is also a finance journalist at Savings.com.au which she joined shortly after its launch in early 2019. Emma has a Bachelor in Journalism and has been published in several other publications and been featured on radio.

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