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Bloomsbury blog Dealing with rising interest rates

Bloomsbury newsletter, 31 March 2023

Are your close friends or family concerned about their mortgage as a result of the sudden rise in interest rates?

Are you concerned that you might need to help someone financially when their interest rates reset?

If you've had these thoughts you are not alone. The sudden movement of interest rates is having an impact on society. And perhaps the most significant impact is on new homeowners who purchased their first home or upsized their mortgage on a new home, right after COVID when interest rates were at historically low levels.

In May of 2020, just as the full impact of COVID was being felt and many of us were in lockdown, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand dropped the Official Cash Rate (OCR) to 0.25%. At the time, there was even talk of potential deflation (falling prices) and negative interest rates such as Europe has experienced. As events unfolded, the OCR stayed very low for well over a year until October 2021 when it began to rise all the way up to 5.25%, where the rate sits as of early April 2023. As a result we can now source a 4.75% rate net of fees for on-call cash to any existing clients.

While very conservative investors will be relieved, if not happy, that they can once again earn a reasonable level of interest on their cash, bonds and term deposits, for borrowers it's a different story. In May 2020 you could borrow money with interest rates as low as 2.25% or slightly higher for longer term loans. Now those very cheap loans are starting to roll over and are being reset at much higher interest rates.

As at 17 April, ANZ were offering a home loan rate of 6.59% for borrowers with at least 20% in equity and an ANZ transaction account. Rates for other borrowers started at 7.34% for one year.

The impact of higher mortgage interest rates is substantial. Imagine in May 2021 you secured a two-year interest rate at 2.50% on a new home borrowing $800,000 for 30 years. Your fortnightly payments would have been $1,458. If you had to roll over that loan today at, say, 7%, your payments would increase to $2,455 a fortnight. That extra $1,000 per fortnight is a huge expense for many borrowers.

So, what can be done?

The key here is planning. Here we have outlined some suggestions that we'd encourage you or anyone close to you to consider.

  1. Contact a professional and get the facts.
    Not all mortgage brokers are the same. If you're not sure who to speak to, contact us and we'll put you in touch with someone. Also, find out what you owe and what intertest rate you'll likely be reset to and get a sense for how much additional interest you'll pay per fortnight or per month. Use online calculators like the one available on Sorted.
  2. Act now as if you already need to cover that expense.
    For example, if your mortgage will increase by $1,000 each fortnight and you get paid fortnightly, take $1,000 out of your normal home expenses account and place it in a special savings account. Now for the next two weeks act as though the money isn't there. Doing this allows you to simulate what it will be like, and what it will take, to live without that money. Can you do it? If not, you'll need to look hard at your budget.
  3. Budget.
    You'll need to get clarity on exactly what your discretionary expenses are. For many of us they are holidays, eating out, streaming, gym memberships, maybe even those takeaway coffees. You won't want to give up any of those, but doing so may be a better trade off than not being able to make your interest payments. Sorted also has a good budgeting tool if you need a place to start.

It's possible that after simulating your extra mortgage payment, you still can't make ends meet no matter what you do. In that case, there are other options you may be able to explore.

  1. Negotiate with your employer.
    Salaries are often reviewed in April or early in the new financial year. This may be the right time to talk to your employer about a raise to help you keep up with rising costs. But don't just come asking for more money. First, do some research. If you know there's more money available at other companies, then bring that into the conversation. Ensure you've written down your accomplishments. Don't expect your employer to know them all off hand. Ensure they know that you believe in the company and its direction and that you're a team player. Be confident and put your request in writing.
  2. Negotiate with the bank.
    With your mortgage broker you can explore many different options. The sooner you speak with the bank, the more options you'll have available to you. Other banks may offer more competitive interest rates. If that's the case, you could consider moving your loan. Banks may also be willing to offer some payment variations, such as accepting 'interest only' for a year or two, or perhaps you could discuss extending the term of the loan.
  3. Consider other ways to raise money.
    If you've just bought a house and you have a spare room, there are always people looking to rent, especially in university towns. This could mean several hundred dollars a month which could make all the difference.

The point is, if you notice a potential shortfall coming then, before it arrives, you can plan to do something to help mitigate it. And the more time you have available, the better. In fact, often the best way to prepare for unexpected financial downsides is by being thoughtful with unexpected financial upsides. For example:

  • At different points of the interest rate cycle, when you may be able to roll over loans at lower interest rates, keep the same regular payment amount. This will shorten your mortgage term and reduce overall interest costs.
  • Similarly, when you get a raise, top up your regular mortgage payment by the same percentage as your raise.
  • When you get an unexpected bonus, use a pre-planned percentage of it to pay down some of your loan.

Utilising these financial upsides to pay off debt more quickly helps create a buffer for when any downsides might arise. If borrowers had been applying these rules for a few years, they'd be in a much better position to absorb the current increased interest rates, perhaps without even changing their repayment at all.

The main takeaway from this article is simple, if you have reason to be concerned about friends and family and the impact of rising interest rates on their financial, and even emotional health, please share this article and let them know there is help available.

As advisers, we have connections and can help point them in the right direction. And with a little bit of planning, can help them navigate through this current difficult period.