How to get a home loan: what do lenders look for?

ALASDAIR DUNCAN
What exactly do lenders look for in a borrower? We run through some of the most common questions you might be asked when applying for a home loan.

Your first time applying for a home loan can feel like a significant life milestone. For one thing, a house is a major purchase, generally one of the biggest you’ll make in your life. For another, a lender will want to know as much about you as possible before approving you for a loan in order to determine your borrowing power, and this can mean asking you a lot of questions about your finances.

In this article, we’ll consider the common questions that might come up in the home loan application process, and some common factors that lenders might weigh up when determining your borrowing power and how much they are willing to lend you. We look at:

Where can you go to get a home loan?

There are a variety of lenders that offer home loans in Australia. Most major banks and financial institutions will offer them, provided you meet their eligibility criteria, as will a host of smaller banks, credit unions and non-bank lenders. To give you a rough idea of the level of choice available, there are over 3,000 home loans from more than 80 lenders listed on Canstar’s database at the time of writing. Alternatively, you may consider speaking with a home loan broker.

Depending on the lender you choose, you may be able to apply for a loan online, over the phone or in person at a branch, according to your preference and the availability of branches in your area.

What documents do home loan lenders need to see?

As a preliminary step in the home loan application process, lenders will typically ask to see a number of key documents, in order to verify your identity and assess your financial situation. Before you start the process, it can be a good idea to get these documents in order. They will typically include:

  • 100 points of identification, typically in the form of a driver licence, Medicare card and/or passport
  • Proof of income, which will typically include two to three months’ worth of payslips
  • Proof of savings, typically in the form of two to three months’ worth of bank statements

In addition to this, a lender will likely want to know about any assets you own, such as a car, as well as any liabilities, like credit card debts, a car loan, HECS or HELP balances, and other debts. Some lenders may also ask to see other documents such as tax returns and credit card statements.

In some cases, a lender will ask you to present a list of your monthly expenses on groceries, bills, school fees, and even things like streaming services, in order to get a picture of your disposable income. It can be worthwhile to make a list like this before applying for a loan, to give you an idea of your own household budget.

What is your borrowing power?

Borrowing power is a term that describes the amount of money you might be able to borrow, based on your financial situation. There is an occasionally-stated rule of thumb that banks may be willing to lend up to three to five times an applicant’s annual income, but there are a number of specific factors that will influence your borrowing power, such as your income and expenditures and any debts you might have. Financial institutions will typically assess each of these when deciding how much they are willing to lend you.

What factors do lenders consider in a home loan application?

When considering a home loan application, lenders will typically consider your income, employment history, savings, deposit, spending habits, credit score, and any assets and liabilities. While this is not an exhaustive list, these are all things that most lenders will take into account when deciding whether to approve you for a loan.

Income

Your income has the potential to greatly affect how much money a home loan lender is willing to offer you. As mentioned above, lenders will consider your income when determining your borrowing power, as this will give an indication of how much you can afford in repayments each month. While lenders will look more favourably on a high income, this is certainly not the only determining factor in a home loan application.

Employment history

While your annual income will be an important factor in the home loan application process, lenders will also consider your employment history as a measure of your ability to make repayments on a home loan. Generally speaking, lenders tend to look favourably on a consistent employment record. If you have been in your current job for several years, lenders may well view this positively, as it signals to them that you are settled and stable, and therefore less of a lending risk.

Savings

In general terms, lenders will look more favourably on your application if you have a demonstrated history of contributing money to your savings. Showing a lender that you have the ability to save can be advantageous for two reasons ‒ firstly, because it signals to lenders that you are able to manage your money, and secondly, because the savings you have will likely count towards your deposit when you eventually purchase a home. Demonstrating that your deposit is made up of genuine savings that you’ve grown over time can also give lenders more confidence that you’ll be able to afford your mortgage repayments.

Deposit

The loan-to-value ratio (LVR) of a home loan is the loan size as a percentage of the property’s value – the value minus your deposit, in other words. Lenders may have different LVR ranges for various home loans, which in turn can determine how much you can borrow and how much of a deposit you will need to have saved.

Say, for example, a lender stipulates a maximum LVR of 70% for a particular loan ‒ this would mean you need to have at least a 30% deposit saved. A bigger deposit means a smaller LVR, so the more money you can contribute towards the purchase price of a house from your savings, the lower the LVR and the smaller your loan size. This means you may need to borrow less, and may represent less of a risk to a potential lender. In some cases, this may also be reflected by lower interest rates, with some lenders reserving their cheapest products for high-deposit borrowers. Having a deposit of at least 20% (a maximum LVR of 80%) also generally means you can avoid paying lenders mortgage insurance.

Spending habits

In many cases, lenders will closely examine your bank statements to get an idea of your spending habits, and some may even ask you to provide your credit card statements or an itemised list of your monthly expenses. Lenders may consider how much you spend on living expenses each month, as well as hobbies and entertainment. Generally speaking, an examination of your spending will help lenders form an opinion of whether you live within or beyond your financial means, which in turn can affect the size of any home loan they may be willing to approve you for.

Credit score

Lenders will typically assess your credit score when you apply for a loan. Your credit score is a number that determines how trustworthy you are as a borrower, and is typically measured on a scale of 0 to 1,200 or 0 to 1,000, depending on which credit bureau is calculating the score. Generally speaking, the higher your score, the more desirable a candidate you are to lenders. In general terms, such things as paying your bills on time and making regular progress in paying down debts will help improve your credit score, while bankruptcies, defaults, unpaid debts and multiple unsuccessful loan applications will lower it.

Assets and liabilities

Lenders will generally like to get a picture of your assets and liabilities before approving you for a loan. Your assets can include cars, superannuation and any properties you may own already. Liabilities, on the other hand, can include credit card debts, HECS or HELP debts, or any personal loans, car loans or home loans you may have. You may be surprised to learn that the limit on your credit card can also be a factor lenders may consider. Even if you are up to date on your credit card payments, a lender will still look at your credit card limit as a potential future debt.

Does applying with a partner improve your chances of getting a home loan?

You may well assume that ‘two incomes are better than one’ when it comes to borrowing, but it’s worth keeping in mind that this is not always the case. Joint home loan applications are more complex for lenders to assess than applications from individuals, and there can be advantages and disadvantages to applying with a partner.

On the one hand, a couple may find they have greater buying power together than as individuals, thanks to their combined assets and dual incomes. On the other hand, a couple could also have a higher amount of debt than individuals; even if only one person in the couple has a lot of debt or a low credit score, this could potentially limit that couple’s collective borrowing power.

What are some reasons your home loan application might be denied?

An application for a mortgage is not guaranteed to be approved, and there are a number of common reasons why your application could be denied. A lender may not feel your income is sufficient, you may not have a large enough deposit saved, or the lender may be concerned by your spending and saving habits. Likewise, if your application contains incorrect information, it may be denied.

Insufficient income

If a lender assesses your income and decides that your loan repayments would make up too high a proportion of it, they may not approve you for a home loan. On a similar note, a lender may be less likely to approve an application if you are a contractor or self-employed with fluctuations in pay, as they may be concerned that your income stream is inconsistent.

Unsatisfactory employment history

If you have changed jobs or industries frequently, lenders may be more cautious about approving you for a loan, so you may need to be prepared to provide additional information about your employment history. Likewise, lenders often consider contractors and self-employed people to be more of a risk than people in full-time employment, thanks to a perception that your salary may be less consistent in these kinds of circumstances.

Insufficient deposit

If you have an insufficient deposit saved for the maximum LVR a lender is offering on a home loan, then your application may be denied. Note that if you don’t have a deposit of at least 20% of the bank’s valuation of a property, you may be asked to pay lenders mortgage insurance.

Concern over spending habits

Your spending habits can be another factor for consideration. If lenders look at your bank statements and see that you are not in the habit of saving money, or that you frequently spend on things such as gambling, they may also be hesitant to approve your application.

Low credit score

If you have a low credit score, perhaps due to defaults, missed repayments or bankruptcies, you may find that lenders look less favourably on your application. If you are uncertain as to whether you may have difficulty being approved for a home loan for this reason, there are steps you can take to help you improve your credit score.

Incorrect details on application

It is important to disclose all the relevant information you can when you apply for a home loan. If lenders uncover credit cards or other debts during the process that you have not been upfront in disclosing, your loan application may be declined, and questions will likely arise as to whether there are even further debts that haven’t been disclosed.

While the factors mentioned above can influence a lender’s decision to approve you for a loan, none of them is absolutely determinative on its own. If a lender sees you as more of a risk, for example because of your credit history or employment history, then your loan application may not be denied, but you may need to be prepared to pay a higher deposit, or you may be approved for a smaller loan amount.

Property valuation

Before approving a home loan application, a lender will consider the value of the property you want to purchase, typically by having a professional assessment conducted. If the lender decides that the value of the property is significantly less than what you are proposing to pay, it might deny your application.

This is because the lender may see the loan as too much of a risk, and may be concerned that it will be unable to recoup its losses should you happen to default on your loan.

Cover image source: Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock.com


Compare Home Loans with Canstar

The comparison table below displays some of the variable rate home loan products available on Canstar’s database for first home buyers with links to lenders’ websites. The products displayed are based on loan amounts of $350,000, $400,000 and $500,000 at 95% LVR in NSW, available for principal and interest repayments. The results are sorted by comparison rate (lowest to highest), then by provider name (alphabetically). Before committing to a particular home loan product, check upfront with your lender and read the applicable loan documentation to confirm whether the terms of the loan meet your needs and repayment capacity. Use Canstar’s home loans comparison selector to view a wider range of home loan products. Canstar may earn a fee for referrals.


*Comparison rate based on loan amount of $150,000. Read the Comparison Rate Warning.

*Comparison rate based on loan amount of $150,000. Read the Comparison Rate Warning.

*Comparison rate based on loan amount of $150,000. Read the Comparison Rate Warning.

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This content was reviewed by Sub Editor Jacqueline Belesky and Finance and Lifestyle Editor Shay Waraker as part of our fact-checking process.


Alasdair has more than 15 years of experience as a journalist, and he specialises in property and lifestyle topics for Canstar. He has a Bachelor of Laws (Honours) from the University of Queensland and has lectured at QUT. His work has appeared in outlets including Pedestrian.TV, the ABC and Junkee.

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