Mary Holm is a personal finance columnist for the NZ Herald.

Mary Holm: OE farewells knock a hole in savings

Making great memories might be well worth the money.
While you're travelling is not the best time to worry about saving your pennies. Photo / Lev Dolgachov
While you're travelling is not the best time to worry about saving your pennies. Photo / Lev Dolgachov

In regard to your writer last week with the daughter in the UK sending money back to New Zealand, I would recommend she sends the lot back soon.

My nephew was in the same situation, but after a couple of "last trips to Europe" and many farewells with different groups of friends he managed to knock a huge hole in his balance.

He is now finding it very hard to save a deposit for his first home. Remove the temptation and send the money home ASAP.

A: Hmm. I'm not sure if this is a sad cautionary tale or one to be celebrated.

At the risk of incurring the wrath of those who say careful money handling is the be-all and end-all, I'm inclined to say, "Good on you!" to your nephew.

Saving money is, of course, good. But there's a time and place for everything, and at the end of your OE saving might not be top priority. The fact that your nephew had saved the money in the first place suggests he's not a total squanderer.

The story goes that economist John Maynard Keynes was asked on his deathbed if he had any regrets. He replied, "I wish I had drunk more champagne." On your nephew's deathbed he may look back at those last trips and farewells with a big grin. I bet he'll remember them more clearly than his subsequent struggle to save a house deposit.

Mortgage a priority

Q: I have a student loan and I want to buy a house. I have a cash deposit, so I'm considering paying off my loan in full while using the remainder of the cash as my house deposit (as I have enough to do both). But I'm not sure if that's a good idea or not.

The student loan is interest-free, but it actually makes my weekly cash flow smaller by about $100, due to compulsory repayments. Would it make more sense to pay the loan off now, to free up cash flow to enable me to better afford to live and pay a mortgage?

A: First, let's set aside the ethical issue of whether you should repay the student loan. Some would say you should, because the lack of interest is subsidised by other taxpayers. But there are counter-arguments.

Given you haven't repaid your loan so far, I'll assume you don't feel obliged to do so. So does it make sense financially to repay the loan now? The answer is no.

Assuming you don't repay it, once you've bought the house you'll have two debts: the mortgage at an interest rate of, say, 5 per cent, and your student loan with zero interest.

A basic money rule is to always repay a higher-interest loan first. This also applies to credit card or other high-interest debt. Interest eats into your wealth, and the higher the rate the more it gobbles. So getting rid of interest payments, the highest first, preserves your wealth.

So you should put the money you had planned to use to pay off your student loan into mortgage repayments instead. How?

A money rule is to always repay a higher-interest loan first.

One way is to simply make a bigger deposit on your house. You'll then pay less interest over the life of the mortgage and pay it off faster.

However, if you're worried about cash flow, because of compulsory student loan repayments taken out of your pay, it might be better to just stick with your original house deposit, and make part or all of your mortgage a revolving credit mortgage.

With that type of mortgage, you reduce the amount you owe by depositing any money you have sitting around into the mortgage account. You then pay interest on the reduced daily balance.

For example, if you get your income deposited into your revolving credit mortgage account, it reduces the mortgage interest until you withdraw the money for day-to-day spending.

The idea would be to also deposit the money you had planned to use to pay off the student loan.

Reducing a debt on which you're paying 5 per cent is the same as earning 5 per cent after tax and fees on that money. That's a good deal.

And if you were struggling to get by some weeks, you could withdraw what you need, but leave the rest in there doing its interest reduction work.

Meanwhile, you should be paying down the mortgage regularly. With lower interest, more can go into principal repayments, speeding the day you repay the mortgage in full.

Another option is to do a bit of both, a bigger deposit and a revolving credit mortgage. Discuss what's best with your mortgage lender.

Go for boring

Q: I'm writing about your comment last week, "I wouldn't recommend shares for someone, in retirement or not, who is expecting to sell them and spend the money within 10 years."

I am 83 and my wife is 70. We are mortgage-free.

Earlier this year we were advised by a reputable investment company to put all our savings ($350,000), which had been sitting in a major bank, into a range of shares to "secure our future". To date we have received a total of $6849 in returns, varying monthly from $305 to $1871.

This has been a whole new venture, the sharemarket, and I find it hard to read statements and newsletters and bulletins.

This return, combined with our superannuation, is our total source of income.

As you said last week, "boring or broke?" We have had our excitements in life, and are on the verge of withdrawing from the "market" to the possible safety of the banks.

A: While it's always risky to judge these situations without having all the facts, the advice you received sounds decidedly dodgy to me. I can't help but wonder if your adviser was more motivated by what's in it for them than what's in it for you.

My objections to the adviser's so-called advice:

You don't need to be in shares. You have enough money for a comfortable retirement without taking risks.You're clearly not comfortable being in the sharemarket.

Why should you be worrying unnecessarily about statements and so on?

While your average return over the years is likely to be higher than in a bank, the returns will vary, as you have already seen. That must make it hard for you to budget.Given that your total income is NZ Super and returns on these savings, I reckon the adviser should have been urging you to spend not just the returns but also some of your principal each month.

How much? A simple and conservative calculation would be to divide your savings by 15 and spend one 15th this year, one 14th of the remainder the next year, one 13th the year after and so on.

Returns on the balance should allow your spending to grow each year with inflation.

That would get you through until 98 and your wife to 85 and probably further, given that most people spend less as they progress further into retirement. At that point you would probably manage on NZ Super.

What should you invest in? I suggest you put at least the money you plan to spend in the next two or three years in bank term deposits. And by all means put the lot there, if that makes you feel more comfortable.

If you wanted a higher average return, you could, with an adviser's help, put the money you plan to spend in three to 10 years in bonds or a balanced fund, and perhaps the money you plan to spend in more than 10 years in shares. But if I were you, I would seek a different adviser.

Payment sceptic

Q: Regarding the correspondence on NZ Super and the possible "moral" right of families to some kind of payment when a person dies close to 65 years old. The massive social focus on preparing for retirement is part of the proof that NZ Super is not very much money.

If the person were alive they would chew it up staying alive, and the family would not get anything much financially.

If we wished to pay families, on a sliding scale perhaps, after a death, that would require a political decision to extract more tax and pay part of it back to selected taxpayers (and to pay for the new bureaucracy).

Perhaps NZ Super is best thought of as an insurance scheme. Otherwise, extending the logic of the payment idea: Should my family get a special payment because I have never been to jail?

A: Ah, but did you offset that by getting more than your fair share of education or healthcare?

What a can of worms we're opening here.

I like your insurance analogy. If someone has house insurance and dies without ever having claimed on it, we don't expect the insurance company to pay compensation to the person's family.

And there's even less of a case for NZ Super, because the person didn't pay towards it before retirement. As I said last week, the money comes from current taxpayers.

Fortnightly sum

Q: Re your recent column about the special banking option for people who receive overseas state pensions, I have been receiving part NZ Super fortnightly and part Aussie pension monthly, which to me was inconvenient. But the opportunity to receive it all in one sum fortnightly is fantastic.

The only question I have is why this option was never offered or suggested when I first started receiving NZ Super?

It seems to be most logical, but there doesn't appear to be any direct links to take the necessary action. If it wasn't for your column (and the reader concerned) I wouldn't have known about this, and I imagine quite a few other recipients as well.

A: To clarify this for other readers, this option is available to people who get a state pension from Australia, Ireland, Jersey and Guernsey, the Netherlands or the UK. For more info see here.

So why wasn't the option offered to you? It probably was.

"Here's an example of the form letter we send to those applying for Australian superannuation," says a spokesman for the Ministry of Social Development. "This is sent to those who have indicated as part of their application that they have spent time in Australia. I've highlighted the reference to the special banking option."

Under the heading "Payment options", the letter tells you how to apply for the special banking option.

Mind you, by the time you get to that point in the letter you've already been told that if you want to get NZ Super you have to apply for an Aussie pension. "You will need to complete the application forms for Australia that are attached to this letter and return them to us in the envelope provided by (date)," says the letter.

They are formidable forms. So you might have been a bit distracted.

- NZ Herald

Mary Holm is a freelance journalist, a director of the Financial Markets Authority and Financial Services Complaints Ltd (FSCL), a seminar presenter and a bestselling author on personal finance. Her website is www.maryholm.com. Her opinions are personal, and do not reflect the position of any organisation in which she holds office. Mary's advice is of a general nature, and she is not responsible for any loss that any reader may suffer from following it. Send questions to mary@maryholm.com or Money Column, Business Herald, PO Box 32, Auckland. Letters should not exceed 200 words. We won't publish your name. Please provide a (preferably daytime) phone number. Sorry, but Mary cannot answer all questions, correspond directly with readers, or give financial advice.

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Mary Holm is a personal finance columnist for the NZ Herald.

Mary Holm is a columnist, best-selling author and seminar presenter on personal finance. She is also a director of the Financial Markets Authority and holds an MBA in finance. Previously she was business editor of the Auckland Sun and Auckland Star, and has worked for the NZ Listener, Australian Financial Review and Chicago Tribune. She has been called “The nation’s favourite investment agony aunt.”

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