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

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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This article was reviewed by Senior Journalist Tony Ibrahim before it was published as part of RateCity's Fact Check process.

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Learn more about home loans

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.

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.

What are the responsibilities of a mortgage broker?

Mortgage brokers act as the go-between for borrowers looking for a home loan and the lenders offering the loan. They offer personalised advice to help borrowers choose the right home loan for their needs.

In Australia, mortgage brokers are required by law to carry an Australian Credit License (ACL) if they offer credit assistance services. Which is the legal term for guidance regarding the different kinds of credit offered by lenders, including home loan mortgages. They may not need this license if they are working for an aggregator, for instance, as a franchisee. In both these situations, they need to comply with the regulations laid down by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).

These regulations, which are stipulated by Australian legislation, require mortgage brokers to comply with what are called “responsible lending” and “best interest” obligations. Responsible lending obligations mean brokers have to suggest “suitable” home loans. This means loans that you can easily qualify for,  actually meet your needs, and don’t prove unnecessarily challenging for you.

Starting 1 January 2021, mortgage brokers must comply with best interest obligations in addition to responsible lending obligations. These require mortgage brokers to act in the best interest of their customers and also requires them to prioritise their customers’ interests over their own. For instance, a mortgage broker may not recommend a lender who gives them a commission if that lender’s home loan offer does not benefit that particular customer.

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.

How to break up with your mortgage broker

If you find a mortgage broker giving you generic advice or trying to sell you a competitive offer from an unsuitable lender, you might be better off  breaking up with the mortgage broker and consulting someone else. Breaking up with a mortgage broker can be done over the phone, or via email. You can also raise a complaint, either with the broker’s aggregator or with the Australian Financial Complaints Authority as necessary.

As licensed industry professionals, mortgage brokers have the responsibility of giving you accurate advice so that you know what to expect when you apply for a home loan. You may have approached the mortgage broker, for instance, because you have questions about the terms of a home loan a lender offered you. 

You should remember that mortgage brokers are obliged by law to act in your best interests and as part of complying with The Australian Securities and Investments Commission’s (ASIC) regulations. If you feel you didn’t get the right advice from the mortgage broker, or that you lost money as a result of accepting the broker’s suggestions regarding a lender or home loan offer, you can file a complaint with the ASIC and seek compensation. 

When you first speak to a mortgage broker, consider asking them about their Lender Panel, which is the list of lenders they usually recommend and who may pay them a commission. This information can help you decide if the advice they give you has anything to do with the remuneration they may receive from one or more lenders.

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.

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.

What are the different types of home loan interest rates?

A home loan interest rate is used to calculate how much you’ll pay the lender, usually annually, above the amount you borrow. It’s what the lenders charge you for them lending you money and will impact the total amount you’ll pay over the life of your home loan. 

Having understood what are home loan rates in general, here are the two types you usually have with a home loan:

Fixed rates

These interest rates remain constant for a specific period and are a good option if you’re a first-time buyer or if you’re looking for a fixed monthly repayment. One possible downside of a fixed rate is that it may be higher than a variable rate. Also, you don’t benefit from any lowering of interest rates in the market. On the flip side, if rates go up, your rate won’t change, possibly saving you money.

Variable rates

With variable interest rates, the lender can change them at any time. This change can be based on economic conditions or other reasons. Changes in interest rates could be beneficial if your monthly repayment decreases but can be a problem if it increases. Variable interest rates offer several other benefits often not available with fixed rate home loans like redraw and offset facilities and free extra repayments. 

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. 

Can I get a home renovation loan with bad credit?

If you're looking for funds to pay for repairs or renovations to your home, but you have a low credit score, you need to carefully consider your options. If you already have a mortgage, a good starting point is to check whether you can redraw money from that. You could also consider applying for a new home loan. 

Before taking out a new loan, it’s good to note that lenders are likely to charge higher interest rates on home repair loans for bad credit customers. Alternatively, they may be willing to lend you a smaller amount than a standard loan. You may also face some challenges with getting your home renovation loan application approved. If you do run into trouble, you can speak to your lender and ask whether they would be willing to approve your application if you have a guarantor or co-signer. You should also explain the reasons behind your bad credit rating and the steps that you’re taking to improve it. 

Consulting a financial advisor or mortgage broker can help you understand your options and make the right choice.

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.

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 do I apply for a home improvement loan?

When you want to renovate your home, you may need to take out a loan to cover the costs. You could apply for a home improvement loan, which is a personal loan that you use to cover the costs of your home renovations. There is no difference between applying for this type of home improvement loan and applying for a standard personal loan. It would be best to check and compare the features, fees and details of the loan before applying. 

Besides taking out a home improvement loan, you could also:

  1. Use the equity in your house: Equity is the difference between your property’s value and the amount you still owe on your home loan. You may be able to access this equity by refinancing your home loan and then using it to finance your home improvement.  Speak with your lender or a mortgage broker about accessing your equity.
  2. Utilise the redraw facility of your home loan: Check whether the existing home loan has a redraw facility. A redraw facility allows you to access additional funds you’ve repaid into your home loan. Some lenders offer this on variable rate home loans but not on fixed. If this option is available to you, contact your lender to discuss how to access it.
  3. Apply for a construction loan: A construction loan is typically used when constructing a new property but can also be used as a home renovation loan. You may find that a construction loan is a suitable option as it enables you to draw funds as your renovation project progresses. You can compare construction home loans online or speak to a mortgage broker about taking out such a loan.
  4. Look into government grants: Check whether there are any government grants offered when you need the funds and whether you qualify. Initiatives like the HomeBuilder Grant were offered by the Federal Government for a limited period until April 2021. They could help fund your renovations either in full or just partially.