Why it's now more important than ever to pay your debts on time

Why it's now more important than ever to pay your debts on time

In 2014, the government introduced comprehensive credit reporting to Australia. This type of credit reporting has been used in the US and UK for many years. It is expected to help credit providers make better decisions about who they lend money to by ensuring they do not provide finance that is unsuitable because of:

  • Poor debts
  • Poor credit history
  • Inability to repay
  • Not meeting the client’s requirements and objectives

When someone applies for any type of finance, credit providers decide fairly quickly whether to approve the loan. They do this based on many factors – particularly the information in the application form.

Application forms tend to ask for information about a client’s current debt position and financial commitments. In the past, it has been up to the customer to disclose this information accurately, with the bank unable to cross-check this information. Now, though, comprehensive credit reporting overcomes this inability to cross-check, and immediately tells the bank what finance the customer has had and how responsible they’ve been at repaying it.

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How comprehensive credit reporting works

Under comprehensive credit reporting, banks and other lenders share the account repayment history information of their customers with credit reporting companies. The sort of information that is shared includes:

  • The name of the company the debt is held with
  • The type of the account
  • The total credit limit and the amount currently outstanding
  • When the account was opened and closed (if relevant)
  • The number of days the account is in arrears, and which months the account was more than 14 days in arrears
This information is shown in the ‘Credit Liability Information’ section of the Equifax (formerly Veda) and Illion (formerly Dun & Bradstreet) credit files. It shows two years of repayment history information. Where no payment information is reported, there is a dash or an ‘R’. Where payment information is reported, it will show a tick or a 0 where payment has been made on time and a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 or X, depending on how many days late the payment was made:
  • 1 means the payment is 1-29 days late
  • 2 means 30-59 days late
  • 3 means 60-89 days late
  • 4 means 90-119 days late
  • 5 means 120-149 days late
  • 6 means 150-179 days late
  • X means 180+ days late

Once a payment is so late that a ‘3’ appears, credit providers can begin the process of placing a default listing or judgment on the individual’s credit file. However, some credit providers will wait until later to list a default.

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How comprehensive credit reporting affects you

Comprehensive credit reporting was presented as something that would benefit Australians with a good credit history who wanted to take out new loans. The idea was they would be rewarded with lower interest rates and faster approvals, compared to customers with worse credit histories. However, as Australians are in more debt than ever and one in six are reported to be behind in credit card repayments, it now appears that this information sharing could lead to huge negative consequences for Australian consumers and the finance industry.

Initially, comprehensive credit reporting was voluntary. Few lenders took part. The big four banks avoided it, citing reporting costs. However, since 1 July 2018, the big banks and all other credit providers have been compelled to share their information, thus giving all lenders an even playing field.

Equifax have said that at present only 13 per cent of their 30 million credit files have repayment history information included in them. By 2019, they are expecting that 92 per cent of credit files will have repayment information included.

With all this new information on your credit file, it is now more important than ever to pay all your consumer debt on time. If you ever have any doubt about making a repayment on time, you should call your financial service provider’s hardship department and enter an official hardship variation.

While this may prevent you from being able to borrow again from that lender in the future, it will not impact your credit file. It will also immunise you from having negative account payment history information listed against you, as long as you keep right up to date with your new repayment arrangement under the hardship variation. Therefore, you will still be able to borrow from other credit providers when the time is right.

Dr Merrilyn Mansfield is the lead adjudicator and researcher for Princeville Credit Advocates. She is fascinated with the consumer laws that relate to credit reporting and in advocating for a consumer’s right to a correct credit report. She is in her final year of law. For more information email merri.m@princeville.com.au or call 1300 93 63 63.

Carmel Mansfield is a credit file specialist at Princeville Credit Advocates, currently working with clients to improve their credit score. She has also worked in complex case management at Princeville since 2010. She holds an economics degree from the University of Sydney and is a passionate consumer advocate.

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This article was reviewed by Property & Personal Finance Writer Nick Bendel before it was published as part of RateCity's Fact Check process.

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Learn more about home loans

What is a credit file?

A comprehensive summary of your credit history from an authorised credit reporting agency.

It includes your credit details, credit taken in the last five years, any default payments or credit infringements, arrears, repayment history, bankruptcy filings and a list of credit applications (including unapproved credit applications) in addition to your personal details.

Cash or mortgage – which is more suitable to buy an investment property?

Deciding whether to buy an investment property with cash or a mortgage is a matter or personal choice and will often depend on your financial situation. Using cash may seem logical if you have the money in reserve and it can allow you to later use the equity in your home. However, there may be other factors to think about, such as whether there are other debts to pay down and whether it will tie up all of your spare cash. Again, it’s a personal choice and may be worth seeking personal advice.

A mortgage is a popular option for people who don’t have enough cash in the bank to pay for an investment property. Sometimes when you take out a mortgage you can offset your loan interest against the rental income you may earn. The rental income can also help to pay down the loan.

What are the features of home loans for expats from Westpac?

If you’re an Australian citizen living and working abroad, you can borrow to buy a property in Australia. With a Westpac non-resident home loan, you can borrow up to 80 per cent of the property value to purchase a property whilst living overseas. The minimum loan amount for these loans is $25,000, with a maximum loan term of 30 years.

The interest rates and other fees for Westpac non-resident home loans are the same as regular home loans offered to borrowers living in Australia. You’ll have to submit proof of income, six-month bank statements, an employment letter, and your last two payslips. You may also be required to submit a copy of your passport and visa that shows you’re allowed to live and work abroad.

When does Commonwealth Bank charge an early exit fee?

When you take out a fixed interest home loan with the Commonwealth Bank, you’re able to lock the interest for a particular period. If the rates change during this period, your repayments remain unchanged. If you break the loan during the fixed interest period, you’ll have to pay the Commonwealth Bank home loan early exit fee and an administrative fee.

The Early Repayment Adjustment (ERA) and Administrative fees are applicable in the following instances:

  • If you switch your loan from fixed interest to variable rate
  • When you apply for a top-up home loan
  • If you repay over and above the annual threshold limit, which is $10,000 per year during the fixed interest period
  • When you prepay the entire outstanding loan balance before the end of the fixed interest duration.

The fee calculation depends on the interest rates, the amount you’ve repaid and the loan size. You can contact the lender to understand more about what you may have to pay. 

When do mortgage payments start after settlement?

Generally speaking, your first mortgage payment falls due one month after the settlement date. However, this may vary based on your mortgage terms. You can check the exact date by contacting your lender.

Usually your settlement agent will meet the seller’s representatives to exchange documents at an agreed place and time. The balance purchase price is paid to the seller. The lender will register a mortgage against your title and give you the funds to purchase the new home.

Once the settlement process is complete, the lender allows you to draw down the loan. The loan amount is debited from your loan account. As soon as the settlement paperwork is sorted, you can collect the keys to your new home and work your way through the moving-in checklist.

Why does Westpac charge an early termination fee for home loans?

The Westpac home loan early termination fee or break cost is applicable if you have a fixed rate home loan and repay part of or the whole outstanding amount before the fixed period ends. If you’re switching between products before the fixed period ends, you’ll pay a switching break cost and an administrative fee. 

The Westpac home loan early termination fee may not apply if you repay an amount below the prepayment threshold. The prepayment threshold is the amount Westpac allows you to repay during the fixed period outside your regular repayments.

Westpac charges this fee because when you take out a home loan, the bank borrows the funds with wholesale rates available to banks and lenders. Westpac will then work out your interest rate based on you making regular repayments for a fixed period. If you repay before this period ends, the lender may incur a loss if there is any change in the wholesale rate of interest.

Do mortgage brokers need a consumer credit license?

In Australia, mortgage brokers are defined by law as being credit service or assistance providers, meaning that they help borrowers connect with lenders. Mortgage brokers may not always need a consumer credit license however if they’re operating solo they will need an Australian Credit License (ACL). Further, they may also need to comply with requirements asking them to mention their license number in full.

Some mortgage brokers can be “credit representatives”, or franchisees of a mortgage aggregator. In this case, if the aggregator has a license, the mortgage broker need not have one. The reasoning for this is that the franchise agreement usually requires mortgage brokers to comply with the laws applicable to the aggregator. If you’re speaking to a mortgage broker, you can ask them if they receive commissions from lenders, which is a good indicator that they need to be licensed. Consider requesting their license details if they don’t give you the details beforehand. 

You should remember that such a license protects you if you’re given incorrect or misleading advice that results in a home loan application rejection or any financial loss. Brokers are regulated by the Australian Securities & Investment Commission (ASIC), as per the National Consumer Credit Protection (NCCP) Act. 

What are the responsibilities of a mortgage broker?

Mortgage brokers act as the go-between for borrowers looking for a home loan and the lenders offering the loan. They offer personalised advice to help borrowers choose the right home loan for their needs.

In Australia, mortgage brokers are required by law to carry an Australian Credit License (ACL) if they offer credit assistance services. Which is the legal term for guidance regarding the different kinds of credit offered by lenders, including home loan mortgages. They may not need this license if they are working for an aggregator, for instance, as a franchisee. In both these situations, they need to comply with the regulations laid down by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).

These regulations, which are stipulated by Australian legislation, require mortgage brokers to comply with what are called “responsible lending” and “best interest” obligations. Responsible lending obligations mean brokers have to suggest “suitable” home loans. This means loans that you can easily qualify for,  actually meet your needs, and don’t prove unnecessarily challenging for you.

Starting 1 January 2021, mortgage brokers must comply with best interest obligations in addition to responsible lending obligations. These require mortgage brokers to act in the best interest of their customers and also requires them to prioritise their customers’ interests over their own. For instance, a mortgage broker may not recommend a lender who gives them a commission if that lender’s home loan offer does not benefit that particular customer.

How to break up with your mortgage broker

If you find a mortgage broker giving you generic advice or trying to sell you a competitive offer from an unsuitable lender, you might be better off  breaking up with the mortgage broker and consulting someone else. Breaking up with a mortgage broker can be done over the phone, or via email. You can also raise a complaint, either with the broker’s aggregator or with the Australian Financial Complaints Authority as necessary.

As licensed industry professionals, mortgage brokers have the responsibility of giving you accurate advice so that you know what to expect when you apply for a home loan. You may have approached the mortgage broker, for instance, because you have questions about the terms of a home loan a lender offered you. 

You should remember that mortgage brokers are obliged by law to act in your best interests and as part of complying with The Australian Securities and Investments Commission’s (ASIC) regulations. If you feel you didn’t get the right advice from the mortgage broker, or that you lost money as a result of accepting the broker’s suggestions regarding a lender or home loan offer, you can file a complaint with the ASIC and seek compensation. 

When you first speak to a mortgage broker, consider asking them about their Lender Panel, which is the list of lenders they usually recommend and who may pay them a commission. This information can help you decide if the advice they give you has anything to do with the remuneration they may receive from one or more lenders.

Do first-time home loan applicants qualify for tax benefits?

If you’re a first-time homebuyer applying for a home loan, you could qualify for some tax deductions, but only if your property is a source of income for you. For instance, if you rent out the property, you could get tax deductions on the cost of constructing or renovating it, the loss in value of depreciating assets such as furniture or electrical fixtures, and the home loan interest. 

Homeowners using their property as a residence could also get a tax deduction if a part or all of it is used for business. These deductions include tax write-offs for depreciating assets and deductions for operating expenses like utilities’ payments and service charges for phones and the internet. However, people running businesses from their residences don’t qualify for a tax deduction on the interest paid on their home loans.

How long does Westpac take to approve a home loan?

Applying for a home loan at Westpac is fairly simple. The process from initial application to settlement varies in its time frame. Some customers receive in-principle approval within a couple of days. 

You can initiate the process by filling out the bank’s home loan form and requesting a callback. A Westpac representative will get in touch with you within 24 hours. You will need to provide the following information to the representative during the call: 

  • Total income
  • Total expenses
  • Details about all your liabilities and debts
  • Information and value of all your assets. 

The Westpac representative will then share with you information about the types of home loans you may qualify for, along with an estimate of interest rates and applicable fees. 

Once Westpac has received all your details, loan preferences, and documents, the representative will assess all the information. If everything is in order, you may receive an Approval in Principle (AIP) within 2 working days. This specifies the amount Westpac is willing to offer for your home loan. 

Your Approval in Principle will often remain valid for only 90 days and if you don’t find a suitable property within that time frame, you need to apply for a renewal on your Approval in Principle. In this circumstance, if the Westpac representative confirms that there are no changes in your financial circumstances, your Approval can be extended for another 90 days. 

After you have found a home that matches the Approval in Principle, you will need a confirmed contract of sale before Westpac initiates the loan settlement. This process takes about 4-12 weeks or 2-5 days if you’re refinancing. 

How much of a deposit do I need for a home loan from the Commonwealth bank?

The minimum deposit the Commonwealth Bank usually accepts is 10 percent of the amount you wish to borrow. However, a deposit of at least 20 percent of the amount you’re borrowing is needed if you wish to avoid Lenders Mortgage Insurance (LMI). LMI is charged for smaller deposits to give the lender extra recourse if the borrower fails to repay their loan. 

As an alternative to LMI, some borrowers with smaller deposits may opt to pay the Commonwealth Bank’s low deposit premium fee. It is a one-time, non-refundable charge that is added to a low-deposit home loan.

The deposit and the loan amounts are used to determine the LDP -, the higher the deposit, the lower is this cost. 

When calculating how much you need to save, don’t forget to factor in other expenses like stamp duty, insurance, legal fees, and moving costs.

What do people do with a Macquarie Bank reverse?

There are a number of ways people use a Macquarie Bank reverse mortgage. Below are some reasons borrowers tend to release their home’s equity via a reverse mortgage:

  • To top up superannuation or pension income to pay for monthly bills;
  • To consolidate and repay high-interest debt like credit cards or personal loans;
  • To fund renovations, repairs or upgrades to their home
  • To help your children or grandkids through financial difficulties. 

While there are no limitations on how you can use a Macquarie reverse mortgage loan, a reverse mortgage is not right for all borrowers. Reverse mortgages compound the interest, which means you end up paying interest on your interest. They can also affect your entitlement to things like the pension It’s important to think carefully, read up and speak with your family before you apply for a reverse mortgage.

What is the average length of a home loan?

Most Aussie lenders offer home loans with a 30-year term, meaning that you should pay back the full loan amount and the interest you owe on the amount in 30 years. 

However, home loans can also have a shorter or longer term. They may be as low as ten years or up to 45 years, depending on the product and lender. 

It’s worth remembering that a longer loan term usually means you’ll end up paying a lot more interest in total, but your scheduled repayments may be more manageable. In contrast, you could opt for a shorter loan term if you are comfortable making large repayments in exchange for paying less interest over the term of the loan.