The signs of a healthy home loan

Australians are health-conscious people. According to the National Health Performance Authority, we tend to visit our GPs between 2.6 and 7.5 times a year, depending on where we live — in Sydney alone, the frequency ranges from 4.9 in the North Shore to 7.5 in the city’s south west. These visits aren’t just about curing some obscure malady, but also about checking up on our health and making sure everything’s running smoothly — you want to nip any potential issues in the bud. 

But Australians shouldn’t just be thinking of their bodies as temples that need regular upkeep — they should think the same way about their home loans (in fact, for all we know, these mortgages may well be funding the purchase of temples). 

Here are a few indicators you should be evaluating to ensure your home loan is still fighting fit. 

How does your rate measure?

Generally, when you check your thermometer, the lower the number, the better — within reason. The Victorian government’s Better Health Channel informs us that approximately 37 degrees Celsius is normal body temperature. The higher up you go, the worse the fever is. 

Interest rates are similar to this, except you want them to be as low as possible. Take a look around and do a home loan comparison — how does your one compare? It could be, with the Reserve Bank having cut the official cash rate twice in the last four months, there are some much more affordable options out there now. 

Have your circumstances changed?

Our health issues can often be the result of some recent lifestyle shifts. Got a bung knee? Perhaps you’ve recently started doing more physical activities. Dealing with a cough? Maybe you’ve recently taken up smoking. 

Likewise, a change in your circumstances can make a home loan that once fit like a glove suddenly inadequate. For instance, you might have recently started a new job, or perhaps given up your old one, changing your monthly income. Or maybe you’ve started a family. In 2013, an AMP and University of Canberra report estimated that the average parent spends from $144 (for kids aged 0-4) to $717 (for those 18-24) a week on each child. That’s at least around $576-$2868 a month not going into your savings account, or your mortgage.

What goodies do you get to take home?

A typical GP visit is often followed by a quick trip to the pharmacy to pick up a cocktail of medicines that you’ll have to carefully take later on. It might even involve being given special tools that you’ll have to use to get better. 

Don’t put up with a home loan that withholds the necessary features you need to pay down your debt and build equity. Other products might offer mortgage offset accounts, which help you pay less interest, allow a redraw facility or even let you make additional payments on your home loan without being charged a fee. Your home loan should too. 

Are you paying for unnecessary charges and fees?

One of the signs that our bodies might not be in the best of shape is if we suddenly find it harder to do certain things we’ve never had a problem with before. Your friends can wolf down their curries, but you end up with a stomach ache, to the point of vomiting. Why are you paying this price?

It turns out, you should be asking the same question about your home loan. Unreasonable fees and charges shouldn’t be slowing you down, preventing you from paying off your mortgage quicker. These can include everything from charges on paying interest in advance, to redraw and service fees. The latter may be small — only around $10 a month — but put it in your home loan calculator, and over the course of 20 years, that can add up to thousands. 

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Who has the best home loan?

Determining who has the ‘best’ home loan really does depend on your own personal circumstances and requirements. It may be tempting to judge a loan merely on the interest rate but there can be added value in the extras on offer, such as offset and redraw facilities, that aren’t available with all low rate loans.

To determine which loan is the best for you, think about whether you would prefer the consistency of a fixed loan or the flexibility and potential benefits of a variable loan. Then determine which features will be necessary throughout the life of your loan. Thirdly, consider how much you are willing to pay in fees for the loan you want. Once you find the perfect combination of these three elements you are on your way to determining the best loan for you. 

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 a variable home loan?

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.

What is an ongoing fee?

Ongoing fees are any regular payments charged by your lender in addition to the interest they apply including annual fees, monthly account keeping fees and offset fees. The average annual fee is close to $200 however there are almost 2,000 home loan products that don’t charge an annual fee at all. There’s plenty of extra costs when you’re buying a home, such as conveyancing, stamp duty, moving costs, so the more fees you can avoid on your home loan, the better. While $200 might not seem like much in the grand scheme of things, it adds up to $6,000 over the life of a 30 year loan – money which would be much better off either reinvested into your home loan or in your back pocket for the next rainy day.

Example: Anna is tossing up between two different mortgage products. Both have the same variable interest rate, but one has a monthly account keeping fee of $20. By picking the loan with no fees, and investing an extra $20 a month into her loan, Josie will end up shaving 6 months off her 30 year loan and saving over $9,000* in interest repayments.

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 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 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.

Can I change jobs while I am applying for a home loan?

Whether you’re a new borrower or you’re refinancing your home loan, many lenders require you to be in a permanent job with the same employer for at least 6 months before applying for a home loan. Different lenders have different requirements. 

If your work situation changes for any reason while you’re applying for a mortgage, this could reduce your chances of successfully completing the process. Contacting the lender as soon as you know your employment situation is changing may allow you to work something out. 

What if I can't pay off my guaranteed home loan?

If you can’t pay off your guaranteed home loan, your lender might chase your guarantor for the money.

A guaranteed home loan is a legally binding agreement in which the guarantor assumes overall responsibility for the mortgage. So if the borrower falls behind on their mortgage, the lender might insist that the guarantor cover the repayments. If the guarantor fails to do so, the lender might seize the guarantor’s security (which is often the family home) so it can recoup its money.

What is a debt service ratio?

A method of gauging a borrower’s home loan serviceability (ability to afford home loan repayments), the debt service ratio (DSR) is the fraction of an applicant’s income that will need to go towards paying back a loan. The DSR is typically expressed as a percentage, and lenders may decline loans to borrowers with too high a DSR (often over 30 per cent).

How can I calculate interest on my home loan?

You can calculate the total interest you will pay over the life of your loan by using a mortgage calculator. The calculator will estimate your repayments based on the amount you want to borrow, the interest rate, the length of your loan, whether you are an owner-occupier or an investor and whether you plan to pay ‘principal and interest’ or ‘interest-only’.

If you are buying a new home, the calculator will also help you work out how much you’ll need to pay in stamp duty and other related costs.

What is a fixed home loan?

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.

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.