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Watchdog names financial health risks

Watchdog names financial health risks

Consumers are being warned about financial products that pose the greatest risk to their financial health in a damning new report.

British banking watchdog, the Financial Services Authority, has released a long list of where the potential dangers lie for individuals – with implications for all Australians.

Mortgages, savings and transactions accounts featured in the list. But the major danger named in the report was the sale of ‘unsuitable financial products’. The FSA blamed a slow economy for pushing consumers towards products which are unsuitable for them, either in terms of risk, meeting their requirements or their understanding of what they are buying.

Martin Wheatley, FSA managing director, said: “Consumers rely on financial firms and their products to provide them with vital services – the means to run their lives. They need to be able to trust that the products they buy work for them and that they are getting a fair deal”.

Australians are largely protected from unscrupulous practices because institutions here have statutory obligations under law that require responsible lending, according to the Australian Banker’s Association (ABA).

Steven Münchenberg, chief executive of the ABA said: “A credit product supplied must be ‘not unsuitable’ for the customer so banks will consider each mortgage application and make an appropriate decision based on the customer’s financial situation”.

Nevertheless Australians are required to take some responsibility for their choice of financial products, which means understanding the terms and conditions before signing on the dotted line.

How to get a fair deal

Free tools are readily available for consumers now; from online calculators and comparison websites to facts sheets, which make it easier to compare apples with apples before applying for a product. 

Under the Federal Government’s banking reform legislation Australian lenders must now provide a home loan facts sheet, on request. The standardised form highlights important information; such as the headline and comparison interest rates, fees and charges, the total financial cost over the life of the loan and information about the impact of rate changes.

Changes to credit cards are next; from July 1, 2012 credit card reform will mean a fairer deal for card holders. Facts sheets will be made available for all new cardholders and greater transparency about terms and conditions will simplify all card contracts.

Finally, consumers should always refer to the product disclosure statement before taking up any financial product and for more information contact your provider.

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Learn more about home loans

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.

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.

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 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.

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. 

What is an ombudsman?

An complaints officer – previously referred to as an ombudsman -looks at formal complaints from customers about their credit providers, and helps to find a fair and independent solution to these problems.

These services are handled by the Australian Financial Complaints Authority, a non-profit government organisation that addresses and resolves financial disputes between customers and financial service providers.

Why is it important to get the most up-to-date information?

The mortgage market changes constantly. Every week, new products get launched and existing products get tweaked. Yet many ratings and awards systems rank products annually or biannually.

We update our product data as soon as possible when lenders make changes, so if a bank hikes its interest rates or changes its product, the system will quickly re-evaluate it.

Nobody wants to read a weather forecast that is six months old, and the same is true for home loan comparisons.

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.

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.

Can I get pre-approval for a home loan from BCU?

BCU offers home loan applicants a pre-approval that is valid for up to three months. To get the pre-approval, you’ll first need to provide information about your homebuying budget and whether you intend to occupy the home, through an online application form. 

A specialist will then discuss your application with you and confirm that you’ve submitted all necessary documents. 

If you meet BCU’s criteria, you could get the conditional approval within 2-3 days of this discussion. 

Remember to get written confirmation of the pre-approval. You can then go back to the bank once you’ve selected the home you want to buy to get the final approval. 

Does UBank offer home loan pre-approvals?

If you’re applying for a home loan with UBank, you can first get an approval in principle. You’ll need to provide information about your job and earnings, your household expenses, the assets you own and the debts you owe. 

UBank will assign a home loan specialist to discuss these details over a phone call, which can take about 30 minutes. 

The bank will then confirm if you’ve received in-principle approval for your home loan. Depending on how you submit your documents, this could take a few days or a few weeks. If successful, the approval will be valid for 60 days. 

How do you calculate how much you could save with a lower rate?

To work out how much you could save, we run the home loan details you’ve provided through our database, and search for similar home loan options that we think would be suitable for you.

We then calculate the costs of these loan options over 15 years (to keep our calculations consistent) and compare them to the cost calculations for your current home loan.