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Banks should exhaust options to keep people struggling in their homes: Regulators

Banks should exhaust options to keep people struggling in their homes: Regulators

Australia’s financial regulators expect banks will exhaust their options to keep people in their homes as best they can if they’re unable to pay off their mortgages. 

The regulators, the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA), also formalised plans to extend mortgage holidays and provided some guidance on how deferred mortgages can be restructured.

‘Deliver consumers appropriate and fair outcomes’: ASIC

ASIC and APRA issued separate public letters to banks yesterday setting out their expectations when it comes to transitioning customers off of mortgage holidays, and the efforts they should make to help customers who may not be able to meet their loan repayments. 

Banks were to “engage” with borrowers whose mortgage deferrals were expiring and consider their individual financial position, giving them options, information and time to make an informed decision, ASIC said in their communications.

“Some lenders have raised queries with ASIC about how to approach situations where they identify that a consumer’s financial difficulties are so severe that they will not be able to repay their loan over the longer-term,” the regulator said.

“ASIC expects lenders to make all reasonable efforts to work with consumers to keep them in their homes if that is in their best interests.”

The regulator acknowledged temporary assistance might make a person’s financial situation worse in some cases.

“Such situations will need to be carefully identified by lenders and involve a high level of engagement with those affected consumers,” ASIC said.

Mortgage holidays can be extended and loans restructured: APRA

About 896,000 mortgages have been granted a repayment deferral for as long as six months, and many of them may be eligible for an extension of a further four months, John Lonsdale said, the deputy chair of the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA). 

“Given the continuing economic uncertainty and to ensure an orderly transition of the (deferred home loan) portfolio whilst supporting borrowers, APRA will … provide authorised deposit-taking institutions (ADIs) with additional time to work with their affected customers through the COVID-19 period,” he said. 

“Additionally, APRA will adjust the capital treatment of loans that are restructured to facilitate ADIs returning borrowers to a sustainable financial position.”

The decision to extend deferred mortgages means the people struggling to make full or partial repayments due to the pandemic do not have to be recognised as being in arrears, as per APRA’s reporting purposes.

How long can I defer my mortgage repayments?

Home loan repayments can be deferred for a maximum of ten months in total -- provided the deferral was put in place before 30 September, 2020.

People who request a deferral of their home loan repayments thereafter will receive a mortgage holiday of six months until 31 March, 2021.

“The temporary capital treatment ends on 1 April 2021 for all loans, irrespective of when the repayment deferral was initially granted or the period remaining on a deferral,” Mr Lonsdale said.

“ADIs should be encouraging borrowers that can restart repayments to do so, and to identify, monitor and manage those loans where this is not possible.”

Restructuring might be better than refinancing: APRA 

The regulator has made it possible for banks to restructure a loan rather than extend the deferral of mortgage repayments. 

“In many cases and dependent upon the circumstances of a customer, it may be more appropriate for an ADI to offer to modify or ‘restructure’ the terms of a loan instead of providing a further repayment deferral,” Mr Lonsdale said. 

He said banks are expected to ‘engage’ with borrowers to determine if their mortgage should be deferred, restructured or recognised as impaired. 

The restructured mortgages will have to meet a benchmark set by the regulator and be restructured before next year’s 31 March deadline.

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This article was reviewed by Personal Finance Editor Alex Ritchie before it was published as part of RateCity's Fact Check process.

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Learn more about home loans

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.

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.

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.

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 do I calculate monthly mortgage repayments?

Work out your mortgage repayments using a home loan calculator that takes into account your deposit size, property value and interest rate. This is divided by the loan term you choose (for example, there are 360 months in a 30-year mortgage) to determine the monthly repayments over this time frame.

Over the course of your loan, your monthly repayment amount will be affected by changes to your interest rate, plus any circumstances where you opt to pay interest-only for a period of time, instead of principal and interest.

Does Westpac offer loan maternity leave options?

Having a baby or planning for one can bring about a lot of changes in your life, including to the hip pocket. You may need to re-do the budget to make sure you can afford the upcoming expenses, especially if one partner is taking parental leave to look after the little one. 

Some families find it difficult to meet their home loan repayment obligations during this period. Flexible options, such as the Westpac home loan maternity leave offerings, have been put together to help reduce the pressure of repayments during parental leave.

Westpac offers a couple of choices, depending on your circumstances:

  • Parental Leave Mortgage Repayment Reduction: You could get your home loan repayments reduced for up to 12 months for home loans with a term longer than a year. 
  • Mortgage Repayment Pause: You can pause repayments while on maternity leave, provided you’ve made additional repayments earlier.

When applying for a home loan while pregnant, Westpac has said it will recognise paid maternity leave and back-to-work salaries. All you need is a letter from your employer verifying your return-to-work date and the nature of your employment. Your partner’s income, government entitlements, savings and investments will may help your application.

How does a mortgage calculator work?

A mortgage calculator is an extremely helpful tool when planning to take out a home loan and working out the costs. Although each mortgage calculator you come across may be slightly different, most will help you estimate how much your repayments will be. The calculator will often also show you the difference in repayments if you repay weekly, monthly or fortnightly. 

To calculate these figures, you’ll be asked to enter a few details. These include the amount you plan to borrow, whether you’re an owner-occupier or an investor, the proposed interest rate and the home loan term. It will also often show you the total interest you’ll be charged and the total amount you’ll repay over the life of the loan.  

Understanding how the mortgage calculator works, helps you to use it to see how different loan amounts, interest rates and terms affect your repayments. This can then help you choose a home loan that you can repay comfortably and save on interest costs. The mortgage calculator lets you compare the benefits and costs of home loans from different lenders to help you make a more informed choice. Use a mortgage calculator to help identify which home loan is most suitable for your requirements and financial situation.

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.

How much are repayments on a $250K mortgage?

The exact repayment amount for a $250,000 mortgage will be determined by several factors including your deposit size, interest rate and the type of loan. It is best to use a mortgage calculator to determine your actual repayment size.

For example, the monthly repayments on a $250,000 loan with a 5 per cent interest rate over 30 years will be $1342. For a loan of $300,000 on the same rate and loan term, the monthly repayments will be $1610 and for a $500,000 loan, the monthly repayments will be $2684.

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.

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.

Can I take a personal loan after a home loan?

Are you struggling to pay the deposit for your dream home? A personal loan can help you pay the deposit. The question that may arise in your mind is can I take a home loan after a personal loan, or can you take a personal loan at the same time as a home loan, as it is. The answer is that, yes, provided you can meet the general eligibility criteria for both a personal loan and a home loan, your application should be approved. Those eligibility criteria may include:

  • Higher-income to show repayment capability for both the loans
  • Clear credit history with no delays in bill payments or defaults on debts
  • Zero or minimal current outstanding debt
  • Some amount of savings
  • Proven rent history will be positively perceived by the lenders

A personal loan after or during a home loan may impact serviceability, however, as the numbers can seriously add up. Every loan you avail of increases your monthly installments and the amount you use to repay the personal loan will be considered to lower the money available for the repayment of your home loan.

As to whether you can get a personal loan after your home loan, the answer is a very likely "yes", though it does come with a caveat: as long as you can show sufficient income to repay both the loans on time, you should be able to get that personal loan approved. A personal loan can also help to improve your credit score showing financial discipline and responsibility, which may benefit you with more favorable terms for your home loan.

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 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.