Is it safe to get a home loan with a small lender?

While there are certainly benefits to getting your mortgage from a major bank like Australia’s Big Four, it’s the smaller lenders that tend to offer the more competitive interest rates, fees and charges that give the big banks a run for their money.

But despite many smaller banks offering cheaper home loans and more personalised services than many of the bigger banks, many Australians are hesitant about making the big switch to a smaller lender, with security concerns being a significant factor.

Are small banks dodgy? Will they rip me off?

All banks in Australia, large and small, must abide by similar laws and regulations, designed to protect bank customers and their personal wealth. Smaller lenders are required to provide credit with the same degree of care and attention as the larger banks.

Administered by official bodies, such as the Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC) and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA), these laws and regulations require large and small lenders in Australia to follow certain standards when offering credit to customers.

This includes assessing whether potential borrowers can realistically afford to repay loans before offering credit, and providing sufficient information for borrowers to make informed decisions about their loans. Deposits with authorised institutions are also guaranteed under the government’s Financial Claims Scheme.

Regardless of who your mortgage is with, if you suspect your lender has misled or deceived you, contact either the Credit and Investments Ombudsman or the Financial Ombudsman Service as soon as possible.

What if a small bank fails? Will I lose my house?

For borrowers worried that the next GFC is around the corner, it’s tempting to take out a mortgage with a big bank that’s “too big to fail”, even if its loans are less competitive in rates, fees and flexibility than those offered by smaller lenders.

But if your mortgage is with a smaller lender, in the unlikely event that it goes out of business when the economy takes a hit, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll end up worse off as a result. Your lender may receive government assistance to keep it from going under, or it may be absorbed by a larger lender. Your mortgage could also end up sold to another lender.

If your mortgage ends up with a different lender, it is possible that they could start raising rates and fees. In such a case, you should be able to refinance to another lender with more favourable terms with relatively little trouble.

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Learn more about home loans

What do mortgage brokers do?

Mortgage brokers are finance professionals who help borrowers organise home loans with lenders. As such, they act as middlemen between borrowers and lenders.

While bank staff recommend home loan products only from their own employer, brokers are independent, so they can recommend products from a range of institutions.

Brokers need to be accredited with a particular lender to be able to work with that lender. A typical broker will be accredited with anywhere from 10 to 30 lenders – the big four banks, as well as a range of smaller banks, credit unions and non-bank lenders.

As a general rule, brokers don’t charge consumers for their services; instead, they receive commissions from lenders whenever they place a borrower with that institution.

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

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.

What is a specialist lender?

Specialist lenders, also known as non-conforming lenders, are lenders that offer mortgages to ‘non-vanilla’ borrowers who struggle to get finance at mainstream banks.

That includes people with bad credit, as well as borrowers who are self-employed, in casual employment or are new to Australia.

Specialist lenders take a much more flexible approach to assessing mortgage applications than mainstream banks.

Do the big four banks have guarantor home loans?

Yes, ANZ, Commonwealth Bank, NAB and Westpac all offer guarantor home loans. These mortgages are also offered by many other banks, credit unions and building societies.

Can I refinance if I have other products bundled with my home loan?

If your home loan was part of a package deal that included access to credit cards, transaction accounts or term deposits from the same lender, switching all of these over to a new lender can seem daunting. However, some lenders offer to manage part of this process for you as an incentive to refinance with them – contact your lender to learn more about what they offer.

Will I have to pay lenders' mortgage insurance twice if I refinance?

If your deposit was less than 20 per cent of your property’s value when you took out your original loan, you may have paid lenders’ mortgage insurance (LMI) to cover the lender against the risk that you may default on your repayments. 

If you refinance to a new home loan, but still don’t have enough deposit and/or equity to provide 20 per cent security, you’ll need to pay for the lender’s LMI a second time. This could potentially add thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in upfront costs to your mortgage, so it’s important to consider whether the financial benefits of refinancing may be worth these costs.

What is Lender's Mortgage Insurance (LMI)

Lender’s Mortgage Insurance (LMI) is an insurance policy, which protects your bank if you default on the loan (i.e. stop paying your loan). While the bank takes out the policy, you pay the premium. Generally you can ‘capitalise’ the premium – meaning that instead of paying it upfront in one hit, you roll it into the total amount you owe, and it becomes part of your regular mortgage repayments.

This additional cost is typically required when you have less than 20 per cent savings, or a loan with an LVR of 80 per cent or higher, and it can run into thousands of dollars. The policy is not transferrable, so if you sell and buy a new house with less than 20 per cent equity, then you’ll be required to foot the bill again, even if you borrow with the same lender.

Some lenders, such as the Commonwealth Bank, charge customers with a small deposit a Low Deposit Premium or LDP instead of LMI. The cost of the premium is included in your loan so you pay it off over time.

If I don't like my new lender after I refinance, can I go back to my previous lender?

If you wish to return to your previous lender after refinancing, you will have to go through the refinancing process again and pay a second set of discharge and upfront fees. 

Therefore, before you refinance, it’s important to weigh up the new prospective lender against your current lender in a number of areas, including fees, flexibility, customer service and interest rate.

What is a guarantor?

A guarantor is someone who provides a legally binding promise that they will pay off a mortgage if the principal borrower fails to do so.

Often, guarantors are parents in a solid financial position, while the principal borrower is a child in a weaker financial position who is struggling to enter the property market.

Lenders usually regard borrowers as less risky when they have a guarantor – and therefore may charge lower interest rates or even approve mortgages they would have otherwise rejected.

However, if the borrower falls behind on their repayments, the lender might chase the guarantor for payment. In some circumstances, the lender might even seize and sell the guarantor’s property to recoup their money.

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 breach of contract?

A failure to follow all or part of a contract or breaking the conditions of a contract without any legal excuse. A breach of contract can be material, minor, actual or anticipatory, depending on the severity of the breaches and their material impact.

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 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.