Dealing With Negative Equity

Negative Equity


Since the credit crunch first hit in 2008 and with the effects of the subsequent recession still being felt very strongly, the housing market has sustained one blow after another.

Where once house prices seemed to be caught in an ever-upward spiral, today many areas have plunged back to the price levels of 2006, resulting in a significant number of homeowners being caught in the trap of negative equity.

Negative equity occurs when the mortgage outstanding on a house exceeds the current market value of that property. For this reason, it tends to affect first-time buyers with smaller deposits the most, along with those who have recently remortgaged heavily to release equity. With a small deposit, even a slight percentage drop in the market can result in negative equity, making it nearly impossible to obtain remortgages or sell without making a loss.

There are ways to avoid the dreaded negative-equity trap however. If remortgages aren’t available to you with your current lender, look around to see if there are any available remortgages for people in your position. Just check the terms of your existing mortgage first, so that no penalties will be incurred if you change lenders. Remember too that negative equity is only a problem if you’re either looking to sell or investigating remortgages. If you can avoid selling, then do. If you can’t find a favourable remortgage, then investigate options to over-pay on your existing mortgage to build up your equity in your home. As get closer to 10% equity or more, you’ll find that the range of remortgages available to you opens up.

Most mortgage providers will allow regular over-payments up to a certain amount. Avoid going over this limit, though, as there may be penalties attached. Alternatively, it is often possible to reduce the mortgage term and so pay more each month without penalty. Just be aware that these payments will not be flexible. It may be that saving into an ISA and then making a lump-sum payment works for you. Speak to your mortgage lender to find out what is available and possible.

There are different ways to bring in extra income as you seek to boost your savings or pay down the mortgage. Taking in a lodger can be an option if your lender and insurance provider will allow it. Some have even resorted to renting out their homes and moving to smaller rental properties for the duration (again though, you must have permission from your lender.) Overtime, second jobs, cashback sites and budget shopping are all ways that households are using to increase their income and minimise costs, so don’t rule anything out.

Talking to your lender is key and, as a general rule, you should make contact before considering a way to avoid negative equity in your home. With three-million homeowners currently experiencing the problem, lenders are well placed to offer advice. There may be other options available, such as switching on to an interest-only mortgage for a period of time. If your mortgage lender sees you taking responsibility for your repayments, engaging with them proactively and not sticking your head in the sand, they are more likely to work with you in times of difficulty.

Another useful strategy is to take out income-protection or mortgage-protection insurance in case you lose your source of income. This will provide money to cover your repayments should the worst happen. However, as with remortgages, do shop around for the right policy, as prices and cover vary wildly.

Good debt vs. bad debt

Just about everyone will have to borrow money at some stage of their lives. Most wishing to own their own property will borrow on a mortgage but even those looking to acquire a car may take out a personal loan or lease plan.

Sometimes there are great deals around that are hard to decline. Take, for example, many of the low cost credit deals offered by car manufacturers.

These are a great way to get a new car at very affordable rates of interest.

Deals like this can be classed as ‘good debt’ since they are amongst the lowest cost way to borrow one can find. Especially if you already have the cash available where you can invest in a high interest savings account and make more on the interest than you lose on the loan charge!

The key with any form of debt is making sure that the payments remain affordable even if personal circumstances change. That means if the hours available to work are reduced and the net family income drops, the payments are still affordable for at least six months.

Easy credit is now a thing of the past. The number of providers has reduced dramatically since the early ‘noughties’ and those that are in the market are looking for good quality customers.

That means borrowing whilst your credit history is in tip top condition and you have a provable source of income. Without either of these, the rates and terms on offer may be less attractive.

So, good debt can be defined as debt that is affordable and comfortably repayable within the available family income.

But circumstances in these uncertain times can change fast meaning that what was once affordable now becomes unaffordable.

When debt gets out of control it eats away at family life and relationships. Cutting spending and making savings can generate some spare income each month but more extensive action may be needed if payments are higher than free income.

If there are just one or two lenders (for example a mortgage loan and car loan) then it should be easy to speak with them and try to arrange a reschedule of the payments over a longer period of time.

Provided you are up to date with the payments then most lenders will listen sympathetically to a request for changed payments provided the proposal is sensible.

Even if you have started to miss a few payments, it should be possible to get a payment plan agreed that allows the family to live on a day to day basis without the fear of repossession or legal action.

If there are a number of debts and it is not clear how to move forward, it can pay to enlist the help of a specialist debt management company. As they deal with lenders every day and know what will be acceptable, they can help drive the best deals to get you back on track.

It may be worthwhile paying a small fee to have help sorting out your finances rather than struggling on and getting into a worse mess.

There are also a few good debt management websites that can help shed light on what is available to those with debt problems. You can read more for help on sorting out your debt problems at moneysupermarket.