Right now, is the time to review your debt – it’s costing you money


Although the official cash rate remains on hold, all four major banks in June raised interest rates by between 0.3 and 0.35 percentage points on interest-only home loans, mainly used by investors, while also cutting some other owner-occupied rates by a much smaller amount.

One reason is the prospect of tougher capital rules.

Any week now, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) will reveal how much extra capital banks must hold to be more shock-proof, a change that on its own would dampen profits.

Recent behaviour sees the banks having a track record in passing on the cost of tougher capital requirements to their customers.

A recent Reserve Bank paper pointed out that since 2008, official interest rates set by the RBA had dropped 5.75 percentage points, but the rates banks charge on home loans were only down by around 3.9 percentage points over the same period.

It is highly likely that the next round of capital rules may also see another out of cycle rate increase for investor loans.

A second and related reason why investors and people with interest-only loans may keep copping it is the regulators’ concern about the housing market.

In March, APRA imposed a 30 per cent cap on the proportion of new mortgage lending that can be interest-only, alongside a previous 10 per cent cap on growth in the stock of housing investor loans.

Banks have adjusted to these caps through a combination of tougher lending rules, and price signals.

However, the objective of these two caps is also to limit competition in housing investor lending.

The recent rate hikes by banks should quell some of the RBA’s fears about households’ excessive interest-only borrowing, without any need to move the cash rate.

A third reason why property investors may face higher interest rates is the political target on the banks’ backs. When they are so on the nose with pollies, bankers are naturally hesitant about slugging the majority of mortgage customers, who are owner occupiers, with higher rates.

But when housing affordability is so stretched in NSW and Victoria, it’s a brave politician who comes out and bashes the banks for jacking up rates on landlords.

Whether it is tougher capital rules, curbs on the housing market, or the bank tax, lenders have plenty of excuses to raise interest rates at their disposal. Property investors have become the easiest group for the lenders to target.

With so many changes to lending criteria in the past few months, nobody quite knows where this will end. One thing is certain, however, that investors need advice right now to ensure they are correctly structured.

Many investors who are coming off their 5-year interest only agreement with their Bank, are going to get a rude shock when their Bank denies a further interest only extension of that loan. A possible solution is to apply for an extension today, whilst they are still eligible.

– Carl Thompson – Commercial Lending Specialist, Strategic Investor Group