Balancing act starts with cards

By Susan Edmunds

Getting rid of high-interest debt should be your first step.

Make up your mind to avoid using your card for items you can well do without. Photo / Getty images
Make up your mind to avoid using your card for items you can well do without. Photo / Getty images

If you're coming to the end of the year with an ailing bank balance, now is the time to take steps to improve your financial situation, advisers say.

The Herald on Sunday asked some of the country's experts what the most effective ways are to become better with money next year.

Tackle debt

If you're going into the new year with a debt hangover, now is a good time to turn it around, says financial adviser Liz Koh.

"Sit down and take stock of where you're at, what liabilities and assets you have and the debt you have. Make a list of debts and start with the one you're paying the highest interest rate on."

Draw up a budget to pay off debt, such as credit cards, as quickly as possible.

When it's just the mortgage left, start a savings account so you don't get into trouble next Christmas.

Many banks offer savings accounts that can be offset against your mortgage to reduce home loan interest costs.

Mark Lister, of Craigs Investment Partners, says it is important to get rid of short-term debt before doing anything else because store cards or personal loans usually cost much more than you could hope to earn through any other investment.

You won't find a term deposit that's capable of paying the 18 per cent charged on your credit card balance.

Sort out your KiwiSaver

You can't go past KiwiSaver if you are looking to start investing seriously, advisers say.

Lister says KiwiSaver is an excellent option for those looking to save because of the tax advantages and employer contributions associated with it.

But it's important to be in the right fund for your circumstances.

"Make sure you're in the right KiwiSaver product," Lister says.

"If you are 25, you need to be in a growth-oriented fund."

Your KiwiSaver fund should become more conservative over the course of your working life, so you are less exposed to volatility when you are closer to drawing out the money.

Buy a house

2013 is a good time to buy a house because prices are likely to increase, says Andrew King, president of the Property Investors Federation. "If you're thinking about buying, now is a good time to do it."

He says first-time buyers should keep their mortgages small by saving as big a deposit as they can and buying the cheapest house their ego will allow.

This allows flexibility if they decide to have children or are out of work for a while.

"If you're a couple, do you really need a three-bedroom house that is completely done up?"

He says buying a small flat that can be done up will often provide a better return.

"You might have the opportunity to pay the mortgage off over the next few years, which puts you in a much better financial position."

King says people who claim that more expensive houses will provide better capital gains are right on the face of it, but buyers can get themselves into trouble with too much debt.

"If you buy a $400,000 house and prices go up by 10 per cent, then you make $40,000.

"If you buy a $250,000 house you make $25,000. But you can save more money by paying your mortgage down and improving your equity."

Stop overspending

Start managing your money actively.

Advisers say it's important to know exactly where your money goes, not have it fly off in hundreds of different directions on payday.

Set up several accounts - one for the mortgage or rent, one for the bills and one with a set amount for discretionary expenses.

Koh says this is a good way to stop money being frittered away.

"Where people go wrong is with 'leaky bucket syndrome', where money goes out in lots of little amounts."

She says having a set amount each payday for discretionary spending keeps a lid on that.

"Set it aside and put a limit on it so you can keep your spending under control."

ANZ chief economist Cameron Bagrie says a big issue for New Zealand is whether the slowdown in credit growth since the global financial crisis is a permanent shift in behaviour. "We're transitioning to what we call the new normal but it's also the old normal, where common sense prevails."

He says he still thinks the change could be permanent but the activity in the property market may indicate a return to old habits. Until 2008, New Zealanders' spending was growing at a rate two or three times that of their incomes.

Start investing

If you have some money left over and are wondering what to do with it, look at the sharemarket.

We've heard a lot about the rise of the property market but New Zealand shares have done even better over the year.

On average they have provided a nearly 25 per cent return. "This year, shares have been the outstanding asset class," Lister says. "People who are in New Zealand shares have done very well."

He says people are attracted to shares because the dividend yields paid are higher than the interest rate they can get on a bank savings account.

Lister says he expects capital growth to continue into next year.

Investors who are less conservative could maximise their returns by looking at parts of the market that have been out of favour, he says.

The retail and construction sectors could be about to rebound.

Lister says diversification is key and overseas stocks such as Apple or the Australian banks could also be good options.

- Herald on Sunday

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