Rate cuts "too late" for struggling borrowers

Rate cuts "too late" for struggling borrowers

Forty percent of Australians who bought homes after the global financial crisis are facing mortgage stress, and many will be forced to sell because their homes are worth less than their mortgages, reports show.

For homeowners Cassandra and Matthew Rouse, the only option was to sell their home in the New South Wales suburb of Newcastle, to clear debts and start again with a clean slate.

“For us it was very tight; we couldn’t afford to go out and enjoy ourselves as a family. We had to count every penny we had,” she told ABC News program 7:30.

Like thousands of other Australians they discovered that what seemed like a manageable mortgage became anything but. A growing family and the spiralling cost of living changed everything.

The family sought help from solicitors at the NSW Consumer Credit Legal Centre, which receives 17,000 calls from people who need advice every year, many of them struggling to meet their repayments.

Alexandra Kelly, solicitor at the centre, told ABC News: “I think there is a real optimism that people generally have that things won’t go wrong, and when they do go wrong there is very rarely a Plan B.”

Banking analyst, Martin North from Digital Finance Analytics, said many people put their head in the sand and hope it will go away, relying on the Reserve Bank to cut rates.

“Of the 400,000 first home buyers who entered the market in 2008 to 2009, 40 percent of those are now in some degree of difficulty and about half of that 40 percent are at the more severe end of mortgage stress may have to refinance or have to sell the property,” he told 7:30.

“I’m not talking about low-doc loans or flawed lending policies or anything like that; these are standard, meat-and-potato loans made to first home buyers who ticked all the boxes in terms of affordability and those other factors at the time.”

North said there are two main reasons that families are facing financial hardship; interest rates and the rising costs of living.

“They came into the market when rates very low, interest rates then moved up quite significantly,” he said. “Over the last little while, the costs of living have lifted quite dramatically, particularly for first home buyers and I’m thinking about the rates, water, electricity and gas and even child care; all of those are way above the CPI rates that are normally quoted.”

That was the case for the struggling Rouse family: “We had electricity, water, land rates, everything just kind of piled on top of us at the same time,” Mrs Rouse said.

Despite recent rate cuts, many borrowers are doing it tough and their financial situation could worsen, warns Wayne Stewart of the Real Estate Institute of NSW.

“When interest rates are low they can only go in one direction and that is upward, so you should always take into consideration with your due diligence and extra couple of percentage points for when interest rates do go up you can plan forward,” he told ABC News.

“Over the last five or six years we certainly haven’t seen the capital growth in property that we may have seen consistently from 10 to 20 years ago.”

“People who buy property, expecting to make quick capital gains are buying property for the wrong reasons. Buying property is about long term capital growth, it’s about security for your family, security in bricks and mortar and that’s the way it should be treated.”

As for the Rouse family, who have since sold their home with plans to move in with relatives for a while, they have learned a tough lesson.

“Next time I’m really going to really think about our situation and what can happen down the line; there could be illnesses, my husband could be out of work we have to look at all the fine [details] I think,” she said.

 

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Learn more about home loans

What is the best interest rate for a mortgage?

The fastest way to find out what the lowest interest rates on the market are is to use a comparison website.

While a low interest rate is highly preferable, it is not the only factor that will determine whether a particular loan is right for you.

Loans with low interest rates can often include hidden catches, such as high fees or a period of low rates which jumps up after the introductory period has ended.

To work out the best value for money, have a look at a loan’s comparison rate and read the fine print to get across all the fees and charges that you could be theoretically charged over the life of the loan.

How does Real Time Ratings work?

Real Time RatingsTM looks at your individual home loan requirements and uses this information to rank every applicable home loan in our database out of five.

This score is based on two main factors – cost and flexibility.

Cost is calculated by looking at the interest rates and fees over the first five years of the loan.

Flexibility is based on whether a loan offers features such as an offset account, redraw facility and extra repayments.

Real Time RatingsTM also includes the following assumptions:

  • Costs are calculated on the current variable rate however they could change in the future.
  • Loans are assumed to be principal and interest
  • Fixed-rate loans with terms greater than five years are still assessed on a five-year basis, so 10-year fixed loans are assessed as being only five years’ long.
  • Break costs are not included.

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.

How long should I have my mortgage for?

The standard length of a mortgage is between 25-30 years however they can be as long as 40 years and as few as one. There is a benefit to having a shorter mortgage as the faster you pay off the amount you owe, the less you’ll pay your bank in interest.

Of course, shorter mortgages will require higher monthly payments so plug the numbers into a mortgage calculator to find out how many years you can potentially shave off your budget.

For example monthly repayments on a $500,000 over 25 years with an interest rate of 5% are $2923. On the same loan with the same interest rate over 30 years repayments would be $2684 a month. At first blush, the 30 year mortgage sounds great with significantly lower monthly repayments but remember, stretching your loan out by an extra five years will see you hand over $89,396 in interest repayments to your bank.

What is bridging finance?

A loan of shorter duration taken to buy a new property before a borrower sells an existing property, usually taken to cover the financial gap that occurs while buying a new property without first selling an older one.

Usually, these loans have higher interest rates and a shorter repayment duration.

Why was Real Time Ratings developed?

Real Time RatingsTM was developed to save people time and money. A home loan is one of the biggest financial decisions you will ever make – and one of the most complicated. Real Time RatingsTM is designed to help you find the right loan. Until now, there has been no place borrowers can benchmark the latest rates and offers when they hit the market. Rates change all the time now and new offers hit the market almost daily, we saw the need for a way to compare these new deals against the rest of the market and make a more informed decision.

What is mortgage stress?

Mortgage stress is when you don’t have enough income to comfortably meet your monthly mortgage repayments and maintain your lifestyle. Many experts believe that mortgage stress starts when you are spending 30 per cent or more of your pre-tax income on mortgage repayments.

Mortgage stress can lead to people defaulting on their loans which can have serious long term repercussions.

The best way to avoid mortgage stress is to include at least a 2 – 3 per cent buffer in your estimated monthly repayments. If you could still make your monthly repayments comfortably at a rate of up to 8 or 9 per cent then you should be in good position to meet your obligations. If you think that a rate rise would leave you at a risk of defaulting on your loan, consider borrowing less money.

If you do find yourself in mortgage stress, talk to your bank about ways to potentially reduce your mortgage burden. Contacting a financial counsellor can also be a good idea. You can locate a free counselling service in your state by calling the national hotline: 1800 007 007 or visiting www.financialcounsellingaustralia.org.au.

What is a bad credit home loan?

A bad credit home loan is a mortgage for people with a low credit score. Lenders regard bad credit borrowers as riskier than ‘vanilla’ borrowers, so they tend to charge higher interest rates for bad credit home loans.

If you want a bad credit home loan, you’re more likely to get approved by a small non-bank lender than by a big four bank or another mainstream lender.

How do guaranteed home loans work?

A guaranteed home loan involves a guarantor (often a parent) promising to pay off a mortgage if the principal borrower (often the child) fails to do so. The guarantor will also have to provide security, which is often the family home.

The principal borrower will usually be someone struggling to find the money to enter the property market. By partnering with a guarantor, the borrower increases their financial power and becomes less of a risk in the eyes of lenders. As a result, the borrower may:

  • Qualify for a mortgage that they would have otherwise been denied
  • Not be required to pay lender’s mortgage insurance (LMI)
  • Be charged a lower interest rate
  • Be charged less in fees

What is the difference between fixed, variable and split rates?

Fixed rate

A fixed rate home loan is a loan where the interest rate is set for a certain amount of time, usually between one and 15 years. The advantage of a fixed rate is that you know exactly how much your repayments will be for the duration of the fixed term. There are some disadvantages to fixing that you need to be aware of. Some products won’t let you make extra repayments, or offer tools such as an offset account to help you reduce your interest, while others will charge a significant break fee if you decide to terminate the loan before the fixed period finishes.

Variable rate

A variable rate home loan is one where the interest rate can and will change over the course of your loan. The rate is determined by your lender, not the Reserve Bank of Australia, so while the cash rate might go down, your bank may decide not to follow suit, although they do broadly follow market conditions. One of the upsides of variable rates is that they are typically more flexible than their fixed rate counterparts which means that a lot of these products will let you make extra repayments and offer features such as offset accounts.

Split rates home loans

A split loan lets you fix a portion of your loan, and leave the remainder on a variable rate so you get a bet each way on fixed and variable rates. A split loan is a good option for someone who wants the peace of mind that regular repayments can provide but still wants to retain some of the additional features variable loans typically provide such as an offset account. Of course, with most things in life, split loans are still a trade-off. If the variable rate goes down, for example, the lower interest rates will only apply to the section that you didn’t fix.

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.

Does Australia have no cost refinancing?

No Cost Refinancing is an option available in the US where the lender or broker covers your switching costs, such as appraisal fees and settlement costs. Unfortunately, no cost refinancing isn’t available in Australia.