Technically speaking, if more than 30 percent of your pre-tax income goes towards paying your mortgage, you meet the common definition for being ‘mortgage-stressed’ – and it’s more common than you think! We take a look at how to avoid being a stressed homeowner.

Consider this example. When thirty-something professionals Harry and Sally were house hunting for their first home they were on high incomes and had saved a healthy deposit. Even so, they cautiously did their homework, entering their information into several bank online calculators to determine their borrowing capacity.

They entered:

Borrower                                  Couple

Dependents                             1

Reason                                    Residence

Pre-tax salary                          $190,000 annually

Living expenses                      $4,000 monthly

Current loan repayments        $0.00

Personal loan repayments      $600 monthly

Credit card limits                     $15,000

How much?

The highest amount suggested by one of these calculators was around $976,000 with monthly repayments of $4,650 over 30 years. Based on their current combined income this would take up 29.3% of their pre-tax income.

It’s natural to want the best home affordable. Harry felt they were on good money. They figured they could afford it.

But Sally was concerned that it’s a lot of money to owe as she started to understand what other costs might be involved. A larger house costs more to maintain and furnish; plus higher council rates.

When inflation is low and wage growth is next-to-nothing, households with large mortgages could be in real strife when costs of living go up or interest rates rise – regardless of the Reserve Bank of Australia’s (RBA’s) management of the cash rate. Already banks are increasing the rates on home loans off their own bats.

Online calculators generally use limited information to give applicants an idea of what might be available to them. Supporting a mortgage up to thirty years requires more detailed consideration than credit card limits and pre-tax earnings which is why it pays to get expert advice.

The banks’ calculations would take Harry and Sally perilously close to the 30 percent threshold. Increased living expenses, or small interest rate rises would tip them into the danger zone.

Instead, you’re better off looking at an independent mortgage calculator on the ASIC MoneySmart website at By working on the couple’s AFTER tax income of $140,536  and applying 25% of this to calculate monthly repayments of $3,000, MoneySmart’s calculator returned a more realistic estimate of $629,000 .

Though disappointed, they pragmatically decided to continue growing their deposit and even looked at ways of increasing their saving potential.

Options for increasing a loan deposit

Harry’s friend is saving for a home deposit by being a ‘house-sitter’. Initially popular for grey nomads, house-sitting has become a growing trend for potential home-buyers to live rent-free in exchange for caring for pets and plants. While this sounds idyllic, the nomadic lifestyle doesn’t suit everyone, and Harry’s friend occasionally ends up on his mum’s couch between sitting engagements. With a small child, this was not an option for this couple.

Alternatively, they could rent their spare room to Sally’s niece studying at a nearby university. That appeared more workable, not to mention to possibility of getting a live-in baby-sitter!

And managing risk

It’s imperative that the couple’s income – their most valuable asset – be protected. Additionally, life cover, to provide for their daughter should anything happen to either of them was vital. To get the right cover for your circumstances, talk to a qualified financial planner.

Unfortunately, too many people are in over their heads. If you’re experiencing mortgage-stress or you’re losing sleep worrying about an interest rate rise, get advice sooner rather than later about a strategy to relieve the pressure.