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Why serviceability is the key to an affordable home loan


When you’re looking for a new home loan, the question is not, ‘How much can I borrow?’ Instead you should be asking, ‘How much can I afford to repay?’ This key factor is one of the ways lenders work out the size of your loan, and it’s called ‘serviceability.’
Everyone would love to have no home loan, but a mortgage is part of life for the majority of us. Obviously, the faster you pay it off, the sooner you’ll be free to use your money to get a bit more out of life.
If you’re thinking of getting a new home loan, you’ve probably jumped online, begun some research and maybe even plugged a few numbers into an online calculator. This is a really good idea to get an understanding of the market and where you stand, but you need to be a little careful.
Online calculators are very general and only give an indicative picture. If you put in your income, the amount you can borrow, according to the calculator, could actually be a lot larger than the amount a lender is willing to approve.
Any lender will look at a lot more than simply how much money you bring home each month. Among other things, they also look at how much leaves your pocket in living expenses. This helps them work out what you have left over from your current commitments to be able to service your loan.
It’s all part of the emphasis on responsible lending and in the long run, while you may not be able to borrow as much as you hoped, you won’t have a loan that’s too big of a financial commitment and stops you from living a good life – going on holidays, affording a new car, or buying that antique teapot you’ve always wanted.


A lender will consider your income from a variety of regular sources like salary, investments or rental income. In turn, they’ll look at your outgoing costs like food, electricity, water, insurances, phones, entertainment subscriptions, other day-to-day costs, and any other ongoing debt repayments like other loans and credit cards. From this, they’ll work out how much you’ll have left to cover the repayments.
For example, you may bring home $5,000 per month after tax, but after all your living costs, of let’s say $2,000, you have $3,000 left over to service a loan. A lender will look at this number and also take into account things like whether you’re single, a couple, or have kids.
Based on this number you may not be able to borrow as much as you thought. But this isn’t everything the lender looks at. Other factors influence the amount you can borrow and your serviceability.


Loan to value ratio (LVR).
Loan to value ratio is just a more formal way of saying how big your deposit is compared to how much you want to borrow for your new home. The LVR is the mortgage amount, divided by the price you’ll pay for the home. Let’s say you have a $60,000 deposit saved. If the home is valued at $600,000 you’ll have a $540,000 mortgage. That’s an LVR of 90 per cent.
Generally lenders are looking for an LVR of 80 per cent or lower. Anything higher and you may need lenders’ mortgage insurance, or LMI. This is to protect the bank from the risk of taking on your debt and will add to your expenses. It will also be considered when assessing your serviceability.
Debt to income ratio (DTI).
Your debt to income ratio is another way a lender will calculate your ability to service a loan. Your DTI is a simple way to put a number to this, and they use this number as a basic guide to see how much you can afford to repay without putting you under unnecessary financial stress.
Your DTI ratio is your total debts divided by your combined income (before tax). A lender will look at your current debts like credit cards, personal loans, and any other repayments, and add the amount you want to borrow. They’ll divide this with your total income to work out your ratio.
For example, if you have current debt of $15,000 and want a $500,000 mortgage, your total debt is $515,000. Divide this by your combined total income of $150,000, and your DTI = 3.43. Most lenders would consider this a pretty good risk. A loan of even four or five times your income is a good ballpark figure.
Not all income is the same.
You may have more than one source of income, all of which the banks will consider in your loan amount. But not all incomes are given the same weight as others. Your take-home pay is still their main focus because it’s a known value, ongoing and dependable. Income from investments and rentals are also good, however, a lender may only allow around 80 per cent of this income, to allow for fluctuations in the share market or periods when a rental property may be vacant.
Interest rate buffers.
Right now interest rates are very low and, chances are, the only way is up. So lenders generally include a buffer on the interest rates of 1 to 2 per cent. You may apply for a loan with a 5 per cent rate, but a lender will calculate your ability to make repayments on a loan of 7.25 per cent. It’s a good idea as it protects you and them from a rise in rates.
Cancel your credit cards.
A lender will look at your current debts to determine serviceability. To improve yours you should consider cancelling a credit card rather than paying it back to zero. Even if your $5,000 card is all clear, lenders look at it as a $5,000 debt you could instantly rack up and will need to make regular payments to.
Don’t forget stamp duty.
Stamp duty is a necessary cost whenever you buy property, so you need to keep this in reserve when considering how much you have for a deposit.
So where do you stand?
As you can see, there are lots of factors lenders consider when trying to determine your loan amount. Serviceability is one of the most important ones but it’s essential you get an accurate picture of where you stand before approaching lenders and even knowing your realistic budget when you start looking at properties. Online calculators can help but, as always, it’s best to speak to a broker. We’re always up-to-date in knowing exactly what lenders are looking for and which lenders will be the right fit for your individual circumstances.

Any advice contained in this article is of a general nature only and does not take into account the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular person. Therefore, before making any decision, you should consider the appropriateness of the advice with regard to those matters. Information in this article is correct as of the date of publication and is subject to change.