Kaye Weinert is just one of an estimated one million Australians in mortgage stress.
She was forced to leave Adelaide and move to Shepperton for work, where she now lives in a caravan with little money for food, just so she can afford to keep her house.
And it has taken its toll.
“You see this? ‘Payment of $8,130.93 will be accepted to prevent foreclosure action’,” Ms Weinert said, showing 7.30 a letter from her mortgage provider.
“And it’s like, ‘Oh, my god’. You don’t know how you are going to do it. You don’t know.
“If I see the name of the mortgage provider on my phone, my heart starts pounding, my throat tightens, I start shaking.
“It’s not just bricks and mortar, it’s home.”
Mortgage stress occurs when a household’s net income does not cover its ongoing expenses.
It is believed more than 60,000 households are at risk of defaulting on their loans in the next 12 months.
‘I may not make it to retirement’
Kaye Weinert dipped into her retirement savings to hold on to her house. (ABC News: Gus Goswell)
Ms Weinert bought her house in the Adelaide suburb of Elizabeth 20 years ago with money she received after a family tragedy.
“I was in an old housing trust home,” she said.
“Three bedrooms — I had three kids — and you know, it was something we were going to have for the rest of our lives and I could pay off and then pass through to the kids if I die.”
But several years ago Ms Weinert lost her job.
Despite dipping into her modest retirement savings, her mortgage slipped into arrears.
“I’m not going to have super to retire on and, as I said to the ATO, as I’ve said to the superannuation mob, wouldn’t it be better off to pay the house, take that stress off me, then have $30,000 left when I retire? Because I may not make it to retirement,” she said.
’84pc of mortgage holders over-indebted’
The Salvation Army has found increasing levels of financial hardship amongst those over 55 years of age.
Its Moneycare program is one of the largest providers of financial counselling across the country.
In a report released in October, the Salvation Army raised concerns about the level of debt it was seeing amongst homeowners.
“84 per cent of owners with a mortgage tend to be over-indebted, with mortgage at least three times that of their annual disposable income,” the report said.
“This is almost double that of the Australian figure in 2015/16, where 47 per cent of those with a mortgage tend to be over-indebted.”
Economist Saul Eslake said while most Australians were not in the same desperate position as Ms Weinert, the problem was getting worse.
“I have no doubt that the degree of mortgage stress, whatever it is, is higher now than it has been at any point in the last decade,” he told 7.30.
“If mortgage stress were to become significantly more widespread than it is, then I think the Reserve Bank would be much more inclined to hold off raising interest rates than it is at the moment.”
Mr Eslake said the Reserve Bank was continuing to keep a close eye on the level of mortgage stress.
“ABS data suggests almost two thirds of Australian household debt is owed by households in the top 40 per cent of the income distribution, and less than 10 per cent of household debt is owed by the poorest 20 per cent of households,” he said.
“We’ve seen that, for example, in parts of regional Western Australia and Queensland where house prices have fallen significantly in the aftermath of the mining boom … there have been significant increases in mortgage delinquencies and defaults, and much greater falls in prices than have occurred in any of the capital cities.
“If under certain circumstances we were to see much bigger declines in property prices in parts of Sydney or Melbourne, for example, than most forecasters are currently expecting, then I guess there would be some increase in the number of distressed sales.”
Home ‘the only anchor’
Ms Weinert is hoping it does not come to that for her.
She is doing everything she can, with the support of a financial counsellor, to solve her mortgage problems.
But the fear of losing her family home remains overwhelming.
“It’s your life, it’s your stability — the only anchor in the world where the anchor has gone missing,” she said.