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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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.

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. 

How often is your data updated?

We work closely with lenders to get updates as quick as possible, with updates made the same day wherever possible.

How can I get a home loan with no deposit?

Following the Global Financial Crisis, no-deposit loans, as they once used to be known, have largely been removed from the market. Now, if you wish to enter the market with no deposit, you will require a property of your own to secure a loan against or the assistance of a guarantor.

How much of the RBA rate cut do lenders pass on to borrowers?

When the Reserve Bank of Australia cuts its official cash rate, there is no guarantee lenders will then pass that cut on to lenders by way of lower interest rates. 

Sometimes lenders pass on the cut in full, sometimes they partially pass on the cut, sometimes they don’t at all. When they don’t, they often defend the decision by saying they need to balance the needs of their shareholders with the needs of their borrowers. 

As the attached graph shows, more recent cuts have seen less lenders passing on the full RBA interest rate cut; the average lender was more likely to pass on about two-thirds of the 25 basis points cut to its borrowers.  image002

What is 'principal and interest'?

‘Principal and interest’ loans are the most common type of home loans on the market. The principal part of the loan is the initial sum lent to the customer and the interest is the money paid on top of this, at the agreed interest rate, until the end of the loan.

By reducing the principal amount, the total of interest charged will also become smaller until eventually the debt is paid off in full.

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.

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 is an ombudsman?

An complaints officer – previously referred to as an ombudsman -looks at formal complaints from customers about their credit providers, and helps to find a fair and independent solution to these problems.

These services are handled by the Australian Financial Complaints Authority, a non-profit government organisation that addresses and resolves financial disputes between customers and financial service providers.

Remaining loan term

The length of time it will take to pay off your current home loan, based on the currently-entered mortgage balance, monthly repayment and interest rate.

Do other comparison sites offer the same service?

Real Time RatingsTM is the only online system that ranks the home loan market based on your personal borrowing preferences. Until now, home loans have been rated based on outdated data. Our system is unique because it reacts to changes as soon as we update our database.