ACCC slams banks for synchronised swimming' on mortgage rates

ACCC slams banks for synchronised swimming' on mortgage rates

In a pulling-no-punches speech at the Australian Financial Review (AFR) Banking and Wealth Summit, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chairman Rod Sims called out the nation’s big banks for allegedly using home loan interest rate discounts to maintain market stability rather than to provide their customers with healthy competition.

Based on the interim report from the Financial Services Unit (FSU), to investigate competition in Australia’s banking and financial system, Mr Sims refuted claims from the nation’s leading banks that the mortgage discounts they offer are indicative of healthy competition, instead describing these discounts as a measure of a gap between the actual rate charged by the bank and a reference or headline rate that the bank decided for itself and that almost nobody ever pays.”

“Internal documents reviewed by the ACCC reveal a lack of vigorous price competition between the five Inquiry Banks (ANZ, Commonwealth, NAB, Westpac and Macquarie), and the big four banks in particular. In fact, their behaviour more resembles synchronised swimming than it does vigorous competition.”

“What we found is that the pricing behaviour of the Inquiry Banks appears more consistent with ‘accommodating’ a shared interest in avoiding the disruption of mutually beneficial pricing outcomes, rather than vying for market share by offering the lowest interest rates.”

It was also alleged that the big four banks (which represent approximately 80% of all outstanding residential mortgages held by banks in Australia) determine their headline interest rates based largely on the actions of one another, and pay little attention to the more than 100 other residential mortgage lenders in the Australian marketplace.

The lion’s share of home loan discounts from the big four banks were found to be being offered to new customers rather than existing customers, with data from 2015 to 2017 showing that existing borrowers on standard variable interest rate residential mortgages were paying interest rates up to 32 basis points higher (on average) than new borrowers – a saving of approximately $1200 in interest over the first year of a $375,000 mortgage.

But while Australians may be able to get a better deal by switching lenders, according to Mr Sims, the sometimes obtuse nature of home loan pricing and discounting makes it difficult for many Australians to easily compare different mortgage offers and make an informed decision of which loans would be best suited to their personal finances.

“At worst, the ‘hassle factor’ of comparing and switching should be a bug in the system; it shouldn’t be a feature which benefits an industry lacking in vigorous competition.”

Mr Sims voiced his support of proposed open banking initiatives, which could help to make these processes more transparent and simpler for everyday bank customers to navigate.

Mr Sims concluded his speech by reiterating the importance of healthy competition in the banking sector, arguing that the recent failures and scandals in the industry were not caused by excessive competition, but often by “inappropriate behaviour and endemic short termism, possibly driven by a desire for huge bonuses.”

“If we continue to insulate our major banks from the consequences of their poor decisions, we risk stifling the cultural change many say is needed within our major banks to put the needs of their customers first.”

The ACCC’s final report into residential mortgages is due to be released 30 June 2018.

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Learn more about home loans

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.

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 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.

Interest Rate

Your current home loan interest rate. To accurately calculate how much you could save, an accurate interest figure is required. If you are not certain, check your bank statement or log into your mortgage account.

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.

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 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.

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.

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. 

Can I get a home loan if I am on an employment contract?

Some lenders will allow you to apply for a mortgage if you are a contractor or freelancer. However, many lenders prefer you to be in a permanent, ongoing role, because a more stable income means you’re more likely to keep up with your repayments.

If you’re a contractor, freelancer, or are otherwise self-employed, it may still be possible to apply for a low-doc home loan, as these mortgages require less specific proof of income.

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.

Is there a limit to how many times I can refinance?

There is no set limit to how many times you are allowed to refinance. Some surveyed RateCity users have refinanced up to three times.

However, if you refinance several times in short succession, it could affect your credit score. Lenders assess your credit score when you apply for new loans, so if you end up with bad credit, you may not be able to refinance if and when you really need to.

Before refinancing multiple times, consider getting a copy of your credit report and ensure your credit history is in good shape for future refinances.

I have a poor credit rating. Am I still able to get a mortgage?

Some lenders still allow you to apply for a home loan if you have impaired credit. However, you may pay a slightly higher interest rate and/or higher fees. This is to help offset the higher risk that you may default on your repayments.

I can't pick a loan. Should I apply to multiple lenders?

Applying for home loans with multiple lenders at once can affect your credit history, as multiple loan applications in short succession can make you look like a risky borrower. Comparing home loans from different lenders, assessing their features and benefits, and making one application to a preferred lender may help to improve your chances of success