It’s October and the footy finals are almost over, depending on which code you follow. In Canberra though, Treasurer Jim Chalmers is warming up for his first Budget on October 25 against a background of mounting economic pressures.

In September, persistently high inflation and aggressive rate hikes by the world’s central banks put global share and bond markets under pressure. The US Federal Reserve has lifted rates seven times this year, but US inflation remains at 8.3%. There is now growing fear that central banks may push the world into recession. In a surprise twist, the Bank of England (which has also lifted rates seven times this year) was forced to switch back to Quantitative Easing, buying government bonds to support the British pound which crashed to a record low in response to a stimulatory mini-Budget released by the new Conservative Party leadership. This led to a late relief rally on global sharemarkets and a fall in the US dollar and global bond yields. Even so, major global sharemarkets finished the month down 6% or more.

In Australia, the picture is a little brighter. Economic growth was up 3.6% in the year to June. Company profits are also strong, up 28.5% in the year to June, and unemployment remains low, at 3.5% in August. While inflation eased from 7% in July to 6.8% in August, due to falling petrol prices, it is still well above the Reserve Bank’s 2-3% target. Aussie consumers continue to spend at record levels, pushing up retail spending by 19.2% in the year to August, and petrol prices are set to increase by at least 22c a litre after the reinstatement of the fuel excise. Both will put upward pressure on inflation and interest rates.

The Aussie dollar fell more than 3c against the surging US dollar in September, to US65c.

Mortgage vs super

With interest rates on the rise and investment returns increasingly volatile, Australians with cash to spare may be wondering how to make the most of it. If you have a mortgage, should you make extra repayments or would you be better off in the long run boosting your super?

The answer is, it depends. Your personal circumstances, interest rates, tax and the investment outlook all need to be taken into consideration.

What to consider

Some of the things you need to weigh up before committing your hard-earned cash include:

Your age and years to retirement

The closer you are to retirement and the smaller your mortgage, the more sense it makes to prioritise super. Younger people with a big mortgage, dependent children, and decades until they can access their super have more incentive to pay down housing debt, perhaps building up investments outside super they can access if necessary.

Your mortgage interest rate

This will depend on whether you have a fixed or variable rate, but both are on the rise. As a guide, the average variable mortgage interest rate is currently around 4.5 per cent so any money directed to your mortgage earns an effective return of 4.5 per cent.i

When interest rates were at historic lows, you could earn better returns from super and other investments; but with interest rates rising, the pendulum is swinging back towards repaying the mortgage. The earlier in the term of your loan you make extra repayments, the bigger the savings over the life of the loan. The question then is the amount you can save on your mortgage compared to your potential earnings if you invest in super.

Super fund returns

In the 10 years to 30 June 2022, super funds returned 8.1 per cent a year on average but fell 3.3 per cent in the final 12 months.ii In the short-term, financial markets can be volatile but the longer your investment horizon, the more time there is to ride out market fluctuations. As your money is locked away until you retire, the combination of time, compound interest and concessional tax rates make super an attractive investment for retirement savings.

Tax

Super is a concessionally taxed retirement savings vehicle, with tax on investment earnings of 15 per cent compared with tax at your marginal rate on investments outside super.

Contributions are taxed at 15 per cent going in, but this is likely to be less than your marginal tax rate if you salary sacrifice into super from your pre-tax income. You may even be able to claim a tax deduction for personal contributions you make up to your annual cap. Once you turn 60 and retire, income from super is generally tax free. By comparison, mortgage interest payments are not tax-deductible.

Personal sense of security

For many people there is an enormous sense of relief and security that comes with having a home fully paid for and being debt-free heading into retirement. As mortgage interest payments are not tax deductible for the family home (as opposed to investment properties), younger borrowers are often encouraged to pay off their mortgage as quickly as possible. But for those close to retirement, it may make sense to put extra savings into super and use their super to repay any outstanding mortgage debt after they retire.

These days, more people are entering retirement with mortgage debt. So whatever your age, your decision will also depend on the size of your outstanding home loan and your super balance. If your mortgage is a major burden, or you have other outstanding debts, then debt repayment is likely a priority.

All things considered

As you can see, working out how to get the most out of your savings is rarely simple and the calculations will be different for everyone. The best course of action will ultimately depend on your personal and financial goals.

Buying a home and saving for retirement are both long-term financial commitments that require regular review. If you would like to discuss your overall investment strategy, give us a call.

i https://www.finder.com.au/the-average-home-loan-interest-rate

ii https://www.chantwest.com.au/resources/super-members-spared-the-worst-in-a-rough-year-for-markets

Robert Sekulovski of The Wealth Quay is an Authorised Representative of RI Advice Group Pty Ltd, ABN 23 001 774 125 AFSL 238429. This editorial does not consider your personal circumstances and is of a general nature only – unless otherwise stated. You should not act on the information provided without first obtaining professional financial advice specific to your circumstances.