Households continue to have high levels of debt: RBA warns

Households continue to have high levels of debt: RBA warns
Households continue to have high levels of debt: RBA warns

While the financial position of households has been fairly resilient, vulnerabilities persist for some highly indebted households, especially those located in the resource-rich states, the recent RBA's Financial Stability Review has noted.

Household indebtedness (as measured by the ratio of debt to disposable income) has increased further, primarily due to rising levels of housing debt, although weak income growth is also contributing.

Rising indebtedness can make households more vulnerable to potential income declines and higher interest rates.

This is of most concern for households that have very high levels of debt.

Low interest rates are helping to offset the cost of servicing larger amounts of debt and hence total mortgage servicing costs remain around their recent lows (Graph 2.5).

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Households continue to have high levels of debt: RBA warns

In this regard, lenders have tightened mortgage serviceability assessments in recent years to include larger interest rate buffers, which should provide some protection against the potential effects of higher interest rates.

Prepayments on mortgages increase the resilience of household balance sheets.

Aggregate mortgage buffers – balances in offset accounts and redraw facilities – are high, at around 17 per cent of outstanding loan balances or around 21⁄2 years of scheduled repayments at current interest rates.

However, these aggregate figures mask significant variation across borrowers, with available data suggesting that around one-third of borrowers have either no accrued buffer or a buffer of less than one month’s repayments.

Those with minimal buffers tend to have newer mortgages, or to be lower-income or lower-wealth households.

Weak economic conditions, and declining housing prices, continue to present challenges to the financial health of households in regions with large exposures to the mining sector.

For example, the rate of personal administrations in Western Australia increased further over the second half of 2016.

While commodity prices have increased, this seems unlikely to translate into significantly improved labour market outcomes in these regions in the near term.

If housing prices continue to decline in these locations, then banks may face additional losses on their mortgage portfolios.

Find the RBA's latest Financial Stability Review 2017 here.

Housing Market Household Debt


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