Aussies in the red: how to prevent a financial disaster

New data released by the Australian Financial Security Authority has shown a 2 per cent increase in the amount of personal insolvencies around the nation.

This figure equates to more than 7,000 Australians and includes bankruptcies, debt agreements and personal insolvency agreements.

The data overall showed a worrying trend, that Aussies are going broke at the fastest rate recorded since the 2008 global financial crisis. Queensland and Western Australia accounted for the majority of the national rise with the amount of debt agreements in Western Australia reaching the highest recorded level in history. For these two states, coming down off the high that was the mining boom, there is an uncertain future ahead. 

The insolvency data comes out at a time when credit card debt levels have reached a 12 month high at over $33 billion, suggesting a worrying national trend of Aussies biting off more than they can chew. While the picture seems grim for those that are doing it tough there are some basic personal finance principles that can help to keep heads above water in financial emergencies.

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Having an emergency fun

Keeping a few thousand dollars in a high interest savings account that is untouchable except for in emergencies will give you a nice buffer to stop a financial set back turning into a disaster. If you can, aim for around $5000 which you can save up to little by little by making weekly contributions. Once you have that money in there it will continue earning interest, ready for a time when you may need it. An emergency fund can mean the difference between a car breakdown being a mild inconvenience or ending in a mortgage default.

Not relying on credit cards

Living within your means wherever possible is can prevent you from falling into a debt cycle that ends in insolvency. While it has become quite normal in Australia to use our credit cards for every purchase this becomes a problem when you’re using it for items that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. If you don’t trust yourself to be able to live within your means without racking up a debt on your plastic it may be time to cut it up. Not having a credit card is the quickest way to remove all temptation to live your life in debt.

Building a buffer into your mortgage

Building a buffer into your mortgage refers to making extra repayments when times are good so you have some equity to rely on when times are not so good. By contributing a little extra each month, or making a lump sum repayment when you receive an unexpected bonus, you add to your fund of money that you can draw down on in times of need. This won’t be the case for everyone with a mortgage as it largely depends on if you have access to a redraw facility and the ability to make extra repayments. But if it is something you are able to do then think of it as a win win – by paying down your principal faster you are decreasing the amount of overall interest you have to pay on your loan while also saving for emergency situations. 

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Learn more about savings accounts

How to make money with a savings account?

Savings accounts make you money by earning interest on your savings. The more money you deposit, the longer you leave it in the account, and the higher the account’s interest rate, the more interest you’ll be paid by the bank or financial institution, and the more your wealth will grow.

To make sure your savings account makes money and doesn’t lose money, it’s important to maintain a large enough minimum balance that the annual interest earned exceeds any annual fees charged on the account.

Can you have a joint savings account?

Yes. Joint savings accounts can be useful for two or more people wanting to combine their savings to meet shared financial goals, including spouses, flatmates and business partners.

Some joint savings accounts require all parties to sign before they can access the money. While less convenient, this extra security can help encourage all parties to meet their shared financial goals.

Other joint savings accounts allow any of the account holders to access the money. These accounts can be convenient for financially responsible couples that trust one another implicitly. 

How can I get a $4000 loan approved?

While personal loans and medium amount loans don’t offer guaranteed approval, there are steps you can take to help increase the likelihood of your application being approved, including:

  • Fulfilling the eligibility criteria (providing ID, proof of residency, proof of income etc.)
  • Checking your credit history (you can order one free copy of your credit file per year, and make sure that there aren’t any errors that may be bringing down your credit score)
  • Comparing carefully before applying (making multiple loan applications can mean having your credit checked multiple times, which can look bad to some lenders and reduce your chances of being approved by them)

Can you set up direct debits from a savings account?

It’s not usually possible to set up a direct debit from your savings account to cover ongoing expenses or bills, as savings accounts are structured around growing your wealth by earning interest on regular deposits, and discouraging withdrawals.

Some transaction accounts allow you to set up direct debits and also earn interest, though you may not enjoy as much flexibility as a dedicated transaction account, or get as high an interest rate as a dedicated savings account.

What is a savings account?

A savings account is a type of bank account in which you earn interest on the money you deposit. This makes it one of the easiest and safest investment tools.

Can I overdraft my savings account?

A lot of savings accounts won’t let you overdraw. Some will allow this feature but you’ll need to apply first. It’s best to read the fine print and check with your lender whether this is a feature they offer. It can be a helpful addition, but as your lender can charge you a fee as well as interest for going into negative numbers, it’s best to avoid overdrafting when possible.

What is a good interest rate for a savings account?

A good rule of thumb to keep in mind with savings accounts is to look for a rate that is higher than the CPI inflation rate. This number is constantly changing, so check the Reserve Bank of Australia’s page. If you aren’t earning interest above this then the value of your money will go backwards over time.

How much money should I have in my savings account?

A good rule of thumb when working out a minimum balance for your savings account is to make sure that you’ll earn more in annual interest on your savings than what you’ll be charged in annual fees.

If you’re saving with a specific goal in mind, prepare a budget so the interest you earn on your deposits will help you efficiently reach this goal. Online financial calculators may be helpful here.

How does interest work on savings accounts?

The type of interest savings accounts accrues is called compound interest. Compound interest is interest paid on the initial deposit amount, as well as the accumulated interest on money you have. This is different from simple interest where interest is paid at the end of a specified term. Compound interest allows you to earn interest on interest at a higher frequency. 

Example: John deposits $10,000 into a savings account with an interest rate of 5 per cent that he leaves untouched for 10 years. At the end of the first year he will have $10,512 in savings. After ten years, he will have saved $16,470.

What is the interest rate on savings accounts?

As banks frequently change their rates, the most accurate way to look at interest rates on savings accounts is to use a savings accounts comparison tool. When you look at the savings rate check what the maximum and minimum rates are. Often banks will offer you a promotional rate for the first few months which is competitive, but then revert back to a base rate which can sometimes be less than inflation. Ongoing bonus rates are often a safer bet as they will keep rewarding you with the maximum rate, provided you meet their criteria

Can you direct deposit to a savings account?

Yes. You can make one off payments or set up regular direct deposits into a savings account. This can be organised easily through online banking or by making deposits in a branch. Talk to your lender to find out the easiest way for you to set up direct deposits.

How do I open a savings account?

Opening a savings account is a relatively simple process. If you’ve found an account with a suitable interest rate, you’ll just need to get in contact with your chosen lender via a branch, phone call or hop online to begin the process. 

You may be required to provide:

  • Personal details, including identification (driver’s license, passport etc.)
  • Tax file number
  • Employment details

How to open a savings account for my child?

Some banks and financial institutions allow parents to open a bank account for their child as soon as it is born, and start depositing funds to go towards the child’s future.

Children’s savings accounts generally don’t have fees, and are structured to help develop positive financial habits by limiting withdrawals, encouraging regular deposits, and earning interest on the savings, similarly to standard savings accounts.

Can you set up a savings account online?

Yes. Several large and small banks offer online applications for savings accounts, and there are also online-only financial institutions to consider.

Online-only savings accounts are often less expensive than other savings accounts, though they may not offer the same flexibility, features, or face-to-face service as more traditional savings accounts.