The rising age of first home buyers and why more Kiwis are carrying home loan debt into retirement

Kiwis are getting their first mortgage later in life and a growing number are carrying that debt into their retirement years.

The average age at which Kiwis take on their first home loan has risen from just over 31 years old to 36 since 2012, research by credit agency Centrix shows.

Nearly one in five over-65s still has a mortgage – an age where many are contemplating winding up their working lives.

Mark Rowley, Centrix chief operating officer, said in the past 10 years the median house price in New Zealand had nearly doubled, rising from $350,000 to $685,000.

“This has resulted in people needing to save larger deposits and entering the housing market later in life. This, combined with larger mortgages, means these loans are going to take longer to pay off.”

Its data shows 135,000 of the 791,000 New Zealanders aged over 65 have a residential mortgage and the number has increased by 16 per cent in the past three years.

“It’s likely this trend will continue into the future as house prices continue to rise,”Rowley said.

About 12 per cent of all residential mortgages belong to people aged 65 and above and the average size of the debt is $155,555.

“Unsurprisingly most superannuitants with a mortgage are in Auckland [29 per cent], where the median house price just hit $1 million. Auckland is followed by Canterbury [13 per cent], Wellington [10 per cent], Waikato [9 per cent] and the Bay of Plenty [7 per cent].”

“By contrast Southland, Gisborne and the West Coast are the regions with the lowest number of over-65s with a mortgage.”

Rowley said it was surprising that so many over-65s still had a mortgage and he said there could be a number of reasons for it.

For some the mortgage could be sitting there but not drawn down as a convenience measure in case there needed to be future borrowing.

“But we are also thinking that there are a number where the bank of mum and dad come in.”

He said parents could be using the equity in their home to lend a deposit to their children to enable them to buy a house.

But John Bolton, managing director of Squirrel Mortgages, said most of those funding children into a property were in their mid 50s, not 60s.

“I’m doing one of those at the moment, she is 67, but normally if they are funding kids they would be a bit younger than that.”

Bolton said he did a lot of parental guarantees for loans where the parents were around the age of 55 and the children were in their early 30s.

“Banks don’t like older parents guaranteeing their kids or borrowing for their kids.”

Bolton said he was seeing increasing levels of debt with the over-65s and a lot was being driven by lifestyle choices.

“We are dealing with one at the moment where they have a reasonable level of equity but they want to build a new lifestyle property. They will end up with a mortgage in their early 60s. They will be continuing to service that until they are in their 70s.”

He said partly it was because people were working into older age to 70 or 75, at least on a part-time basis.

“So they can afford to carry some level of debt at that age.”

Bolton said the rising cost of property was more of a driver and the banks had also softened up a bit when it came to lending to older borrowers.

“They don’t expect you to fully repay your loan in your working life these days which is useful as long as you have an exit strategy.”

He said that meant he was having more conversations with people about what the next step in their plan was.

“What are you going to be doing after this? If it is a transition house and you are planning to downgrade in 10 years we can generally work that into the story.”

“Some of them are having to take more debt on simply because of the cost of housing.”

He said in other cases paying a mortgage was cheaper than renting.

Bolton said the amount older people were borrowing was usually around $100,000 to $200,000 – far lower than what first-home buyers had to borrow.

Retirees who had a mortgage on a property were likely to get some assistance from the Government whereas those who were renting with a larger amount of savings in the bank would not.

“The system is incentivised around home ownership.”

Tom Hartmann, personal finance editor at the Commission for Financial Capability, said
it was seeing nearly a quarter of people going into their retirement years renting or paying a mortgage.

And that was similar to the percentage of people working past 65.

“It does make sense. New Zealand Super was never made to cover rent or the cost of a mortgage so people in that situation it is quite obvious what they are doing. They are working to service a mortgage [or rent].”

But Hartmann said its research showed the highest levels of wellbeing in retirement were for those who retired mortgage-free.

“Anything we can do to make that happen for people is worth doing because it directly impacts retirees’ wellbeing.”

Hartmann said the low-interest-rate environment was a good time for people to be paying off their mortgage debt faster.

He said every dollar paid off in addition to the minimum required by the bank shortened the term of the mortgage.

“If you have that opportunity you can carve out a good chunk of the mortgage more quickly than in the past when, even if you were throwing everything at it, so much would go to interest.”

Hartmann said people could use the mortgage planning tool on the sorted website to work out how much they would need to pay off to get mortgage-free by retirement or seek help from a mortgage adviser to get on track to retire mortgage-free.

Those approaching retirement who still had a sizeable mortgage often planned to down-size or move out of the city to a cheaper area.

But Hartmann said that did not always pan out because at a certain age people wanted to be closer to services which were usually in the cities.

He said the key was to plan as early as possible.

“If you are taking on a late-in-life mortgage what is the exit plan? How long are you keeping it, what is next after that?”

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