Ask a parent how far they would go to support the financial aspirations of their children, and chances are they will say: “Yes, if I had the money I would be happy to act as a guarantor for my children to purchase a property.”
Australian capital city house prices rose by 7.9% in 2014, while the number of first home buyer commitments as a percentage of total owner occupied housing finance commitments is near record lows – 14.2% in January 2015, compared to 20.4% in December 2012.
Many family-assisted first-home purchases are not being counted in the first home buyer data collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, but it’s likely the growing cost of owning a home is encouraging an increasing number of parents to help out via a guarantee, interest-free loan, initial deposit or simply making a monetary gift to their children.
This financial support can change an individual’s decision to buy or rent a house or unit. Parental support can also help first home buyers avoid mortgage insurance charges that can easily exceed A$15,000 for a family home in a desirable suburb.
The risk to parents
Consumer advocates cite “lots of cases” where guarantors have been faced with the prospect of losing their home.
Since 2004 Australian banks have offered specific “family pledge” or “family guarantee” loans, allowing parents to provide both equity support and income support. These products are driving growth in the sector, adding to the risk for parents.
In the current economic climate with rising unemployment and costs of living, parents need to understand the risks of acting as guarantor, and all the legal responsibilities that come with it. The guarantor has a legal responsibility to repay the loan (along with any fees, charges and interest) if the borrower defaults.
If the guarantee is tied against assets such as the family home, guarantors may end up losing their home, particularly if the parents’ financial position or health conditions have changed over the years. Often the lenders can sue the guarantor if the loan obligations are not met by the debtor. If parents have concerns, it may be a good idea to contribute towards the deposit so that a guarantee is not required.