5 expert tips for working from home in a crowded house during the Coronavirus pandemic

With much of the globe self-isolating, many people must suddenly manage the complexities of working from home while sharing a crowded space.

Kitchens, dining rooms and other spaces have become offices for remote work with computers, cords and paperwork spilling into what was, until very recently, private space. For people with children, these spaces are also the daycare and an impromptu home-school with everyone trying to remain productive in the middle of the chaos of competing demands.

The term “remote work” means different things to different people. Many think of it as working away from a central office or school by connecting through communication technologies, such as email, intranets and video conferencing. Academia has yet to establish a common definition for this type of work that is accepted by all. In this article, I’m using the term as it is currently being used by the public in reference to working from home.

As a teacher with a doctoral degree in business that focused on remote work, I have a unique vantage point for this emerging situation of working from home in a house full of people, of all ages. In order to be effective and minimize stress, I recommend taking time to create a structure that everyone agrees to.

Here are five ways to organize the home-work environment for a more successful transition.

Create workstations
Assigning a workstation to each person gives everyone a sense that they belong in the newly shared space, while setting boundaries for personal space.

The workstations should make sense for the work being done. If the work is loud and disruptive, like video conferences or multimedia streams, assign that work to a room with a door. For quiet work that requires concentration, ear plugs or headphones with white noise may be needed.

Taking a few moments to set up space for success will save the whole household from feeling frazzled.

Designate a work-free zone
If you have a home with a separate room for relaxing, such as a family room or den, consider making it a work-free zone.

In smaller places, this can be the bedrooms or even designated areas, such as a table with games and puzzles, or a corner with books and drawing materials. This can be especially helpful when there are children on the scene.

With daycares and schools closed, parents are scrambling to find ways to get work done and care for their kids.
Designating a space that is not for work is part of creating healthy work-life boundaries for psychological wellness.

Take scheduled breaks
The most common misconception about remote work is that it enables slackers. In fact, slacking is often more about personality and fit than the work context.

Successful remote workers are driven by the outcomes they are trying to deliver, and research shows they are not always exemplars of work-life balance.

Taking scheduled breaks not only keeps your mind fresh, but it also signals to others that wellness is important. If you are in self-isolation with children, your behaviour is teaching them what work-life looks like, so be sure to infuse a priority for wellness by modelling it yourself.

Integrate physical and creative activities
As adults, we know that it is important to make time for exercising and engaging our minds. Children have such activities scheduled into their school day, through recess, gym and creative subjects like art and music.

Running outside can help meet exercise needs and maintain your new social distancing routine. Hiking, walking and cross-country skiing are other activities where you can remain two metres away from others.
If you are self-isolating, it is essential to schedule physical and creative activity into each day — for everyone. If the weather allows, get outside, or plan to do indoor physical activities like yoga, dance games and interactive video games. Make it timed. Make it fun. The important thing is to schedule it.

It is also important to schedule time for creative activities. Consider how you can add the arts to the schedule, and remember: if it makes noise or a mess don’t schedule it for children when you don’t have the capacity to manage it, or it might not be the positive experience you are trying to create.

Establish a firm quitting time
A set quitting time helps us feel we have psychological control over our work. It also establishes boundaries and a sense of routine.

Children who are accustomed to timed periods, bells for breaks and a set time to go home still require structure and routine to make them feel safe, especially during these uncertain times. For children and adults, setting a timer and establishing the norm that work-time has a beginning and an end can signal familiar norms of the workplace and school, and lead to more effective behaviours for sharing space together.

Everyone feels the stress of uncertainty; everyone wants life to feel as normal as possible.

Protecting your family from an inheritance nightmare

Estate planning is a topic that many people would rather not talk about too often, but it’s an important part of the entire financial planning process for anyone with responsibilities, whether they are family or business responsibilities.
With the current rate of divorce and people living longer, the number of blended families in Australia is increasing and family life is becoming increasingly complex. The need for comprehensive estate planning has never been more apparent.
For many people these days, it means considering all possible scenarios and implications when mapping out how they wish to have their estate – that is, all of their assets and money – managed after they die.
It isn’t easy making difficult decisions about loved ones, and it’s even tougher for those in de facto relationships and second or subsequent marriages, where there are children from previous relationships. The difficulty in choosing beneficiaries and amounts to be bequeathed means that many couples choose not to make a decision at all.

While estate planning laws vary in every state, wills are typically rendered invalid by marriage and may become partially invalid by divorce. So, it’s particularly important for everyone to make a new will after marrying or divorcing.

Following are just some of the estate planning issues you should consider, in consultation with your solicitor and financial planner:

Keep your will up to date – If you already have a will, you should update it when your financial or relationship circumstances change. While remarriage may revoke an existing will, divorce may not.

Provide for dependants in your will – If dependants do not have specified entitlements set out in a will, they may have to make a claim for entitlement through the courts, at expense of the estate.

Nominate guardians for your children – If you have children under the age of 18, appointing a guardian for them in your will may help avoid disputes between family members by making your intentions clear. However, it is not binding as the Family Court can override your choice of guardian and appoint a different guardian where it considers this to be in the child’s best interests.

Careful planning to minimise tax – The executor of a will may decide to sell the estate assets rather than pass them directly onto the beneficiaries. In this case, capital gains tax may be incurred, reducing the money the beneficiaries receive.

Bequeathing assets not owned – People need to understand what they can and can’t bequeath. Assets owned by joint tenants, trusts or companies can’t be included in a will.

Don’t assume superannuation will bypass the estate – Large super funds may automatically pay superannuation benefits to a deceased person’s estate. Having the funds included as part of the estate increases the risk of money falling into the wrong hands if the estate is challenged. To ensure superannuation benefits are paid directly to a beneficiary and not included as part of their estate, a person needs to provide a valid binding death benefit nomination directly to their super fund.

Testamentary Trust – To provide additional protection of your assets, a Testamentary Trust might be an option. Put simply, this is a trust established by a will.

Rather than assets being distributed upon death, some or all of the assets would remain in this trust for the benefit of a specific group of beneficiaries named in the will. There may also be tax advantages in having a testamentary trust due to the flexibility available to ensure that more income is distributed to ‘dependent’ children.

Let’s say a father leaves a sum of money to his son or daughter, who later separates from their spouse, the Family Court in a divorce settlement may rule that the spouse is entitled to a proportion of the inheritance. However, this risk could be reduced if the assets had been left to the children in a trust.

Be clear and concise – Ambiguity in a will can lead to unnecessary disputes over meaning, and the wishes of the deceased person may not be carried out as intended.
While the saying ‘you can’t rule from the grave’ carries some truth, planning for what will happen after you die will ensure your hard earned assets are protected and your wishes carried out.

While only a qualified practitioner can legally draw up a will, a financial planner can help you navigate your way through the complexities of estate planning and provide a framework for ensuring all considerations are covered when mapping out your final wishes.

This editorial contains information that is general in nature. It does not take into account the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular person. You need to consider you financial situation and needs before making any decisions based on this information.

Planning to avoid financial mistakes

Selling shares when prices have tumbled or buying a house at the height of a property boom only to dispose of it when the market falls are among the financial set-backs that can happen to anyone on the road to retirement.

Everyone makes mistakes during their investment lifetime; the trick is to avoid them when you can and learn from the ones you can’t.

Have a plan
Failing to plan for retirement and build up savings is one of the most common mistakes. Having adequate retirement funds can be undermined by unrealistic expectations about future lifestyle and the savings needed to fund it.

Many retirees are unable to access the age pension because they are asset rich despite being income poor. Putting well thought out investment plans in place to boost your retirement income well before you reach retirement age is the best strategy to overcome such a problem.

It’s probably no surprise you are more likely to achieve your financial goals if you have a plan. In the construction of a financial plan you should take account of your risk tolerance, your financial commitments and financial and lifestyle goals. This will give you the confidence to know you can get to your desired destination. A comprehensive plan should also take account of tax, cash flow, superannuation, insurance needs and estate planning issues.

Stay calm
Impulsive decision-making at the first sign of trouble can undermine your investment goals. If a quality share investment or rental property suddenly falls in price due to a market correction, it is often not the best time to offload. As one once put it, “Don’t just do something, sit there”.

Staying the course and letting time work its magic will often leave you in a stronger position.
Equally, investment inertia can be problematic. Strong or poor performance can lead to your investment portfolio moving outside your required risk tolerance over time. Regular reviews to rebalance investments back to your target asset allocation will more likely bear fruit in the long term.

Spend less than you earn
Drawing up a budget is vital if you want to discipline yourself to spend less than you earn. Failing to budget makes it difficult to keep track of spending and set aside regular savings to fund a comfortable retirement.

Bank transaction accounts are ideal for daily spending money but not investment money. In order to beat inflation and produce the returns you need to fund your financial goals over time, you need to build a diversified investment portfolio to match your capital requirements.

Spreading money across the major asset classes of cash, fixed interest, shares and property helps minimise risk. It also helps produce consistent returns from a combination of income and capital growth over the long run. The precise combination of assets is dependent on your risk profile. Your adviser should undertake comprehensive research and implement proven portfolio construction principles.

It’s never too late
It’s never too late to start planning for retirement. Paying off the mortgage is often considered the first step to wealth creation so increase repayments where possible to speed up the process. Once you have built up equity in your home other investment options can be investigated concurrently.

Topping up your super through salary sacrifice is one such option, provided you stay within your annual contribution limits. Your employer pays a proportion of your pre-tax salary into your super fund, reducing tax and boosting your savings at the same time.

Review regularly
Financial planning is a dynamic process. Regularly reviewing your investments, refraining from knee-jerk reactions, understanding market volatility and staying the course can lay the foundations for a prosperous retirement.

This editorial contains information that is general in nature. It does not take into account the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular person. You need to consider you financial situation and needs before making any decisions based on this information.

The Coronavirus pandemic and the economy

Introduction

Along with the horrible human consequences, the coronavirus pandemic is having a huge impact on the way we live and as a result investment markets. This has raised a whole bunch of questions: why does a big part of the economy have to go into “hibernation”? how long might it be for? how big will the hit to the economy be? what does it mean for unemployment? why is it so important for governments and central banks to protect businesses and workers? can we afford all this stimulus? This note provides a simple Q&A for most of the main issues from an economic & investment perspective. To the extent simple answers are possible in this environment!

Why do we need the shutdowns?

This is a medical issue, but it drives everything that follows. The answer is simple. Something like 15% of those who get coronavirus need hospitalisation and 5% need intensive care. And this is not just elderly people. And there is little to no community immunity to it. So, if a lot of people get it at once the hospital system can’t cope and the death rate shoots higher. Italy shows this with a death rate of 11.7%. So, unless we want to see the same surge in deaths as Italy we have to “flatten the curve” of new cases so the hospital system can cope. And to do this we have to practice social distancing which means meeting up with as few as people as possible which means staying at home wherever possible. This in turn means a big part of the economy gets shutdown.

Which sectors of the economy are most impacted?

Roughly 25% of the economy is being severely impacted and this covers discretionary retailing, tourism, accommodation, cafes, clubs, bars and restaurants, property and various personal services. But there is also likely to be a flow on to construction and parts of manufacturing as uncertainty leads to less housing construction for example. Only about 20% of the economy – communications, healthcare and public administration – will really get a boost.

How big will the hit to the economy be?

It’s impossible to be precise, but if 25% of the economy contracts by 50% with other sectors offsetting each other, that will drive a 12.5% detraction in economic activity mainly in the June quarter which is basically what we are assuming. This will the biggest hit to the economy seen since the Great Depression. Of course, if this leads to collateral or second round effects as, for example, businesses and households default on their loans the impact could be much greater and longer.

But why all the talk of hibernation?

The hibernation concept is a good way to look at it. As a result of the shutdown many businesses are seeing a massive loss in their sales and some must partially, or in many cases fully, shutdown until the virus is contained and the shutdowns can end. But rather than shutdown forever the best outcome is for them and their employees to effectively go into “hibernation” for a period so they can go back into business and resume their normal lives once the virus is under control but without being encumbered with so much more debt and rent arrears, etc, that they go bust anyway.

Why the need for massive government support?

This is where government and central bank action comes in. Since coronavirus became a global pandemic last month and countries progressively ramped up social distancing policies, governments and central banks have swung into action to help economies weather this storm. This is absolutely necessary. Such support is unlikely to stop a recession or depression like contraction in the economy. But it’s needed to minimise the collateral or second round impacts of the shutdowns and enable the economy to start up again when the threat from the virus abates. Australia has announced three fiscal stimulus tranches now totalling around $200bn or 10% of GDP, which is nearly double that of the GFC stimulus. Other countries have also announced massive stimulus with the US just signing off on one package worth $US2 trillion and now talking of another. The policy response is now of a magnitude that it’s starting to tip the risk scales against some sort of long depression/recession.

How will it be paid for?

Simple, the Government will issue bonds & borrow the money.

But can we afford such a surge in the deficit and debt?

First, to stress it’s absolutely necessary. The hit to the economy from the shutdowns could be 10 to 15% of GDP. This requires a similarly sized stimulus program to offset it otherwise we risk immeasurable collateral damage to the economy and people’s lives (causing an even bigger budget deficit).

Second, it makes sense for the public sector to borrow from households and businesses at a time when they are stuck at home and can’t spend due to the shutdowns or won’t spend due to uncertainty and for the Government to give the borrowed funds to help those businesses and individuals that are directly impacted. Using the funds to subsidise wages is a particularly smart move as it keeps people employed and keeps them linked to their employer. The trick is to curtail the stimulus once the economy bounces back otherwise the competition for funds will boost interest rates and create problems for the economy. So, the support programs are set to end after 15 months.

Third, Australia’s public debt is relatively low. Net public debt as a share of GDP is a quarter of what it is in the US. So, Australia has far greater scope to do fiscal stimulus than other countries.

Fourth, the cost of borrowing for the Federal Government is very low at just 0.25% for three years and 0.75% for ten years.

Finally, the budget blowout may risk a downgrade in Australia’s AAA sovereign debt rating, but Australia’s public finances will still look better than others. And I would rather a rating downgrade than a deep depression/recession any day.

When the dust settles Australia will be left with higher net public debt at maybe around 45-50% of GDP. It will be the price we paid to (hopefully) minimise the loss of life from the virus and at the same time minimise the hit to people’s livelihoods from the shutdown. This may necessitate forgoing the next round of tax cuts or a new deficit levy. And it may put a burden on future generations as wartime spending did. But I reckon that’s a cost most Australians are prepared to wear.

Why is monetary stimulus necessary? Low interest rates won’t get us to spend when we are stuck at home

Yes, people can’t spend much now, but as with government stimulus much of the central bank easing has been aimed at “protecting” the economy. This has three key elements:

lowering interest rates to make it easier for borrowers to service their loans – eg, the RBA has cut interest rates and targeted lower bond yields to cut long term borrowing costs;
pumping money into financial markets to make sure they keep functioning. As the crisis intensified bond yields perversely started to rise (as fund managers had to sell their liquid winning assets to meet redemptions) and corporate borrowing rates surged as investors feared defaults so the Fed pumped money into the US bond and credit markets to push yields back down. The ECB has done something similar in Europe by buying Italian bonds; and
ensuring cheap access to funds for borrowers – eg, the RBA has provided funding for banks for 3 years at 0.25% which has enabled the banks to cut rates and offer debt payment holidays. The Fed is even undertaking direct lending.
How does quantitative easing help the government stimulus measures? Won’t it cause inflation?

Quantitative easing – which the RBA has now joined the Fed, ECB and Bank of Japan in doing – involves using printed money to buy government bonds in order to help keep interest rates down. The central bank buys these bonds in the secondary market (eg from fund managers) so it’s not directly providing the money to the government and those bonds must still be paid back when they mature. So, it’s not really “helicopter money” – which would see the RBA print money and give it to the Government which it would then spend. But of course, it is aiding the government’s stimulus program by helping to keep bond yields down. In the meantime, the balance sheet of the RBA will rise as it holds more bonds, but this is not a major issue unless inflation starts to rise due to all the extra printed money in the system. The Fed, ECB and Bank of Japan have been doing QE for years with no rise in inflation, so the RBA has a long way to go before it becomes a problem. Put simply there is no magical right or wrong level for the RBA’s balance sheet so if you are worried about it, just ‘chillax’.

How high will unemployment go?

We see unemployment rising well above 10% in the US (possibly to even 25%). But in Australia, there is a good chance that the Government’s wage subsidy scheme will keep up to 6 million workers in the most affected parts of the economy in a job and this may contain unemployment to below 10% here. The decline in unemployment though will likely be slow though depending on the shape of the recovery.

Will the recovery in the level of economic activity look a V, a U or an L?

Much will depend on how long it takes to control the virus. An L shaped (or no real) recovery is unlikely given: evidence that shutdowns will slow down the number of new cases as occurred in China and may now be starting to occur in Italy; the chances of a medical breakthrough; and all the stimulus which should aid some sort of recovery. By the same token a quick V style recovery is unlikely given that absent a quick medical solution the shutdowns will be phased down only gradually (with international travel being perhaps the last restriction to be removed). This suggests a U-shaped recovery is most likely.

Could anti-virals or a vaccine improve the outlook?

Put simply yes. A study of past epidemics and the medical response to them by my colleague Brad Creighton shows an ability of governments working with scientists and the medical community to rapidly speed up the development and deployment of anti-virals and vaccines. There is now a massive global effort on this front and some drugs are promising. So, it’s not out the question that there is a breakthrough enabling a quicker relaxation of shutdowns.

When will shares recover?

The historical record of share markets through a long litany of crises tell us they will recover and resume their long-term rising trend. The massive global policy response to support economies in the face of coronavirus driven shutdowns is starting to tilt the risk scales against a long depression scenario. This is why share markets have started to get some footing over the last week or so after seemingly being in free fall for a month. Key things to watch for a sustained bottom are: signs the number of new cases is peaking – with positive signs emerging in Italy; the successful deployment of anti-virals; signs that corporate and household stress is being successfully kept to a minimum – too early to tell; signs that market liquidity is being maintained and supported as appropriate by authorities – this has improved; and extreme investor bearishness – investor panic is already evident but it can get worse.

Should I fix my home loan?

There has been a lot of commentary lately about Home Loan rates being as low as 2.99% and with the Reserve Bank to soon meet again, there may be more reductions on the way.

Many Mortgage Owners are contemplating ‘fixing’ their loan rates, so it’s important to understand the differences between fixed and variable home loans:

What is a fixed rate home loan?

A fixed interest rate home loan is a loan with the option to lock in (or ‘fix’) your interest rate for a set period (usually between one and five years). One of the main advantages of this is cash-flow certainty. By knowing exactly what your repayments will be, you’ll be able to plan ahead and budget for the future. This factor often makes fixed rate home loans very popular for investors over the first 2-3 years they own a property.

A fixed rate loan may be a good option in a rising loan market as any interest rate rises won’t affect the amount of interest you are required to pay. However, if interest rates drop, you might be paying more than someone who has a variable rate home loan.

It’s important to note there may be a number of restrictions associated with fixed rate loans. Often additional repayments are not permitted with fixed-rate loans (or you may be charged a fee). As there is a restriction on extra repayments, the ability to redraw is also frequently not offered on a fixed rate loans, effectively reducing the flexibility of the loan.

What is a variable rate home loan?

A variable rate home loan is a loan where your interest rate will move (or ‘vary’) with changes to the market. This means your interest rate can rise or fall over the term of your loan. Variable home loans may have appealing features like the ability to make extra repayments, often at no extra cost to help you pay down your loan sooner, saving you interest. Variable rate loans may also include unlimited redraws, allowing you ‘draw’ back any extra repayments you have made.

Variable rate loans are more uncertain than fixed interest loans. This can make budgeting for your interest payments more difficult as you need to take into account potential rate rises. If you aren’t prepared, you could have trouble keeping up with repayments.

It is common practice for the banks to not pass on rate cuts to existing and established customers and with interest rates being at record lows and the possibility of further reductions, it is a good time to consider what you should do with your current loan. If it has been 2 years or more since you have had your loan reviewed, then now is the perfect time to call our Mortgage Broker – Warren Richards on ph: 9851 0300 to arrange an appointment.

Record losses expected as scammers target Australians

Australians are set to lose a record amount to scams in 2019, with projections from losses reported to Scamwatch and other government agencies so far expected to exceed $532 million by the end of the year, surpassing half a billion dollars for the first time. “Many people are confident they would never fall for a scam but often it’s this sense of confidence that scammers target,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said. “People need to update their idea of what a scam is so that we are less vulnerable. Scammers are professional businesses dedicated to ripping us off. They have call centres with convincing scripts, staff training programs, and corporate performance indicators their ‘employees’ need to meet.”

Investment scams are one of the most sophisticated and convincing scams and continue to have the highest losses. Nearly half of all investment scams reported this year resulted in a financial loss. These scams are prominent on social media, with ‘Facebook lottery’ scams, the ‘Loom’ pyramid scheme, and cryptocurrency scams particularly common.

Cryptocurrency investment scams have seen record losses, with reports to the ACCC alone of $14.76 million between January and July 2019. Many use social media platforms, fake celebrity endorsements or fake online trading platforms that are made to look legitimate.

Common types of investment scams

Investment cold calls:

A scammer claiming to be a stock broker or portfolio manager calls you and offers financial or investments advice. They will claim what they are offering is low-risk and will provide you with quick and high returns, or encourage you to invest in overseas companies. The scammer’s offer will sound legitimate and they may have resources to back up their claims.  They will be persistent, and may keep calling you back. The scammer may claim that they do not need an Australian Financial Services licence, or that that they are approved by a real government regulator or affiliated with a genuine company.

The investments offered in these type of cold calls are usually share, mortgage, or real estate high-return schemes, options trading or foreign currency trading. The scammer is operating from overseas, and will not have an Australian Financial Services licence.

Share promotions and hot tips:

The scammer encourages you to buy shares in a company that they predict is about to increase in value. You may be contacted by email or the message will be posted in a forum. The message will seem like an inside tip and stress that you need to act quickly. The scammer is trying to boost the price of stock so they can sell shares they have already bought, and make a huge profit. The share value will then go down dramatically.

If you invest you will be left with large losses or shares that are virtually worthless.

Investment seminars:

Investment seminars are promoted by promising motivational speakers, investment experts, or self-made millionaires who will give you expert advice on investing.  They are designed to convince you into following high risk investment strategies such as borrowing large sums of money to buy property, or investments that involve lending money on a no security basis or other risky terms.

Promoters make money by charging you an attendance fee, selling overpriced reports or books, and by selling investments and property without letting you get independent advice. The investments on offer are generally overvalued and you may end up having to pay fees and commissions that the promoters did not tell you about. High pressure sales tactics or false and misleading claims are often used to pressure you into investing, such as guaranteed rent or discounts for buying off the plan. If you invest there is a high chance you will lose money.

Visit ASIC’s MoneySmart for more information about investment seminar scams.

What can you do:

Protect yourself:

  • Do not give your details to an unsolicited caller or reply to emails offering financial advice or investment opportunities – just hang up or delete the email.
  • Be suspicious of investment opportunities that promise a high return with little or no risk.
  • Check if a financial advisor is registered via the ASIC website. Any business or person that offers or advises you about financial products must be an Australian Financial Services (AFS) licence holder.
  • Check ASIC’s list of companies you should not deal with. If the company that called you is on the list – do not deal with them.
  • Do not let anyone pressure you into making decisions about your money or investments and never commit to any investment at a seminar – always get independent legal or financial advice.
  • Do not respond to emails from strangers offering predictions on shares, investment tips, or investment advice.
  • If you feel an offer to buy shares might be legitimate, always check the company’s listing on the stock exchange for its current value and recent shares performance. Some offers to buy your shares may be well below market value.
  • Never commit to any investment at a seminar – always take time to consider the opportunity and seek independent financial advice.
  • If you are under 55, watch out for offers promoting easy access to your preserved superannuation benefits. If you illegally access your super early, you may face penalties under taxation law.

Have you been scammed?

If you think you have provided your account details to a scammer, contact your bank or financial institution immediately. We encourage you to report scams to the ACCC via the report a scam page. This helps us to warn people about current scams, monitor trends and disrupt scams where possible. Please include details of the scam contact you received, for example, email or screenshot.

Scams that relate to financial services can also be reported to ASIC.

We also provide guidance on protecting yourself from scams and where to get help.

When is the best time to refinance your home loan?

When is the best time to refinance your home loan?

As a home owner with a mortgage, chances are you’ve heard of the term ‘refinancing’. Refinancing involves reviewing your current mortgage, and potentially swapping your loan to another lender who can better meet your current needs, wants and circumstances.

Refinancing can also allow you to consolidate your debts or pay down your mortgage more quickly.

Another common reason borrowers look to refinance is so that they can access equity – the amount you’d get from selling your home after settling any associated loans, such as a mortgage on that property, and any other costs associated with the property. Depending on that amount, you may be able to access equity in the property without having to sell it, for example, to make home renovations or to buy an investment property.

However, refinancing is not suited to everyone. There are many different factors you will need to consider when thinking about refinancing a loan. Before you initiate an application to refinance, your broker will need to assess your needs and objectives as well as your current financial situation.

So how will you know that refinancing is the right option for you?

The first step is to speak to a professional, such as a mortgage broker, about your needs and whether you can afford a different loan structure or other change to your mortgage, particularly if you have more than one property.

Are you looking to pay less interest?

Some people are savvy researchers and will want to take advantage of a lower interest rate from another lender should that be available to reduce repayments. If you aim for a lower interest rate, this could potentially save you a lot of money in the long term.

While saving money is often one of the biggest benefits of refinancing, it may not be as straightforward as that and careful consideration is required.

At this point, the broker will need to find out about your existing loan, repayments and current loan structure.

Your mortgage broker will also need to find out more about your current financial situation, including your income, any other current debts and about any assets you own.

The current value of the property is also taken into consideration, so your broker will have access to current data that will indicate what your property is likely to be worth.

The broker will then review the various loan options and figure out whether it’s worth it for you to refinance. Sometimes it’s not worth it if it’s only going to save a couple of hundred dollars a year, particularly when you take into consideration the exit and application fees involved. But if it’s going to save upward of $1,000 a year, refinancing might be a sensible approach.

In some cases, the mortgage broker can tell you if getting a lower interest rate from your current lender can be achieved without refinancing.

 

Do you want to change your loan type?

One of the risks of refinancing your home loan is that you may need to pay Lender’s Mortgage Insurance (LMI)* to your new lender. If switching your loan means you will need to pay LMI again, it may not be worth refinancing.

If you do decide to go down the refinancing path, working with a broker rather than going straight to a lender has advantages. Broker’s generally have access to loan options from a range of different lenders (on average 34 lenders), and if there’s a better opportunity for you, they’re usually able to access it.

It is important to consider that when you take up a new home loan, it can incur exit fees and may not have all the features your existing home loan has.

Have your circumstances changed?

If you had a recent major life change such as a because of a loss of income or a change in marital status, you might be looking to refinance.

If you want to refinance to lower lending costs to help you manage your monthly repayments, speak to your mortgage broker who can negotiate with your current lender for a rate suitable to your current situation.

Your broker can also help you look at alternate options to consolidate your personal loans and credit cards into the one loan. This could help you in lowering your monthly repayments, or help you keep your repayments on time and even save you interest in the long-term.

If you would like to talk to one of our lending specialists to determine if you have the most suitable loan for you, then simply call the office on 9851 0300.

*LMI protects the lender against potential loss. 

Superannuation scams – Scammers who want your super

An offer to help you get your superannuation money early might seem like a great idea. But if you agree to it you could end up in a lot of trouble. Accessing your super before age 55 (at the earliest) is illegal except in very limited circumstances.

Here we explain how super scams operate so you can protect your retirement savings.

How super scams operate

The scammers say they can withdraw your super or move it to a self-managed super fund (SMSF) so you can pay off your debts or use the money for something you really want.

Once your super has been withdrawn or transferred, the scammer then takes a large commission or may even steal the entire amount for themselves.

By agreeing to the scam, you risk losing your hard-earned super savings. You may also unintentionally get caught up in tax penalties as a result of taking your super early. The scammers may even get you to sign false statements, exposing you to fines.

To find out more about when you can get hold of your super money, see our page on getting your super.

There is another type of super scam where scammers steal your identity and pretend to be you so they can transfer your super to a fake SMSF that they can access. Read more about how to protect yourself from this scam on the identity fraud webpage.

Who the scammers target

Promoters of illegal super scams often target people who are struggling with debt, people who are unemployed and those from non-English speaking backgrounds.

Case study: Kim’s super is taken by a scammer

Distressed Woman With Hand On HeadKim was desperate to pay off her car loan and credit card debt. She had $30,000 in her super fund and really wanted to use that money now, not in years to come. She saw an ad in her local paper saying she could get hold of her superannuation money now and phoned the number.

Greg answered her call and said all she needed to do was sign some papers to transfer the money into his self-managed super fund. Then Greg could give Kim 90% of the $30,000 and he would only take 10% commission. Kim thought this was a great idea so she signed the papers.

A few weeks later, Kim had still not received the $27,000 from Greg. She thought this was strange but believed the money would come soon. Then she got a call from the Australian Taxation Office letting her know she was up for a big tax bill as she had accessed her super.

She also got a call from an ASIC investigator who had received complaints from other people in Greg’s self-managed super fund who had not received any of their money. The investigator told Kim it was illegal to get hold of super funds before retirement and she was questioned about her dealings with Greg.

The investigator sent her the real bank statements from Greg’s fund. Greg had withdrawn all her money and there was nothing left.

The truth was that Greg had a gambling problem and ran the scam to fund it. Greg was already bankrupt, so there wasn’t much hope that Kim would get her money back.

Warning signs of a super scam

Promoters of illegal super schemes will try to get you to believe that anyone can access their super with their help.

Be alert to these signs of a super scam:

  • Advertisements promoting early access to super
  • Offers to ‘take control’ of your super
  • Offers of quick and easy ways to access or ‘unlock’ super
  • Unlicensed operators – see ASIC Connect’s Professional Registers or APRA’s Disqualification Register.

If you have been approached about accessing your super early, report it to ASIC via the online complaint form or by calling ASIC’s Infoline on 1300 300 630. You can also report it to the Australian Taxation Office by phoning 13 10 20.

Action ASIC has taken action against super scams

To find out more about the actions ASIC has taken over early release super schemes, see the following media releases:

When early release of super is legal

Early release of super is legal only in very limited circumstances: when you are experiencing financial hardship or on ‘compassionate grounds’. For more information, contact your adviser at Tailored Lifetime Solutions.

Ponzi Schemes – Dividends but no real investment

One of the simplest yet most effective investment scams is the ponzi scheme. The promoter promises investors a return on investment and says it is secure, but there is no real ‘investment’.

The promoter convinces people to invest with their scheme. They then use the money deposited by early investors to pay the first ‘dividend’ until investors feel comfortable and decide to invest more. Some investors then encourage their family and friends to join. Eventually the scheme falls apart because the promoter starts to spend the money too quickly or the pool of investors dries up.

Here are tips on how to pick a ponzi scheme from a real investment.

Warning signs of a ponzi scheme

  • The rate of return is sometimes suspiciously high (maybe as high as 10% per month or 120% per year)  – but it can also be just the usual rate of return
  • The person who tries to recruit you is someone you think is trustworthy, like a neighbour or someone in your church or community group
  • The recruiter may have already invested in the scheme and received great dividends

Read ASIC’s media releases about the conviction of ponzi operator Chartwell Enterprises, and a penalty and ban issued to ponzi ‘mastermind’ David Hobbs.

Case study: Maria invests through a friend

Couple On Park BenchFirst-time investors Maria and Jason borrowed $70,000 to invest in the overseas money market after a recommendation by their friend of 40 years, Steve.

Steve told them their investment would involve no risk at all, as it was guaranteed by the Bank of America. He said they could withdraw their capital at any time after the first 12 months. The return promised on the investment was fantastic (26% per year on their initial investment). Steve helped the couple arrange to borrow the $70,000 they would invest.

But the scheme was not real – they were caught up in a ponzi scheme. Part of the money they and other early investors deposited was used to pay their first dividend cheques. When the money for dividends dried up, Steve said that it was due to the interference of ASIC. This was one of many false stories fed to the investors by Steve, to keep them onside.

Jason and Maria were angry with ASIC as they thought the organisation was ruining their chances of making money from their investment. They wanted to believe Steve, as they didn’t want to think they had lost all their money, and he was an old friend.

When the truth eventually came out that the scheme wasn’t real, Maria and Jason, along with the other investors, assisted ASIC’s investigation and prosecution of Steve and his business partner — who spent more than 2 years in jail.

Maria and Jason lost their $70,000 and ended up having to pay off the loan. When Jason’s mother died, his inheritance was completely swallowed up by the $70,000 debt plus interest.

Jason and Maria are now very wary, and warn others to get a second opinion from a licensed financial adviser before investing in anything.

This is a true story – only the names of the investors have been changed at their request.

Where do ponzi schemes operate?

Operators of unlawful investment schemes sometimes target community groups, like churches, to find victims. In some cases, members of the community group innocently encourage others to put money into the illegal scheme.

This means that when the scheme collapses, not only do the investors lose their money, but relationships break down between friends, neighbours or community group members.

Ponzi schemes targeting Thai communities

ASIC Victorian Regional Commissioner Warren Day talks to SBS about how members of the Australian Thai community are falling victim to Ponzi scams operated through Facebook.

Warren Day interview on SBS (23 mins)

How long can the scheme last?

If the promoter of the scheme is disciplined about how much money is left in the account to pay ‘dividends’, the scam can go on for many years. Ponzi schemes only require a few people in their early stages to be successful.

How ponzi schemes work

An example of how a ponzi scheme works is shown in the table below. In January, the promoter convinces Katie to invest $100,000 in his scheme. The promoter then pays Katie $10,000 each month using Katie’s own money.

As Katie receives $10,000 each month she doesn’t suspect anything is wrong, and happily recruits friends and work colleagues to invest, too. After 3 months, Katie’s neighbour Adam decides to invest $100,000 after hearing about Katie’s great returns.

After both Katie and Adam have invested their savings, the returns continue to come in April. But in May they don’t hear anything from the promoter. They try to contact him but his number has been disconnected.

The promoter has taken off leaving two devastated people in his wake. Katie lost $70,000 and Adam lost $90,000. The promoter got $160,000 out of the scheme.

This is example has only two victims but in reality these schemes can have dozens or even hundreds of victims.

Katie and Adam invest in a ponzi scheme

Month Katie Adam
January Invests $100,000
February $10,000 returned
March $10,000 returned Invests $100,000
April $10,000 returned $10,000 returned
May No contact No contact

The power of a Ponzi scheme

In this episode we take you behind the scenes of a Ponzi scheme where unbelievably good returns are offered to investors, the scheme operator seems to be trustworthy – but it’s all smoke and mirrors.
ASIC investigators Kaan Finney and David McArthur explain how Ponzi schemes work, how operators attract investors, how ASIC investigates and shuts down these schemes and most importantly, how can you can avoid getting caught up in a scheme.

transcript

What to do if you have invested in a ponzi scheme

  1. Stop investing any more money
  2. Check if the company is on our list of companies you should not deal with
  3. Check the company’s licence number on ASIC Connect’s Professional Registers.
  4. Report the scam to ASIC

ASIC may be able to prosecute the ponzi scheme operators if they are operating in Australia. ASIC may also be able to issue an alert about the scheme. You should also warn your family and friends, to stop them from becoming victims.

The biggest telltale sign of a ponzi scheme is the suspiciously high rate of return. That old saying applies here: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Before you invest in any scheme, do independent checks to see how the returns are really going to be made. Don’t just trust the word of the person selling you the scheme.

 

Reprodued from ASIC Moneysmart website

Understanding insurance: Protect what’s most important to you

Should something ever happen to you, personal insurance is there to provide financial security for you and your family. Find out about the insurance options available and some of the things you should think about when it comes to protecting what’s most important to you.

Choosing the right insurance

Choosing the right type and the right amount of insurance is a good way to make sure that if anything were to happen, you and your loved ones would be looked after financially. There are four types of personal insurance every Australian should understand. These include:

  • income protection
  • total and permanent disablement (TPD)
  • trauma cover
  • life insurance.

Learn more about choosing the right insurance

Insurance and super

Income protection, TPD and life insurance are available through most super funds.

And if you’re making super contributions through your employer’s default super fund, it’s likely your employer will have negotiated some cover for you.

While you may already have some insurance through your super fund, you need to make sure the type and amount of that insurance is suitable for your circumstances.

Learn more about insurance through your super

We’re here for you

In 2018, AMP paid $1.212 billion in claims across its trauma, life, terminal illness, total and permanent disablement, and income protection insurance plans. We have a proactive, fair and transparent approach to assessing claims and we’ll be there for you every step of the way if you need to make a claim.

See a sample of our claims amounts and the age groups of the people we paid claims to in 2018.