Are you one of the one million Australian homeowners skating on thin ice with a huge mortgage?

Every indication is that the next movement for interest rates will be up, breaking a long downwards cycle which has delivered record low official rates and has made mortgages available at under 4 percent.

The downside of that is that many families have saddled themselves up with massive mortgages to get into their dream homes.

According to analysis from Digital Finance Analytics (DFA) executed for the Australian Financial Review, one million homeowners would suffer mortgage stress in the event of three rises of 25 basis points.

The DFA analysis shows that almost one third of households in Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia would be under mortgage pressure if rates rise, while overall 21.8 percent of households are facing mortgage pressure.

It is no wonder given the size of our mortgages. The average mortgage to buy a house in Sydney, for example, has doubled since 2005 and is now at around $500,000.

Little wonder then that counsellors at the National Debt Helpline reported a major spike in calls in the last quarter of 2016. They were fielding more than 11,000 calls per month.

And that was the lull before rates really start to move upwards again.

When mortgage stress hits, families scrimp on other areas of spending, run down their savings and hit their credit cards.

So, with the increasing likelihood of increased rates and a cooling housing market, what can families do to protect themselves.

Here’s 5 ways to save yourself from mortgage heartbreak:

Re-finance before the storm. The mortgage market is highly competitive and if you shop around you can probably get a better deal with a honeymoon period which can insulate you against rises

Lock in fixed rates. Fixed rates tend to be higher than variable rates, but they can be good protection at times when the momentum for rates is higher. At least you know what you are dealing with and what your outgoings are, and you won’t have to find extra cash if your mortgage is hiked

Consolidate other debts. The last thing you want is to be grappling with a higher mortgage as your credit card debts spiral. Whip your other debts into shape by taking out a personal loan, or by putting card debt on your mortgage. You are probably paying nearly 20 percent interest on credit card debt, but you can bring that down to around 4 percent currently if you bring that debt into the mortgage.

Build a financial buffer, and start now. One idea is to pay more off your mortgage than you need, so that you get ahead. Then if the mortgage goes up you will have some protection.

Start an emergency fund for everyday expenses. You can do this by budgeting and cutting out some luxuries you don’t really need. Do you really need that big slap up meal or the takeaway curry? A little belt tightening now can save financial stress later on.

Are you experiencing mortgage stress? Click here for a handy calculator that will help you get a better view of how your repayments might be influencing your lifestyle.

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