Why smaller mortgage lenders often come out on top

Why smaller mortgage lenders often come out on top

Borrowers are doing themselves a disservice if they refuse to at least consider taking out a mortgage with a lender outside the big four banks.

Statistics show that the big four banks provide most of the home loans in Australia. But the question needs to be asked – why?

That’s because when it comes to interest rates and customer service, challenger lenders often outperform the big four.

Interest rates

Challenger lenders typically offer lower rates than the big four banks, according to a home loan comparison on RateCity.

Take an owner-occupier who wants to borrow $400,000 over 30 years at a loan-to-value ratio (LVR) of 80 per cent. According to a search on RateCity that was made shortly before this article was published, challenger lenders had 28 of the 30 lowest comparison rates available.

Price isn’t everything, so you can’t assume that a lower-priced mortgage is always superior than a higher-priced mortgage. Still, 28 out of 30 is a compelling statistic.

Customer service

Surveys show that consumers get better customer service from challenger lenders than the big four banks.

This is the consistent finding from Roy Morgan Research’s monthly bank customer satisfaction survey.

In the most recent survey, covering the first six months of the year, challenger lenders had an average satisfaction rating of 84.8 per cent, compared to 79.8 per cent for the big four.

Why do challenger lenders outperform the big four on customer service? It turns out that size matters.

Because challenger lenders are smaller, they’re more flexible and less bureaucratic. Also, they have less money to spend on marketing, which forces them to try harder.

Misplaced anxiety

So why, then, do so many people automatically choose a big four bank when they want a mortgage?

Habit is one reason. If your parents banked with a big four bank, and then got you a savings account with that bank when you were a child, it can seem natural to turn to that bank when you take out your first home loan.

Fear is another reason. People understandably feel anxious when they sign up for a mortgage, so they want to do something – anything – to reduce that anxiety. Because big banks feel safer than smaller lenders, it’s easy to believe that a mortgage from a big bank must be safer than a mortgage from a smaller bank.

However, that ignores an important point – which is that the party taking the risk on a mortgage is the lender, not the borrower.

So if, hypothetically, you were to borrow $400,000 from a lender and that lender was to then collapse, you wouldn’t lose anything.

Does that mean you wouldn’t have to repay the $400,000? Sadly, no. If the distressed lender was bought out by a rival, that rival would now own your mortgage, so you’d have to repay them (under the same terms). If the distressed lender failed to find a buyer and entered liquidation, you’d have to repay the liquidator (again, under the same terms).

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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

How can I avoid mortgage insurance?

Lenders mortgage insurance (LMI) can be avoided by having a substantial deposit saved up before you apply for a loan, usually around 20 per cent or more (or a LVR of 80 per cent or less). This amount needs to be considered genuine savings by your lender so it has to have been in your account for three months rather than a lump sum that has just been deposited.

Some lenders may even require a six months saving history so the best way to ensure you don’t end up paying LMI is to plan ahead for your home loan and save regularly.

Tip: You can use RateCity mortgage repayment calculator to calculate your LMI based on your borrowing profile

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 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.

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.

How much can I borrow with a guaranteed home loan?

Some lenders will allow you to borrow 100 per cent of the value of the property with a guaranteed home loan. For that to happen, the lender would have to feel confident in your ability to pay off the mortgage and in the security provided by your guarantor.

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.

Which mortgage is the best for me?

The best mortgage to suit your needs will vary depending on your individual circumstances. If you want to be mortgage free as soon as possible, consider taking out a mortgage with a shorter term, such as 25 years as opposed to 30 years, and make the highest possible mortgage repayments. You might also want to consider a loan with an offset facility to help reduce costs. Investors, on the other hand, might have different objectives so the choice of loan will differ.

Whether you decide on a fixed or variable interest rate will depend on your own preference for stability in repayment amounts, and flexibility when it comes to features.

If you do not have a deposit or will not be in a financial position to make large repayments right away you may wish to consider asking a parent to be a guarantor or looking at interest only loans. Again, which one of these options suits you best is reliant on many factors and you should seek professional advice if you are unsure which mortgage will suit you best.

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 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 are the pros and cons of no-deposit home loans?

It’s no longer possible to get a no-deposit home loan in Australia. In some circumstances, you might be able to take out a mortgage with a 5 per cent deposit – but before you do so, it’s important to weigh up the pros and cons.

The big advantage of borrowing 95 per cent (also known as a 95 per cent home loan) is that you get to buy your property sooner. That may be particularly important if you plan to purchase in a rising market, where prices are increasing faster than you can accumulate savings.

But 95 per cent home loans also have disadvantages. First, the 95 per cent home loan market is relatively small, so you’ll have fewer options to choose from. Second, you’ll probably have to pay LMI (lender’s mortgage insurance). Third, you’ll probably be charged a higher interest rate. Fourth, the more you borrow, the more you’ll ultimately have to pay in interest. Fifth, if your property declines in value, your mortgage might end up being worth more than your home.

How much deposit will I need to buy a house?

A deposit of 20 per cent or more is ideal as it’s typically the amount a lender sees as ‘safe’. Being a safe borrower is a good position to be in as you’ll have a range of lenders to pick from, with some likely to offer up a lower interest rate as a reward. Additionally, a deposit of over 20 per cent usually eliminates the need for lender’s mortgage insurance (LMI) which can add thousands to the cost of buying your home.

While you can get a loan with as little as 5 per cent deposit, it’s definitely not the most advisable way to enter the home loan market. Banks view people with low deposits as ‘high risk’ and often charge higher interest rates as a precaution. The smaller your deposit, the more you’ll also have to pay in LMI as it works on a sliding scale dependent on your deposit size.

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.