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Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Car or house buying cooling off measures?

Cooling off measures for car purchases also?

Key points: 

(1). Higher percentage of bankruptcies from inability to repay cars HPs than housing loans.
(2). The second largest household debt component, about RM145bil, is paid for an asset that is contracting in value every year.

WHAT are the considerations when you purchase a car?

Are the model and its functions important? Does the status symbol carry more weight? Or affordability is the main concern? Don’t get me wrong, I am not conducting a survey to change my profession. I am just curious to find out the major considerations of purchasing a car.

The topic interests me as car ownership among Malaysians, especially the young adults keep increasing. Many times, their choice of car is somewhat extravagant compared to the income they may be generating at this early stage of their careers.

This issue caught my attention when a news report last month stated that 122,169 Malaysians were declared bankrupt between 2007 and 2013, according to the Department of Insolvency. About 26% of the bankruptcies were due to the inability to settle the hire-purchase payment for vehicles, which involved 33,570 people since 2007.

When I searched further for other causes of bankruptcies, the available information for the period from 2005 to May 2010 indicated that car loans was also the chief reason for bankruptcy during that period. It was followed by 11.8% due to personal loans, 10.9% of bankruptcies due to non-repayment of business loans, and only 7.5% was caused by housing loans. Looking at the statistics, it is significant that for many years, more than one-fourth of bankruptcies in our country had been caused by car loans. It reflects on the household stress in repaying car loans, and this high default rate should trigger some thoughts among the authorities and the people.

According to Bank Negara statistics, as at April 2013, housing loans account for 57.5% of total household debts, while car loans, personal loans and credit cards account for 26.5%, 10% and 6% respectively. It means that the second-largest household debt component, about RM145bil, is paid for an asset that is contracting in value every year.

I wonder how many households are struggling to repay their car loans today, and how many of them, especially the younger generation, have deferred their financial wealth planning because of car loans? With the high percentage mentioned above and the rising household debt, there arises the question of whether cooling-off measures should also be extended to the car industry which is causing severe household stress.

Cooling-off measures for the car industry that can be considered include shorter loan period, more stringent loan-to-income ratio, and to impose certain charges if a car owner purchases additional cars in less than a certain number of years. These measures may help to reduce the number of cars on the road and discourage household spending on private vehicles. In the process, we will also be reducing traffic jams.

As shared in my previous articles titled “Reality Check on Debt Mountain” and “Good Debt, Bad Debt”, a car depreciates 10% to 20% per year based on car insurance calculation and accounting practice. In contrast, housing loans have underlying assets that are likely to appreciate over the long term.

Depreciative asset

Do we want to defer our financial planning instead and trade our opportunity of owning an appreciative asset for a depreciative asset? Perhaps, the authorities should encourage the people to borrow only for very good reasons, and to purchase assets only after thorough research.

This reminds me of an episode that I am personally aware of. It goes back to the early 1900s, when a 16-year-old migrant from China came to Malaya (now Malaysia) to seek a living, with no money in his pocket. Due to his diligence, hardwork and frugality, he was able to marry a young pretty girl ten years later and start a family and they eventually had 13 children.

What was astonishing is that he was able to send 7 of his 8 sons overseas for their tertiary education, all due to his frugality, hardwork and integrity. When he passed away, he was even able to leave behind a legacy of a bus company with over 30 buses and 4 small pieces of land in a small town.

Would this episode stimulate our young people to contemplate about what is best for their future?

Although the cooling-off measures for the car sector may be a new idea to ponder, however, with the Government’s plan to upgrade our public transport facilities and services, it is an area for consideration to increase public transport usage and encourage healthy financial planning in the long run.

After all, if senior executives in major cities like London and Tokyo are comfortable using public transportation to commute in their daily lives, can we not also do likewise (if our public transportation are improved)?

Coming back to the questions I asked in the beginning of this article... while I understand people put emphasis on different features of a car depending on their requirements and stage of life, it is always good to include the affordability aspect in a car purchase decision, so as not to be dragged down by the car which is bought to carry us forward.

P/S: The 16-year-old migrant happened to be my late father. He passed away at the age of 63 in 1962.

Contributed by Datuk Alan Tong

FIABCI Asia-Pacific regional secretariat chairman Datuk Alan Tong has over 50 years of experience in property development. He is also the group chairman of Bukit Kiara Properties. For feedback, please email The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.

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