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The Fierce Girl's Guide to Finance

Get your shit together with money

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March 2017

Getting a home loan: a Fierce Girl guide for rookies

So you’re going  to buy a property? Congratulations! You must have sold an organ or won the lottery.

Maybe you saved your arse off, or got some help from the parentals. Either way, you have squirreled away enough money for a deposit.

Otherwise, you’re reading this because it’s useful information to have in approximately 72 years when you have saved up enough. I get it – it’s like watching Jamie Oliver.  You aren’t really going to make that 30-minute Peruvian rotisserie chicken, but it feels good intending to.

And like most finance stuff, there’s a whole world of bullshit jargon and rules you’ve never heard of. It’s like your mum trying to navigate Instagram – ‘what does ‘AF’ stand for?’.

I am going to break down the process, but it really is a lot of learning so I’ll keep it topline for now. If you get really excited, you can Google more info.

Find out how much you can borrow.

There are plenty of nifty ‘borrowing power’ calculators that give you a general idea. They’re pretty generous though – they suggest that you can buy a chateau on the banks of the river Seine … as long as you eat baked beans and shop at K-Mart for the rest of your adult life.

So you need to sit down with an actual mortgage broker and go through it.

Make friends with a mortgage broker

Should you use a broker? Fuck yes. Seriously, you’ll feel like a bloke who’s wandered into Sephora if you try and work this shit out yourself. A mortgage broker does all the work for you and you don’t even need to pay them – the winning lender does that!

Keep an eye out to make sure they aren’t just suggesting the loans aligned with their brand. For example, Aussie Home Loans can act as a broker as well as sell you an Aussie loan – but only if it’s the best deal. They have a professional obligation to do what’s in your best interest..

Occasionally you can get a deal that’s not available through a broker – e.g. I refinanced to a UBank home loan that my broker couldn’t match, even though he is a top bloke. But that was when I was already somewhat versed in this stuff. If you’re a virgin, you don’t really want to mess around with clueless Year 8 boys now, do you?

How do you find a broker? Ask around. People who have a good one will happily recommend them – maybe it’s because they play a positive role in such a big event, but people seem to get attached.

Things that might affect your borrowing power:

  • Credit cards. The limit you have is seen as a liability, even if the balance is zero. So if you have a $10,000 limit, the bank assumes you have that much debt and that counts it as a competing priority for your hard-earned cash. So either cancel unnecessary cards or reduce your limits.
  • Personal or car loans – again, if you owe $20K on a car loan, the bank will take this into account. Sensible Aunty Belinda says what business do you have buying a house when you are still paying off a car – HOWEVER, this is the real world, so if you are, be aware that it crimps your spending power.
  • Your credit score. Like an inner wild child, everyone has one of these – even if they don’t know it. If you buggered up a mobile phone plan as a 19 year old, your credit score will know. If you didn’t return that Mean Girls DVDs to the store in 2005, they will know. OK, maybe not the latter one – but you will have a score, it might be compromised by a bad decision or oversight, and you need to know about it. Google ‘credit score’ and get a free one.
  • Your savings history. Even if you have been gifted a hefty sum from the ‘bank of mum and dad’, you need to show the bank you can be a grown up and pay off a mortgage. So they will want to see your bank statements to reassure themselves of that fact.

Building in a buffer

Now just because you CAN borrow a certain amount, doesn’t mean you NEED to. Banks are pretty clueless about how much they think you actually spend. They will say ‘your repayments are this, and your spending is that, so you can borrow this BIG AMOUNT.’

But they don’t know about your penchant for annual ski trips, your addiction to spray tans or your deep-seated desire to pay 30 bucks a pop for an F45 workout. So unless you intend to live like your Nanna, don’t take the max amount.

Also, remember that we are at crazy low interest rates right now, and they won’t last forever. You need a decent buffer in case rates go up, so get your broker to run the numbers as though rates had gone up 3% or more. If you almost pass out when you see those repayments, it means you can’t afford it.

The next step is to get pre-approval on the loan you want. That means you can go to auctions and sales and feel like you have the money in your hot little hand. You actually don’t, because the bank still needs to approve the property you buy, and a bunch of other boring details. But it’s the closest you’ll get until you do the deed for real.

The paperwork gauntlet

Applying for a home loan is seriously one of the biggest paperwork fuck-arounds you will ever experience. They want payslips, bank records, identification and whether you’re oily, dry or combination skin. Well, it feels like it anyway.

A good mortgage broker will hold your hand through it, but be ready to spend time and frustration on it.

Crunching the numbers

How much does a property cost? More than you think. The purchase price is just the start. Other costs are:

  • Legal/conveyancing fees. Depends on who you use and what you need but factor in at least a couple of grand.
  • Building inspections – A few hundred bucks every time you get serious about a property and want to make sure it’s structurally sound and not full of termites.
  • Stamp duty – This is the big one. If you’re a first home buyer, some states have exemptions or discounts, so check out your state government website. Working out the amount is pretty complicated and different in each state, so check out the calculators you find online or ask your broker. But it can add tens of thousands of dollars to your purchase price.
  • Lenders’ Mortgage Insurance – Another annoying trap for the rookie. If you have less than 20% of the deposit, the bank thinks you’re risky. So they make you take out insurance on the amount that’s short. E.g. If you’re at 18%, you may need insurance on the missing 2%. If you get one of those ‘95% of purchase price’ loans, they will hit you hard with this. You don’t have to find this money upfront – they whack it onto the mortgage. But if you throw an extra, say, $10k onto your mortgage, you are then paying interest on it. It’s a rort in my opinion, so do everything you can to scrape up the 20% deposit.On a side note, when I bought my place, the bank valued it at $40K higher than what we paid. We had been just shy of 20%, but at the bank’s valuation, we hit the 20% mark, so my awesome broker made them waive the couple of grand extra we would have spent on LMI. Suffer, bank!

Choosing a loan

Fixed, variable, offset, redraw – WTF? Relax, it’s not that complicated.

The first thing to decide is whether to have a fixed rate, meaning the interest rate doesn’t change. A variable loan goes up and down at the whim of the Reserve Bank or even just when your bank feels like it.

A fixed rate means you have more certainty for the term of it (often 3 years) but you are also stuck if rates go down, and may face a fee if you pay the loan out early (a break fee).

There are pros and cons of each, and basically, it’s like placing your money on red or black on a pokie machine – it could go either way. Choose the option that you can sleep at night with.

Then there is ‘offset account’. This is where any money in your bank account counts towards (offsets) the loan. Say you have a cool $10K of your everyday money kicking around in your bank account (well done, I wish I could manage that).

The bank acts as though you paid that money to them, and reduces the amount you pay interest on. So for example instead of paying interest on $400K, you pay it on $390K. All adds up, my friend!

A redraw is similar but I prefer it because it’s an extra level of discipline. Any money that you pay on top of the minimum repayment goes to the loan, but you can redraw it out again. Say you made $10K extra in payments last year – you can claw that back if you need an emergency boob job or something.

In my experience, once that money is in there, it’s a huge guilt trip to pull it out again – and you usually have to wait a day.

In terms of rates, your broker should find the best one for you. But here’s a hot tip – it’s probably not going to be with one of the big 4 banks. It might be with some credit union, or an online bank (like my UBank loan). So don’t be sucked in by their branding. Also, bear in mind the ‘comparison rate’ – this means if they say the rate is 4%, but by the time you add fees and charges, it comes out more like 4.2%, they have to say so. Try and find one with minimal fees, obvs.

Now I am not going to give you any advice about actually choosing a property because that’s a whole other topic and one I’m not really an expert in. But suffice to say do your research – lots of it.

So that’s it Fierce Girls. Save this in your files for your happy house-hunting in the year 2067!

 

What marriage – and divorce – taught me about money

My house was sold on Saturday. It sounds exciting but is in fact painful. It’s one of the last steps on the road to settling my divorce.

Regardless of the price my property commanded, selling it was one more loss in a long process of shedding – which is what a marriage breakdown all comes down to.

You shed your identity as a couple and as a wife. You leave behind cherished memories and possessions that hurt too much to think about, so you shed them too.

And when it’s all done, you find yourself stripped back to a strange hybrid self. The single self you were all those years ago, when you were on your own. But she is overlaid with a new, wiser, older version, burnished by loss and forged in fire.

So because I am a bit too sad and emotional to give you awesome happy money tips today, I instead give you some hard-won lessons. Take from them what you will.

You can walk away with (almost) nothing and be happy. I left a 3-bedroom townhouse with a double garage and extra storage. I ended up with 1 room in an apartment, no garage and no storage.

It was already furnished, so I left a house full of furniture, appliances, books and ‘stuff’. Left it there, threw it out, donated it or squeezed it into a few boxes in mum’s garage. I kept my (real) Tupperware though – that shit has a lifetime warranty!

So, I barely own any stuff now. And I am happier than I have been in years. Now, correlation is not necessarily causation – I am happy for other, more fundamental reasons.

But this process of leaving things proved to me that beyond the basics (like containers for your epic food prep sessions), you don’t need heaps of stuff to be happy.

Money means choices. Nobody gets married thinking it will end. I didn’t think it would happen to me. But sometimes it does, and it did.

And if you’re the one who wants to leave, you have to deal with the emotional upheaval just as much as the practical shitstorm. Finding rent and bond for a new place is a big expense.

I was able to do that because I had savings. I had an income. I could choose a nice apartment in a nice area. That meant I could focus all my attention on the essentials, like bursting into tears on the train every morning, for example.

You need to share the responsibility for money. You won’t be surprised to hear that I was in charge of all the finances. This wasn’t good for either of us. I felt burdened and he felt frustrated by my decisions.

I see both men and women fall into this trap. It seems easier to give up control, but it actually drives you apart. Managing money together means you share the wins and handle the challenges together, rather than one person shouldering the blame for your financial outcomes, or guilt-tripping the other one.

Ultimately, nobody is going to look after your interests like you do. No matter how happy your relationship, you’ll never regret giving yourself the knowledge and tools to be in control of your life and your choices.

You can always reinvent yourself – I’m the Arts graduate who fell into PR. I was all about words and books and writing. And here I am, rocking an actual qualification in finance and being called an ‘expert’ (haha thanks Mamamia).

I was the unsporty, uncoordinated one, and here I am about to compete in a powerlifting competition this weekend. (I won’t beat anyone, but will rock the outfit anyway).

You just never know how things will turn out. You are just one decision away from changing your life, or someone deciding to change it for you.

This is both liberating and terrifying. The only thing to do is be ready for anything – to embrace the new opportunities or tackle the crises. And to put away what money and resources you can, in order to do that successfully.

So that’s what I learnt once I picked my life up and put it back together. If I had to sum it up, I’d say, no matter what happens: you’ve got this.

IWD2017: 4 grown-up things every woman should do with her money

Yay, it’s International Women’s Day! What are we going to do to celebrate?

We could start a bloody revolution that changes the course of history for the century. Oh wait, that’s already been done – by the Russians in 1917. Yep, for realz. The revolution kicked off when thousands of women took to the streets protesting against food shortages on IWD 100 years ago.

There was no hashtag for it then, and not even a Snapchat story, so did it even happen?

But anyway don’t let me get started on history stuff because I won’t get to the real point. And that is:  equality means equal pay and equal opportunity, and we don’t have either of those yet.

I don’t really want to delve into the 17% pay gap issue – or more concerningly, the huuuge gap between men’s and women’s super balances (up to half, in some age groups).  But they exist, they suck and they appear to be stubbornly sticking around.

But those stats are averages, and we all know that Fierce Girls don’t care about averages. We defy averages. And so here is the Fierce Girl’s Guide to being a grown-up woman who tells the patriarchy to go back to the 20th century where it belongs.

1. Get serious about tracking your spending. I have been resistant to this whole idea for years. I am not that kind of girl. But then I got to my last payday and had seriously messed up cashflow issues. (Yep, I am far from perfect with money).

Thing is, I didn’t feel like I spent much. Sure I had to pay rego and stuff for my car, and it was holidays etc. But seriously where did my cash go? So I downloaded the MoneySmart TrackMySpend app (totally free, thanks Government!) and started recording.

And then I realised that this exercise is life-changing in the same way as keeping a food diary. When you have to write it down, you don’t want to spend/eat it. It’s a serious accountability tool.

And so, it’s not until you create some proper boundaries and systems that you can truly get on top of things.

2. Get your super sorted. I know, super is dull and stuff, but it really, really makes a difference when you get onto it early. And it’s a quick and easy adult task you can tick off.

If you only do one thing, find your forgotten super and roll it into one account (speak to your fave super fund and they will likely do it for you).

If you do two things, make sure your fund has all your correct details and check how much you have saved. Knowing the amount can really make it feel like real money that you own.

And if you get really effing excited, review your investment option. Are you taking on the right level of risk for your age? If you’re under 45 or so, you might want to boost returns with a more aggressive approach. But I’m not qualified to tell you that – call your fund and ask them.

And finally, at Defcon 5 level of super enthusiasm, put some extra money in! Did you know any amount you put in from your pre-tax salary gets taxed at 15% – instead of your income tax rate of up to 47%?

Anyway, I have a whoooole post about super – one of my fave topics – that I would point you to.

3. Have a separate, possibly secret, stash of money. If you’re a single gal, this is simple – just put a bit away, every pay, into a separate account that has an extra level of irritation to access e.g. a separate online bank or a term deposit. Just as long as you can’t crack into it for a 2am round of shots or for a mid-arvo premenstrual retail therapy session.

This is money to buffer you against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

If you’re coupled up, just make sure it’s separate. You need something that you can call on if the relationship goes south. Whether it’s secret is up to you. Marriage vows, trust, partnership – I get it, they matter. Totes up to you. Just have the cash, one way or another.

Oh, right, here’s a post about this very issue. (Just be careful your ex-husband and his lawyer don’t read it and accuse you of hiding assets in your divorce settlement) (and yes that actually happened).

4. Learn some stuff about money and investing and finance. This stuff might seem a little boring. And it is, I guess, compared to iPanda – an entire website dedicated to baby pandas (which I HIGHLY recommend).

However, can a panda cub give you security, opportunities and choices? No, only cash money can do that. So take an interest. Read some blogs like this or Financy. Listen to podcasts like Freakonomics or Planet Money. Maybe even check out the personal finance or  business sections of the newspapers.

Knowledge is power, and money is power. So put those together and you will be a total bad-arse WonderWoman, wielding a calculator and making it rain.

Also, talk to your girlsquad about this stuff. As much as it’s important to discuss the hotness of young Justin Trudeau, it’s also useful to share your tips, challenges and ideas about money. And to support their money goals. (Oh wait, here’s another blog I prepared earlier!)

So, the message here is simple. Being empowered requires money. And the better you are at managing that money, the more we will be worthy of all the opportunities and privileges our foremothers fought for. So go forth and be fierce!

 

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