Australian Finance Group amends clawback rules as mortgage holders rush to refinance

One of Australia’s biggest mortgage provider groups has tweaked how broker commissions are refunded when people take their business elsewhere, as borrowers refinance in large numbers to take advantage of record low interest rates.

Australian Finance Group (AFG) will now recoup 100 per cent of a broker’s commission for the first three months if a borrower refinances or pays off the home loan, followed by a monthly proportionate step-down for the remaining 21 months of the two-year clawback period. 

This applies to AFG Retro and AFG Link home loans funded by the company’s in-house lending division, AFG Securities, settled from September 15.

Normally, lenders clawback the full amount of the commission if the mortgage is refinanced or paid off in the first year, before the clawback falls to a smaller amount in the second year.

Many brokers often pass this on to their customers as a fee, so they can still be paid for their work.

AFG Securities’ general manager Damian Percy said the current clawback cliffs are “arbitrary and need to change”.

“Lenders will assert that upfront commissions should reflect the value that the broker delivers and must necessarily recognise that a loan that only lasts a year or two is, at best, a break-even proposition for the lender,” he said.

“In contrast, brokers can reasonably argue that the arbitrary clawback ‘cliffs’ that exist today simply don’t reflect the fact that as time goes on the lender’s position improves.”

Mr Percy questioned whether the traditional clawback policy supports the best interest duty of mortgage brokers.

“There still should be recognition that a loan that discharges very shortly after settlement was arguably a poor transaction for all concerned,” he said.

Are clawbacks good or bad for consumers?

Some critics argue that passing clawbacks onto the borrower can undermine any savings they may tap into from low interest rates.

About 80 per cent of mortgage holders would not consider a broker who passes on the clawback fee to the borrower, a survey commissioned by uno Home Loans in 2018 showed.

The same proportion of respondents were not aware of what clawback clauses were. 

It is estimated that 5 per cent of brokers pass clawbacks onto clients, according to the survey.

“Clawbacks can be a barrier to acting in the customer’s best interest in some cases,” founder of uno Home Loans, Vincent Turner, told RateCity.

“We believe that a commission model that aligns to the best interests of the customer should be where we head as an industry.” 

But Blake Buchanan, general manager of Specialist Finance Group, acknowledged that while clawbacks needed reform, they should be done without undermining competition in the mortgage lender market.

“To remove clawbacks entirely would likely increase costs to the end user and… could result in a more concentrated market. Fewer competitors usually means higher margins in any market,” he said.

Mr Buchanan said clawbacks help encourage brokers to connect borrowers with home loans that could be the best option for them.

“Clawbacks reduce the potential churning of finance by incentivising the broker to make the best product selection, (due to a) lower chance of refinancing or paying out a loan within 24 months, from the outset,” he said.

Mr Buchanan said clawbacks can help drive healthy competition and even out the playing field between smaller and bigger lenders, potentially benefiting everyday mortgage holders with lower interest rates.

“What this has driven is a more price-competitive market where small lenders can compete with larger lenders… and make them reduce their rates and fees to compete for your loan.”

The refinancing boom

AFG’s decision comes as new data reveals an increase in refinancing during the COVID-19 pandemic and the tougher lender competition it has fuelled.

More than 113,000 Australians have changed their mortgage lenders, refinancing to the tune of $53.7 billion worth of home loans in the four months to July, the latest figures from Australian Bureau of Statistics showed.

The rise of refinancing may mean a higher chance of more consumers being hit with a clawback.

If you are considering refinancing, it could be a good idea to ask your current broker:

  • whether they would pass on any clawbacks to you if you were to switch, and 
  • if so, how much the fee would be. 

It may be worthwhile to weigh this fee up against the benefits of refinancing to see if switching stacks up for you. You should also ask about clawbacks to any brokers you may be in talks with for a new home loan.

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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.

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. 

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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

When should I switch home loans?

The answer to this question is dependent on your personal circumstances – there is no best time for refinancing that will apply to everyone.

If you want a lower interest rate but are happy with the other aspects of your loan it may be worth calling your lender to see if you can negotiate a better deal. If you have some equity up your sleeve – at least 20 per cent – and have done your homework to see what other lenders are offering new customers, pick up the phone to your bank and negotiate. If they aren’t prepared to offer you lower rate or fees, then you’ve already done the research, so consider switching.

Are bad credit home loans dangerous?

Bad credit home loans can be dangerous if the borrower signs up for a loan they’ll struggle to repay. This might occur if the borrower takes out a mortgage at the limit of their financial capacity, especially if they have some combination of a low income, an insecure job and poor savings habits.

Bad credit home loans can also be dangerous if the borrower buys a home in a stagnant or falling market – because if the home has to be sold, they might be left with ‘negative equity’ (where the home is worth less than the mortgage).

That said, bad credit home loans can work out well if the borrower is able to repay the mortgage – for example, if they borrow conservatively, have a decent income, a secure job and good savings habits. Another good sign is if the borrower buys a property in a market that is likely to rise over the long term.

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 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.