Save on your mortgage by going green

Save on your mortgage by going green

Bank Australia has launched Australia’s first green home loan, backed by $60 million in funding from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC).

The CEFC is a statutory authority established under the Clean Energy Finance Corporation Act 2012 (CEFC Act), that invests in clean energy technologies, as defined in the CEFC Act.

The CEFC works in the following areas:

  • Renewable energy: assisting in Australia’s transition to low carbon electricity
  • Built environment: working across commercial, residential and community infrastructure
  • Sustainable economy: investing in agribusiness, green vehicles and cleantech entrepreneurs

 

What is the Clean Energy Home Loan?

The Bank Australia Clean Energy Home Loan will provide prospective homeowners with an interest rate discount of 0.40 per cent on its Premium Package Home Loan, if they borrow less than $1.5 million.

This loan will be applied for the first five years of the loan term and is available for new builds or existing homes that have a star rating of at least 7 under the Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme (NatHERS). This national performance-based rating system is administered by the Department of the Environment and Energy and rates the energy efficiency of a home based on its design.

For homes that do not have a star rating of 7, other ways properties can qualify include:

  • Residential Efficiency Scorecard rating of 7 stars or higher (excluding the impact of installed/installing rooftop solar)
  • Passive House Certification
  • Green Star - Design & As Built v1.2 score of 8 points or higher on the credit ‘15 Greenhouse Gas Emissions’

Does the green loan apply to property upgrades?

Currently, Bank Australia is only offering the discount to the purchase of new builds or existing properties. However, the lender has announced it is planning to launch other sustainable finance options soon, including energy efficient property upgrades and high energy efficiency ratings.

Finance is already turning green

Bank Australia’s clean energy home loan is not the first to reward customers for acting sustainably when it comes to property finance.

The first green home loan was preceded by multiple lenders including Ratesetter, Police Bank and Community First Credit Union offering green personal loans. These loans, with rates as low as 5.99 per cent, reward customers who choose to purchase approved environmentally friendly products, including solar panels and hot water systems.

Investment firms are also getting in on the sustainable finance action, with $7 trillion dollar investment firm BlackRock recently announcing they would be switching their investment strategy to focus on climate action. Whilst this shift will only see BlackRock divesting from companies that obtain more than 25% of sales from thermal coal, and are therefore still investing in fossil fuels, it sends a clear message that climate risk is also investment risk.

The rise of the conscious consumer

From stainless steel lunch boxes to swimwear made from recycled ocean plastic, the past few years have seen consumers switching to sustainable brands that help them reduce their carbon footprint, whilst staying on-trend.

According to Australia Post, 49 per cent of global shoppers in 2019 were looking for retailers taking action to reduce their carbon footprint, and 50 per cent said they would choose to purchase from retailers that offset emissions from shipping. Retailers who act sustainably however, may also find themselves with higher profit margins, as Nielsen findings showed 38 per cent of consumers were willing to pay more for environmentally friendly products.

As household names like Jeanswest go into administration, boutique ethical brands charging more for the privilege are on the rise. This willingness to pay more for products that help the planet signals a shift in purchase behaviour and brand loyalty in a time when consumer spending is low. Whether financial services will capitalise on the sustainability trend by charging a premium on green alternatives is yet to be seen.

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Learn more about home loans

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 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.

What is a low-deposit home loan?

A low-deposit home loan is a mortgage where you need to borrow more than 80 per cent of the purchase price – in other words, your deposit is less than 20 per cent of the purchase price.

For example, if you want to buy a $500,000 property, you’ll need a low-deposit home loan if your deposit is less than $100,000 and therefore you need to borrow more than $400,000.

As a general rule, you’ll need to pay LMI (lender’s mortgage insurance) if you take out a low-deposit home loan. You can use this LMI calculator to estimate your LMI payment.

Who offers 40 year mortgages?

Home loans spanning 40 years are offered by select lenders, though the loan period is much longer than a standard 30-year home loan. You're more likely to find a maximum of 35 years, such as is the case with Teacher’s Mutual Bank

Currently, 40 year home loan lenders in Australia include AlphaBeta Money, BCU, G&C Mutual Bank, Pepper, and Sydney Mutual Bank.

Even though these lengthier loans 35 to 40 year loans do exist on the market, they are not overwhelmingly popular, as the extra interest you pay compared to a 30-year loan can be over $100,000 or more.

What's wrong with traditional ratings systems?

They’re impersonal 

Most comparison sites give you information about rates, fees and features, but expect you’ll pay more with a low advertised rate and $400 ongoing fee or a slightly higher rate and no ongoing fee. The answer is different for each borrower and depends on a number of variables, in particular how big your loan is. Comparisons are either done based on just today or projected over a full 25 or 30 year loan. That’s not how people borrow these days. While you may take a 30 year loan, most borrowers will either upgrade their house or switch their home loan within the first five years. 

You’re also expected to know exactly which features you want. This is fine for the experienced borrower, but most people know some flexibility is a good thing, but don’t know exactly which features offer more flexibility than others. 

What is the flexibility score?

Today’s home loans often try to lure borrowers with a range of flexible features, including offset accounts, redraw facilities, repayment frequency options, repayment holidays, split loan options and portability. Real Time Ratings™ weights each of these features based on popularity and gives loans a ‘flexibility score’ based on how much they cater to borrowers’ needs over time. The aim is to give a higher score to loans which give borrowers more features and options.

They’re not always timely

In today’s competitive home loan market, lenders are releasing new offers almost daily. These offers are often some of the most attractive deals in the market, but won’t get rated by traditional ratings systems for up to a year. 

The assumptions are out of date 

The comparison rate is based on a loan size of $150,000 and a loan term of 25 years. However, the typical loan size is much higher than that. Million dollar loans are becoming increasingly common, especially if you live in metropolitan parts of Australia, like Sydney and Melbourne. It’s also uncommon for borrowers to hold a loan for 25 years. The typical shelf life for a home loan is a few years. 

The other problem is because it’s a percentage, the difference between 3.9 or 3.7 per cent on a $500,000 doesn’t sound like much, but equals around $683 a year. Real Time Ratings™ not only looks at the difference in the monthly repayments, but it will work out the actual cost difference once fees are taken into consideration. 

Who has the best home loan?

Determining who has the ‘best’ home loan really does depend on your own personal circumstances and requirements. It may be tempting to judge a loan merely on the interest rate but there can be added value in the extras on offer, such as offset and redraw facilities, that aren’t available with all low rate loans.

To determine which loan is the best for you, think about whether you would prefer the consistency of a fixed loan or the flexibility and potential benefits of a variable loan. Then determine which features will be necessary throughout the life of your loan. Thirdly, consider how much you are willing to pay in fees for the loan you want. Once you find the perfect combination of these three elements you are on your way to determining the best loan for you. 

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.

How much can I borrow with a guaranteed home loan?

Some lenders will allow you to borrow 100 per cent of the value of the property with a guaranteed home loan. For that to happen, the lender would have to feel confident in your ability to pay off the mortgage and in the security provided by your guarantor.

Does Australia have no-deposit home loans?

Australia no longer has no-deposit home loans – or 100 per cent home loans as they’re also known – because they’re regarded as too risky.

However, some lenders allow some borrowers to take out mortgages with a 5 per cent deposit.

Another option is to source a deposit from elsewhere – either by using a parental guarantee or by drawing out equity from another property.

What is an investment loan?

An investment loan is a home loan that is taken out to purchase a property purely for investment purposes. This means that the purchaser will not be living in the property but will instead rent it out or simply retain it for purposes of capital growth.

What is Lender's Mortgage Insurance (LMI)

Lender’s Mortgage Insurance (LMI) is an insurance policy, which protects your bank if you default on the loan (i.e. stop paying your loan). While the bank takes out the policy, you pay the premium. Generally you can ‘capitalise’ the premium – meaning that instead of paying it upfront in one hit, you roll it into the total amount you owe, and it becomes part of your regular mortgage repayments.

This additional cost is typically required when you have less than 20 per cent savings, or a loan with an LVR of 80 per cent or higher, and it can run into thousands of dollars. The policy is not transferrable, so if you sell and buy a new house with less than 20 per cent equity, then you’ll be required to foot the bill again, even if you borrow with the same lender.

Some lenders, such as the Commonwealth Bank, charge customers with a small deposit a Low Deposit Premium or LDP instead of LMI. The cost of the premium is included in your loan so you pay it off over time.

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.