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How to shop for a mortgage without hurting your credit

How to shop for a mortgage without hurting your credit

Buying a house is likely the biggest financial commitment you’ll make in life. So, it’s important to ensure you’ve got all your ducks in a row before applying for home loan pre-approval, to avoid negatively impacting your credit score.

After all, the most competitive credit products are typically reserved for excellent credit borrowers, so it makes sense to prioritise your credit file as you reach this significant financial milestone.

Rushing the process and submitting a home loan application before your financial health is in its optimal state could increase your risk of being knocked back, leaving you without a home loan, and with a recent enquiry on your file.

With this in mind, consider the following tips to avoid hurting your credit when shopping for a mortgage:

1. Boost your credit score 

First things first, it’s important to have an understanding of how your credit score is currently tracking.

Whether you need to improve your credit score or simply work towards retaining an already excellent one, there are certain behaviours you can implement to help you achieve this. Some of these include:

  • Regularly checking your credit score – Credit reporting bureaus such as Experian and Equifax are required to grant you access to a free copy of your credit file once every 12 months. Taking advantage of this will allow you to ensure there are no discrepancies on your file, and to have them corrected if there are.
  • Making your repayments on time – If you have existing debts, such as a credit card or personal loan, making sure you meet your regular repayments on time can be beneficial to your credit file. Consider setting up automatic payments through your internet banking to take the guesswork out of it.
  • Paying down existing debts – If you have the ability to make extra repayments on your loans or pay more than the minimum amount due on your credit card, this can be advantageous in multiple ways, including reducing the amount of interest you’ll pay and demonstrating responsible credit behaviours.

Consider visiting RateCity’s credit score hub for more information on credit scores and to check your credit score for free.

2. Practise good spending and saving behaviours

To ensure they are following responsible lending obligations, mortgage lenders will thoroughly assess your finances – and this typically includes going through your bank statements.

Lenders ultimately need to determine whether they are confident you will be able to service the home loan you are applying for, and your bank statements can provide important insights into this. They may look at the kinds of purchases you make, your saving habits, and your overall living expenses.

Lenders typically require you to submit two to three months’ worth of bank statements, which means the sooner you start fine-tuning your spending and saving behaviours, the sooner you’ll be prepared to apply for a home loan. 

3. Set aside money for additional expenses

Mortgage lenders may also take into consideration whether you have enough money saved to not only cover the deposit, but also any additional costs such as applicable government charges, legal fees, property valuation fees, and lenders mortgage insurance (LMI).

If you don’t have enough set aside to cover these expenses when you submit your home loan application, you may risk having it rejected.

4. Apply for a realistic amount

It should go without saying that a lender will only approve you for a loan that they have reason to believe you can afford. So, it’s important to understand exactly how much you can realistically afford to borrow before you apply.

Lenders determine your borrowing power by comparing your total assessable income to your total living expenses, including existing debts. Some lenders will also factor in a buffer of around 15 per cent of your income (to cover any unforeseen circumstances) before they calculate the amount you can afford to borrow.

Additionally, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) requires lenders to ensure borrowers can repay their loan at 2.5 per cent more than the current ongoing interest rate – or the ‘serviceability floor’ rate set by the bank (whichever is higher). This is to allow for the fluctuation of variable interest rates.

To make it easier for you to calculate how much you may be able to borrow, RateCity’s borrowing power calculator can provide you with an estimate in a few simple steps.

5. Consult a mortgage broker

Implementing all of these tips should help you strengthen your home loan application, limiting the risk of having it knocked back and hurting your credit score.

However, if you feel that you could benefit from having the help of a professional to guide you through the home loan application process, it might be worth considering consulting a mortgage broker.

A broker can assist you by assessing your finances, reviewing your documentation, helping you with your application, and finding loans that suit your requirements.

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Fact Checked -

This article was reviewed by Personal Finance Editor Alex Ritchie before it was published as part of RateCity's Fact Check process.

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Learn more about home loans

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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.

How long can you fix a home loan rate for?

Most lenders should let you fix your interest rate for anywhere between one and five years. While rare, a few lenders may offer fixed rate terms for as long as 10 years.

Fixing your home loan interest rate for a longer term can keep your budgeting fairly straightforward, as you shouldn't have to factor in changes to your mortgage repayments if variable rates change, such as when the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) changes its rates at its monthly meeting. Additionally, if variable rates rise during your fixed rate term, you can continue to pay the lower fixed rate until the fixed term ends, potentially saving you some money.

Of course, a longer fixed term also means a longer length of time where you may have less flexibility in your home loan repayments. It’s also a longer period where you won’t be able to refinance your mortgage without paying break fees. If variable rates were to fall during this period, you may also be stuck paying a higher fixed rate for a longer period.

Can you borrow the deposit for a home loan?

Most lenders will want the majority of your home loan deposit to be made up of ‘genuine savings’ which is income earned from your job. While a small number of lenders may let you use a personal loan or a credit card to help cover the cost of your deposit, this may potentially cost you more in interest, and put your finances at higher risk.

If you haven’t saved a full deposit, it may be possible to effectively borrow the deposit for a mortgage with the help of a guarantor. This is usually a parent of other family member who guarantees your mortgage with the equity in their own property.

It may also be possible to borrow the money for a home loan deposit from a family member (e.g. the Bank of Mum & Dad) or a friend, provided you draw up a formal legal agreement to pay this money back, showing your mortgage lender that you’re taking responsibility.

How fast can you get a home equity loan?

Completing an application for a home equity loan may only take 20 to 30 minutes. It may take a lender anywhere from a day to a few weeks to process and approve your application. This may be affected by your financial situation, your level of equity, and whether or not your lender needs to organise an in-persona valuation of the property.

 Before you can apply for a home equity loan, you’ll need to build up some equity in your property. The more money you can put towards extra repayments to reduce your home loan principal, the faster you can increase your equity. Also, if property values in your area increase, this may help deliver an instant equity increase once your property has been valued.

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 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.

What is an interest-only loan? How do I work out interest-only loan repayments?

An ‘interest-only’ loan is a loan where the borrower is only required to pay back the interest on the loan. Typically, banks will only let lenders do this for a fixed period of time – often five years – however some lenders will be happy to extend this.

Interest-only loans are popular with investors who aren’t keen on putting a lot of capital into their investment property. It is also a handy feature for people who need to reduce their mortgage repayments for a short period of time while they are travelling overseas, or taking time off to look after a new family member, for example.

While moving on to interest-only will make your monthly repayments cheaper, ultimately, you will end up paying your bank thousands of dollars extra in interest to make up for the time where you weren’t paying off the principal.

How is the flexibility score calculated?

Points are awarded for different features. More important features get more points. The points are then added up and indexed into a score from 0 to 5.

What is equity and home equity?

The percentage of a property effectively ‘owned’ by the borrower, equity is calculated by subtracting the amount currently owing on a mortgage from the property’s current value. As you pay back your mortgage’s principal, your home equity increases. Equity can be affected by changes in market value or improvements to your property.

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.

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.

What's the difference between Real Time Ratings and comparison rates?

A comparison rate calculates the cost of a $150,000 loan over 25 years. While a comparison rate is a good industry benchmark, it doesn’t consider your specific lending requirements.

Real Time RatingsTM factors in essential information like your loan size, your loan-to-value ratio (LVR), whether you want an offset account and whether you are an investor or an owner-occupier.

What are exit and discharge fees?

The Federal Government banned exit fees in 2011, removing one of the biggest barriers to taking switching home loan providers. Lenders can still legally charge a discharge fee, which is payable when you come to the end of your home loan, however these fees are relatively small at an average of $304 while 134 products don’t have them at all.

What does pre-approval' mean?

Pre-approval for a home loan is an agreement between you and your lender that, subject to certain conditions, you will be able to borrow a set amount when you find the property you want to buy. This approach is useful if you are in the early stages of surveying the property market and need to know how much money you can spend to help guide your search.

It is also useful when you are heading into an auction and want to be able to bid with confidence. Once you have found the property you want to buy you will need to receive formal approval from your bank.

What is an investment loan?

An investment loan is a home loan that is taken out to purchase a property purely for investment purposes. This means that the purchaser will not be living in the property but will instead rent it out or simply retain it for purposes of capital growth.

Can I borrow extra on my mortgage for furniture?

Yes, you may be able to borrow extra on your mortgage for furniture. This may be done by considering a home equity loan. A home equity loan may allow you to access the equity in your mortgage for furniture via:

  • A line of credit – A pre-approved credit limit based on your equity.
  • A lump sum payment – Like a persona loan, with equity in your home loan used as security.

If you want to avoid borrowing more money, consider accessing cash deposited into your offset account or drawing down on extra repayments with a redraw facility to fund furniture purchases.