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Responsible lending rules are on the cutting board this federal budget

Responsible lending rules are on the cutting board this federal budget

The responsible lending obligations that place the burden on banks to make sure a person can afford to repay the debt they’re being sold could be scrapped in the upcoming federal budget, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has said.

The move is designed to make credit available to more people quicker as the country climbs out of its first recession in almost three decades, Mr Frydenberg said, in an opinion piece published in The Australian.

“Lenders have become increasingly risk averse and overly conservative. As a consequence, borrowers, irrespective of their financial circumstances, have faced an ever more intrusive, difficult and drawn-out approval process,” he said.

“The removal of responsible lending obligations (RLO) substantially will cut red tape and improve consumer outcomes.

“It will restore balance to the system after 10 years of regulatory creep that has seen the pendulum swing too far away from borrower beware to lender beware.”

Getting credit? Here’s what it could mean

Responsible lending obligations were introduced after the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). They prohibit financial institutions from selling, suggesting or helping a borrower sign a credit contract if the product is “unsuitable” for them, according to the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC).

They place the obligation on banks to inquire, verify and assess a customer’s financial situation before granting them a credit card, a personal loan or a mortgage, among other kinds of credit.

The Reserve Bank’s view on responsible lending obligations

Mr Frydenberg paraphrased select testimony from Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) Governor Philip Lowe in his thinking behind eliminating responsible lending laws.

“I think the principles in the legislation are sound, but I think the way we've translated those principles into reality needs looking at again,” Dr Lowe said, before a standing economics committee in the house of representatives last month.

“... We can't have a world in which, if a borrower can't repay the loan, it's always the bank's fault. 

“On a portfolio basis, we want banks to make some loans that actually go bad, because if a bank never makes a loan that goes bad it means it's not extending enough credit.”

He added fewer banks had expressed concerns “in the past three or four months” following new guidance introduced by ASIC. 

“Institutions are gradually coming to grips with those,” he said.

Four consumer groups denounce the plan

Consumer groups were quick to denounce the indication responsible lending obligations could be scrapped in the coming federal budget, due October 6.

The Consumer Action Law Centre, Financial Counselling Australia, Financial Rights Legal and Choice released a joint statement asserting borrowers need more income, not more debt.

“Watering down credit protections will leave individuals and families at severe risk of being pushed into credit arrangements that will hurt in the long term,” Karen Cox said, chief executive of Financial Rights Legal Centre, and an opening witness to the recent banking royal commission.

“Our service helped thousands of Australians drowning in debt and we continue to see legacy debt that predates the Hayne Royal Commission. How can we have so quickly forgotten the hard lessons from the GFC and the Hayne Royal commission?”

Businesses generally praised the move

Others welcomed the news, including property developers and investors, claiming the elimination of RLO will give the economy a much needed jump start at a time when it needs it.

“The measures announced by the Treasurer today appear focused on getting the balance right between a fit-for-purpose framework, which supports the flow of credit with regulatory oversight and consumer protections in place,” Ken Morrison said, chief executive of the Property Council of Australia. 

“A competitive and well-functioning credit market, subject to prudent regulatory oversight, will help more Australians buy or invest in property, improving housing supply and affordability and support jobs and economic growth.”

Only responsible lending practices will be scrapped, Treasurer Frydenberg said, and not other regulatory checks and balances introduced after the GFC.

Other financial reforms will stay in place

 “Importantly, the many additional protections the Coalition has introduced will remain in place, including the best interest duty for mortgage brokers, ASIC’s product intervention power, design and distribution obligations on lenders, and the continued free access to consumers to dispute resolution via the Australian Financial Complaints Authority,” he said.

“As the economy emerges from the COVID-induced recession, we know credit will be essential to the speed and strength of recovery. 

“These reforms are in pursuit of that objective.”

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Fact Checked -

This article was reviewed by Finance Writer Alison Cheung before it was published as part of RateCity's Fact Check process.

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Learn more about home loans

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.

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. 

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.

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.

How can I qualify for a joint home loan if my partner has bad credit?

As a couple, it's entirely possible that the credit scores of you and your partner could affect your financial future, especially if you apply for a joint home loan. When applying for a joint home loan, if one has bad credit, there may be steps that can help you to qualify even with bad credit, including:

  • Saving for a higher deposit, ideally 20 per cent or more. Keep in mind:  a borrowed amount of less than 80 per cent of the property value also saves the cost of Lender's Mortgage Insurance (LMI).
  • Consistent employment records, regular savings habits, and an economical lifestyle can help prove financial stability and responsibility. These can improve your chances of approval even if there are some negative marks on a credit report.
  • Delaying your decision to buy a property until your partner’s credit score improves. Alternatively, you may want to consider a solo application.

While these tips may assist, if you find this overwhelming, consider consulting an expert advisor who can offer personal guidance based on your financial situation.

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.

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 long can you fix a home loan rate for?

Most lenders should let you fix your interest rate for anywhere between one and five years. While rare, a few lenders may offer fixed rate terms for as long as 10 years.

Fixing your home loan interest rate for a longer term can keep your budgeting fairly straightforward, as you shouldn't have to factor in changes to your mortgage repayments if variable rates change, such as when the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) changes its rates at its monthly meeting. Additionally, if variable rates rise during your fixed rate term, you can continue to pay the lower fixed rate until the fixed term ends, potentially saving you some money.

Of course, a longer fixed term also means a longer length of time where you may have less flexibility in your home loan repayments. It’s also a longer period where you won’t be able to refinance your mortgage without paying break fees. If variable rates were to fall during this period, you may also be stuck paying a higher fixed rate for a longer period.

Can you borrow the deposit for a home loan?

Most lenders will want the majority of your home loan deposit to be made up of ‘genuine savings’ which is income earned from your job. While a small number of lenders may let you use a personal loan or a credit card to help cover the cost of your deposit, this may potentially cost you more in interest, and put your finances at higher risk.

If you haven’t saved a full deposit, it may be possible to effectively borrow the deposit for a mortgage with the help of a guarantor. This is usually a parent of other family member who guarantees your mortgage with the equity in their own property.

It may also be possible to borrow the money for a home loan deposit from a family member (e.g. the Bank of Mum & Dad) or a friend, provided you draw up a formal legal agreement to pay this money back, showing your mortgage lender that you’re taking responsibility.

How fast can you get a home equity loan?

Completing an application for a home equity loan may only take 20 to 30 minutes. It may take a lender anywhere from a day to a few weeks to process and approve your application. This may be affected by your financial situation, your level of equity, and whether or not your lender needs to organise an in-persona valuation of the property.

 Before you can apply for a home equity loan, you’ll need to build up some equity in your property. The more money you can put towards extra repayments to reduce your home loan principal, the faster you can increase your equity. Also, if property values in your area increase, this may help deliver an instant equity increase once your property has been valued.

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 do I save for a mortgage when renting?

Saving for a deposit to secure a mortgage when renting is challenging but it can be done with time and patience. If you’re on a single income it can be even more difficult but this shouldn’t discourage you from buying your own home.

To save for a deposit, plan out a monthly budget and put it in a prominent position so it acts as a daily reminder of your ultimate goal. In your budget, set aside an amount of money each week to go into a savings account so you can start building up the ‘0’s’ in your account.  There are a range of online savings accounts that offer reasonable interest, although some will only off you high rates for the first few months so be wary of this.

If you aren’t able to save a large deposit, you can consider ways of entering the market that require small or no deposits. This can include getting a parent to act as guarantor for your home loan or entering the market with an interest only 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.