No I am not crazy….Interest Only please!

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No I am not crazy….Interest Only please! As a financial planner my role is to always be thinking about what is the best strategy and path for my client to take. Since I have been working very closely with Mortgage Brokers for many years, I have realised the vast majority of Mortgage Brokers and to a greater extent Bank employees do not take the same strategic view.

Being a somewhat transactional role, most mortgage brokers take the line of least resistance to get the deal done. Whether they understand structuring strategies or not, very few take the time to educate their clients on the pros and cons of different decisions and how to make the most of their situation. In reality, they are also limited by compliance standards in some cases.

As a warning upfront, this can become very confusing and challenging for new clients to get their head around. If you end up feeling a little unsure, I’m not surprised as it does go against everything you may believe. You also may be more visual and if you would like me to explain any of the below further, please give me a call anytime and I’d be happy to help.

Moving forward, whether you should choose to go Interest Only or Principal and Interest is a question that every borrower needs to consider and answer when taking out a home loan.  Naturally we rush to find an answer, but before you make that decision, it’s important to truly understand it right?

Our natural response is “principal and interest”. Our parents, grandparents and society all tell us that debt is bad and we need to repay it and that is true to a certain extent.

So why would I go interest only when I want to pay my debt down?

Well the truth is you can pay your debt down and a whole lot more by choosing to take an Interest Only loan with Offset account.

Before I get marching in to why I recommend nearly all my clients to go interest only, there are ones from time to time that it is better to go principal and interest. These are generally borrowers who do not have their cash flow under control and feel like they need to be forced to save. This is purely the only benefit of going principal and interest – the bank forcing you to save. I know I would prefer to choose what I do with my money each month and if I want to pay my debt down I will. If I need to just pay interest this month or use this money to cover short term additional expenses I will.

So how does it work?

Firstly it’s important that when you setup the Interest Only loan, you also open an offset account linked to your loan. These are usually included for free with any package loan from a bank. An offset account does exactly that, offset your loan account. For example, if you had a loan of $500,000 and you had $20,000 in your offset account, you in reality only owe the bank $480,000. When they calculate your interest due for that day, you will only be charged interest on $480,000 owing, not $500,000. Without trying to drum the point home further but if you happened to put another $20,000 in your offset account, you would only pay interest on $460,000.

The offset account I believe is the best invention and tool in the financial planning world. I absolutely love them. They give my clients complete flexibility in what they would like to do with their cash flow and savings. We use this as a  “savings account” that will always be getting a greater return than any other savings account. It is completely assessable and can moved wherever needed. So if you do not have an offset account, I suggest you get one and secondly, understand how to best use it.

So if the key to paying down your debt each month is not by Principal and Interest each month, how do I do it?

I ask all my clients to reassess their lifestyle expenditure every year. This allows them to see what income they are likely to earn and what expenses are going to be this year. On the back of this we choose an affordable amount and my clients commit to this amount for 12 months straight.

Each month this amount goes in to the offset account and when interest is due, the bank takes it out of the offset account. Whatever is left over is build up in that offset account and means they pay less interest the following month.

By growing the offset account as much as possible, we are reducing the interest due and that means they can grow the offset account even further. Each year my clients goal is not to pay down their debt by $50,000 but it would be to increase their offset account by $50,000 for example.

The key benefit to understand is that interest is calculated daily and you would be in the exact same position financially if you decided to save the same amount each month and pay via principal and interest.

For example, If you took two routes over 10 years and saved the exact same amount on a debt of $500,000. One route the debt may now be paid down to $300,000. The other route the debt would still be at $500,000 but you now have $200,000 in an offset account.

At this stage, you may be asking so what is the benefit?

There is no obvious benefit, but I can assure you, you would always want to take the debt of $500,000 and $200,000 in the offset account and I’ll explain below.

To make sure we are both on the same page, the key takeaway here is that you can still repay your debt via interest only but the different is, it’s your choice to do so, not the bank forcing you to.  Instead of reducing your loan every month, you are aiming to build your offset account up.

Why I do not like principal and interest loans

  1. Separating Debt – By going interest only on all loans, you keep the original debt at that level forever. You then put any left over savings in an offset account against any debt that is not tax deductible. This flexibility means you can move your savings around to whatever debt is not tax deductible at the present time and it also clearly separates your debt. If you decide to move to another property you own, you transfer your offset account to a different loan and this will save you a lot of tax.
  2. Lower Commitment – On a P&I loan the minimum payment due to the bank each month is roughly 20% higher on a 30 year loan. In reality if you cannot afford that 20%, you have probably got too much debt but why would you force yourself to a higher commitment. Personally, I would prefer to have a minimum payment 20% lower and choose to save more regardless in to my offset account.
  3. False Pretenses- I also believe that paying the minimum payment each month gives clients false pretenses that that is the amount they should pay per month. The bank want you to take as long as possible to pay this debt down. That’s why they give you loans for 30 or 40 years. Do you really want to have a loan for 40 years? The best way to pay your debt down is to pay as much as you can afford each month by undergoing a detailed lifestyle questionnaire each 12 months. Disregard what the bank minimum payment says as that is not what matters. Just save as much as you can above your interest only amount per month.
  4. Flexibility  - The negative with paying the extra 20% and more every month, is that this begins to add up to a lot of money over time. There may be times in your life when you cannot afford your minimum repayment each month and you do not have any buffer built up as you have paid it all in to the loan. By paying this amount in to an offset account instead you are building your buffer every month and if you cannot pay this month, that’s ok you have money in the offset account to cover it.
  5. Home becoming an investment property = tax savings- The ATO states that once you pay down your debt you cannot redraw on that debt and get a tax deduction unless it is for investing purposes. In the example above, because the debt has never been paid down, if you moved out of this house and decided to use as an investment property. The tax deductible will be at $300,000 and not at the original loan of  $500,000 not $300,000. A big difference and at current interest rates that you would be $4,000 a year better off in tax.
  6. Home Purchase in Future- It is very common that we are going to purchase a new home in the future and this debt will not be tax deductible as it is your principal place of residence. What you need at this point in time is cash or equity to cover the 20% deposit and costs. But what you would also like is to put every single dollar you have saved over the many years before hand and put this in to an offset account against this new debt. If you pay down your loans via principal and interest, you cannot get this money back to put in to the new offset account. If you have it sitting in an offset account, you can move it straight away and get the tax benefit.

As you can see above these are just six points, why I challenge you to rethink how you structure your loans. This is a mental mind shift and that is all that it is. Once you understand it; you still pay down your loans just as you were and just as fast but do this by having a focus to increase your offset account.

I cannot stress the benefit of going interest only and using an offset account. By not doing this, I’ve had many clients who have been forced to sell their homes that they would have kept if they went interest only. I’ve seen clients been able to keep their homes through financial tragedies due to having a buffer and I’ve seen clients pay down their debt faster by staying disciplined to the amount they can afford not what the bank tells them to repay.