How government can really help home buyers

Despite record low interest rates, first home buyers now account for less than 10 percent of all new home loan dollars financed – a record low.

Yet an opportunity to support a savings initiative for first home buyers is going to waste, according to RateCity.

The initiative, a Government program aimed at supporting saving by would-be buyers, is not working well, and needs urgent attention – the First Home Saver Account scheme.

When the scheme was launched in 2008, it was predicted to help hundreds of thousands of Australians. But latest Australian Prudential Regulation Authority figures show a total of $491 million is held in just over 45,000 First Home Saver Accounts (FHSA) as at June this year.

Alex Parsons, CEO of RateCity.com.au, said there are a number of things Government could do to improve the scheme – most notably around reducing the paperwork burden. With some minor adjustments, there’s an opportunity for more institutions to come to the party.

“Right now, only nine institutions offer these accounts – and despite some offering them in the past, none of the big four banks currently do, so it’s little surprise that many potential buyers haven’t heard of them, and don’t use them,” he said.

“It’s a way for banks to support real saving initiatives for first home buyers – and any scheme that helps would-be buyers to build a larger deposit should be encouraged.

“Entering the property market with a bigger deposit is a good thing because it means new home owners are less susceptible to movements in interest rates, and in a much better position to withstand shocks in their own income.”

A FHSA can only be used to buy or build a first home and they have two main benefits. First, any interest earned on the account is taxed at 15 percent, and second, to encourage savers to make regular deposits, the government will add a bonus that’s equal to 17 percent of any deposits made (up to a maximum contribution by the saver of $6000 annually).

RateCity data shows the average base interest rate paid on FHSA is 2.54 percent.

There are a number of conditions that must be met, including a minimum deposit of at least $1000 each year over at least four financial years before you can withdraw the money, and the account balance is capped at $90,000.

“The fact that the major banks have stopped offering the products suggests that they are not attractive enough to the mainstream market to be viable in their current form,” said Parsons.

“A relaxation of some of the conditions, aided by some smart and effective marketing by the government may breathe life back into what is essentially a great idea to encourage responsible borrowing.”

With first home buyer numbers and dollars financed at record lows, some have called on Government to boost the amount of cash support being given to first home buyers, by either increasing grants or limiting stamp duty concessions.

But Parsons added, “Unfortunately, the ‘bring back the grant’ argument is the easiest, quickest and most familiar reaction first home buyers have to help them get a home. What most people don’t understand is that it just fuels higher house prices and doesn’t fix the underlying problem.

“Rather than kicking the can along the road with more grants, we should instead be focusing on schemes that encourage and support real savings by first home buyers in Australia. This needs to be combined with a thorough review of some of the key drivers of affordability issues such as negative gearing, stamp duty and land supply constraints.”

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Learn more about home loans

How much is the first home buyer's grant?

The first home buyer grant amount will vary depending on what state you’re in and the value of the property that you are purchasing. In general, they start around $10,000 but it is advisable to check your eligibility for the grant as well as how much you are entitled to with your state or territory’s revenue office.

How do I take out a low-deposit home loan?

If you want to take out a low-deposit home loan, it might be a good idea to consult a mortgage broker who can give you professional financial advice and organise the mortgage for you.

Another way to take out a low-deposit home loan is to do your own research with a comparison website like RateCity. Once you’ve identified your preferred mortgage, you can apply through RateCity or go direct to the lender.

What are the pros and cons of no-deposit home loans?

It’s no longer possible to get a no-deposit home loan in Australia. In some circumstances, you might be able to take out a mortgage with a 5 per cent deposit – but before you do so, it’s important to weigh up the pros and cons.

The big advantage of borrowing 95 per cent (also known as a 95 per cent home loan) is that you get to buy your property sooner. That may be particularly important if you plan to purchase in a rising market, where prices are increasing faster than you can accumulate savings.

But 95 per cent home loans also have disadvantages. First, the 95 per cent home loan market is relatively small, so you’ll have fewer options to choose from. Second, you’ll probably have to pay LMI (lender’s mortgage insurance). Third, you’ll probably be charged a higher interest rate. Fourth, the more you borrow, the more you’ll ultimately have to pay in interest. Fifth, if your property declines in value, your mortgage might end up being worth more than your home.

How do I save for a mortgage when renting?

Saving for a deposit to secure a mortgage when renting is challenging but it can be done with time and patience. If you’re on a single income it can be even more difficult but this shouldn’t discourage you from buying your own home.

To save for a deposit, plan out a monthly budget and put it in a prominent position so it acts as a daily reminder of your ultimate goal. In your budget, set aside an amount of money each week to go into a savings account so you can start building up the ‘0’s’ in your account.  There are a range of online savings accounts that offer reasonable interest, although some will only off you high rates for the first few months so be wary of this.

If you aren’t able to save a large deposit, you can consider ways of entering the market that require small or no deposits. This can include getting a parent to act as guarantor for your home loan or entering the market with an interest only loan.

Are bad credit home loans dangerous?

Bad credit home loans can be dangerous if the borrower signs up for a loan they’ll struggle to repay. This might occur if the borrower takes out a mortgage at the limit of their financial capacity, especially if they have some combination of a low income, an insecure job and poor savings habits.

Bad credit home loans can also be dangerous if the borrower buys a home in a stagnant or falling market – because if the home has to be sold, they might be left with ‘negative equity’ (where the home is worth less than the mortgage).

That said, bad credit home loans can work out well if the borrower is able to repay the mortgage – for example, if they borrow conservatively, have a decent income, a secure job and good savings habits. Another good sign is if the borrower buys a property in a market that is likely to rise over the long term.

How do I refinance my home loan?

Refinancing your home loan can involve a bit of paperwork but if you are moving on to a lower rate, it can save you thousands of dollars in the long-run. The first step is finding another loan on the market that you think will save you money over time or offer features that your current loan does not have. Once you have selected a couple of loans you are interested in, compare them with your current loan to see if you will save money in the long term on interest rates and fees. Remember to factor in any break fees and set up fees when assessing the cost of switching.

Once you have decided on a new loan it is simply a matter of contacting your existing and future lender to get the new loan set up. Beware that some lenders will revert your loan back to a 25 or 30 year term when you refinance which may mean initial lower repayments but may cost you more in the long run.

How common are low-deposit home loans?

Low-deposit home loans aren’t as common as they once were, because they’re regarded as relatively risky and the banking regulator (APRA) is trying to reduce risk from the mortgage market.

However, if you do your research, you’ll find there is still a fairly wide selection of banks, credit unions and non-bank lenders that offers low-deposit home loans.

What is a low-deposit home loan?

A low-deposit home loan is a mortgage where you need to borrow more than 80 per cent of the purchase price – in other words, your deposit is less than 20 per cent of the purchase price.

For example, if you want to buy a $500,000 property, you’ll need a low-deposit home loan if your deposit is less than $100,000 and therefore you need to borrow more than $400,000.

As a general rule, you’ll need to pay LMI (lender’s mortgage insurance) if you take out a low-deposit home loan. You can use this LMI calculator to estimate your LMI payment.

Can I change jobs while I am applying for a home loan?

Whether you’re a new borrower or you’re refinancing your home loan, many lenders require you to be in a permanent job with the same employer for at least 6 months before applying for a home loan. Different lenders have different requirements. 

If your work situation changes for any reason while you’re applying for a mortgage, this could reduce your chances of successfully completing the process. Contacting the lender as soon as you know your employment situation is changing may allow you to work something out. 

How can I get a home loan with bad credit?

If you want to get a home loan with bad credit, you need to convince a lender that your problems are behind you and that you will, indeed, be able to repay a mortgage.

One step you might want to take is to visit a mortgage broker who specialises in bad credit home loans (also known as ‘non-conforming home loans’ or ‘sub-prime home loans’). An experienced broker will know which lenders to approach, and how to plead your case with each of them.

Two points to bear in mind are:

  • Many home loan lenders don’t provide bad credit mortgages
  • Each lender has its own policies, and therefore favours different things

If you’d prefer to directly approach the lender yourself, you’re more likely to find success with smaller non-bank lenders that specialise in bad credit home loans (as opposed to bigger banks that prefer ‘vanilla’ mortgages). That’s because these smaller lenders are more likely to treat you as a unique individual rather than judge you according to a one-size-fits-all policy.

Lenders try to minimise their risk, so if you want to get a home loan with bad credit, you need to do everything you can to convince lenders that you’re safer than your credit history might suggest. If possible, provide paperwork that shows:

  • You have a secure job
  • You have a steady income
  • You’ve been reducing your debts
  • You’ve been increasing your savings

How do I know if I have to pay LMI?

Each lender has its own policies, but as a general rule you will have to pay lender’s mortgage insurance (LMI) if your loan-to-value ratio (LVR) exceeds 80 per cent. This applies whether you’re taking out a new home loan or you’re refinancing.

If you’re looking to buy a property, you can use this LMI calculator to work out how much you’re likely to be charged in LMI.

What happens to my home loan when interest rates rise?

If you are on a variable rate home loan, every so often your rate will be subject to increases and decreases. Rate changes are determined by your lender, not the Reserve Bank of Australia, however often when the RBA changes the cash rate, a number of banks will follow suit, at least to some extent. You can use RateCity cash rate to check how the latest interest rate change affected your mortgage interest rate.

When your rate rises, you will be required to pay your bank more each month in mortgage repayments. Similarly, if your interest rate is cut, then your monthly repayments will decrease. Your lender will notify you of what your new repayments will be, although you can do the calculations yourself, and compare other home loan rates using our mortgage calculator.

There is no way of conclusively predicting when interest rates will go up or down on home loans so if you prefer a more stable approach consider opting for a fixed rate loan.

What happens when you default on your mortgage?

A mortgage default occurs when you are 90 days or more behind on your mortgage repayments. Late repayments will often incur a late fee on top of the amount owed which will continue to gather interest along with the remaining principal amount.

If you do default on a mortgage repayment you should try and catch up in next month’s payment. If this isn’t possible, and missing payments is going to become a regular issue, you need to contact your lender as soon as possible to organise an alternative payment schedule and discuss further options.

You may also want to talk to a financial counsellor. 

How personalised is my rating?

Real Time Ratings produces instant scores for loan products and updates them based what you tell us about what you’re looking for in a loan. In that sense, we believe the ratings are as close as you get to personalised; the more you tell us, the more we customise to ratings to your needs. Some borrowers value flexibility, while others want the lowest cost loan. Your preferences will be reflected in the rating. 

We also take a shorter term, more realistic view of how long borrowers hold onto their loan, which gives you a better idea about the true borrowing costs. We take your loan details and calculate how much each of the relevent loans would cost you on average each month over the next five years. We assess the overall flexibility of each loan and give you an easy indication of which ones are likely to adjust to your needs over time.