NAB, Westpac, and CBA have lowered serviceability tests for refinance home loans: what does that mean?

NAB, CBA, and Westpac logos against an Australian street

Over the last two months, NAB, Westpac, and Commonwealth Bank have all announced they will lower the home loan ‘stress test’ for select refinancers from the standard 3% to 1%. For eligible borrowers, this means instead of having to qualify for mortgage rates as high as 9%, they may only have to pass 7%. 

But the move has raised eyebrows among Australian regulators, who justifiably argue that the 3% serviceability buffer exists for a reason. 

So what does this change mean for borrowers refinancing with the Big Four? And is this a bad move for the banks? Let’s dive in.

What is home loan serviceability?

Woman comparing her home loan interest rates

Usually, when customers apply for home loans, the lender will assess their ability to pay interest rates 3% above and below the rate they’re applying for. 

For example, if you apply for a 5% interest rate, the lender will test your ability to make repayments (“service your loan”) at 8%. The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) requires this 3% buffer to prevent high-risk lending to borrowers who can’t afford rises and falls in their variable interest rate home loans.

However, interest rates have easily jumped more than 3% in the last year, thanks primarily to lenders passing along rate hikes from the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA). Many borrowers have scrambled to refinance their mortgages and escape ballooning monthly repayments, but some have run into immense trouble with the 3% serviceability test

Many of the most recent borrowers bought during the Australian property boom when home loan interest rates were at an attractive low. In July 2020, the average variable rate for owner-occupied home loans sat at just 3.40% in the Mozo database. Now, the average rate for the same loan is 6.57% – 317 basis points higher. 

So while buyers back then would only have to qualify for interest rates at 6%, now they have to qualify for rates at 9% or above, and for those already struggling, that’s just not attainable. Unable to refinance, they may find themselves home loan hostages, or worse, mortgage prisoners.

Refinancers with the Big Four could face an easier mortgage stress test

Man depositing coins into his home loan piggy bank

For eligible refinancers applying to home loans with Westpac, CBA, and NAB, that 3% stress test has been brought down to 1%. So no, a refinancer applying for a loan of 6% only has to qualify for rates up to 7%, which may be more realistic than 9%. (So far, no changes have been made at ANZ).

Customers will still need to demonstrate a good home loan credit score and clean debt history, as well as any minimum LVR or monthly repayment requirements the individual Big Bank may have. However, the changes could make it easier for borrowers to refinance and escape unbearably high interest rates.

Is it a good idea to lower serviceability requirements for home loans?

Woman smiling in front of locked away money

These latest changes from the Big Four have drawn the eyes of APRA, the original creator of the 3% serviceability test. The idea of the test was to stop lenders from taking advantage of borrowers when they first take out a home loan. If you buy it, you must be able to afford it. 

In a letter to the big banks, APRA chairman John Lonsdale urged that the 3% stress test still applies, save for specific “exceptions” in “limited” situations.

“The serviceability buffer provides a contingency for rises in interest rates over the life of the loan, as well as for any unforeseen changes in a borrower’s income or expenses,” Lonsdale explains.

“With the potential for interest rates to rise further, inflation still high, and the possibility of weaker labour market outcomes, the buffer is an important risk mitigant.”

However, Lonsdale admits so long as the banks remain prudent and honour the spirit of the serviceability buffer, as well as actively report which loans they approve under the new 1%, it can help reduce the risk to both the bank and their borrowers. 

In the meantime, it’s still vital for refinancers to clean up their finances before switching home loans, namely by:

  • Monitoring their spending and saving.
  • Clearing extra debt.
  • Checking their application for home loan red flags.

Compare refinance home loans in the table below.

Home loan comparisons on Mozo

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Last updated 22 July 2024 Important disclosures and comparison rate warning*
  • Unloan Variable

    • Owner Occupier
    • LVR <80%
    Interest rate
    5.99 % p.a.
    Variable
    Comparison rate
    5.90 % p.a.
    Initial monthly repayment
    $2,995
    Go to site

    Built by CommBank, the Unloan is the first home loan with an increasing discount (conditions apply) for borrowers. No application or banking fees. No monthly account keeping or early exit fees. Apply online in minutes.

  • Basic Home Loan

    • Owner Occupier
    • LVR<60%
    • Principal & Interest
    Interest rate
    6.14 % p.a.
    Variable
    Comparison rate
    6.16 % p.a.
    Initial monthly repayment
    $3,043
    Go to site

    Enjoy a low rate home loan with $0 application fee and $0 ongoing fees. Flexibility to split your loan and set different repayment types. Fee free redraw from your loan using online banking. Flexible ways to repay. 40% Deposit required.

  • Neat Home Loan

    • Owner Occupier
    • Principal & Interest
    • LVR <60%
    Interest rate
    6.09 % p.a.
    Variable
    Comparison rate
    6.11 % p.a.
    Initial monthly repayment
    $3,027
    Go to site

    Competitively-priced variable rate loan. Ideal for owner occupiers and investors. No service fees to pay. Make free extra repayments and redraws. Flexible repayment schedule available.

  • Special Real Deal Home Loan

    • Owner Occupier
    • Principal & Interest
    • LVR <80%
    Interest rate
    6.09 % p.a.
    Variable
    Comparison rate
    6.13 % p.a.
    Initial monthly repayment
    $3,027
    Go to site

    Refinancers or first home buyers pay no monthly or annual fees. Flexibility to choose your repayment schedule (weekly, fortnightly or monthly). Redraw facility available. Split your home loan into multiple loan accounts.

  • Optimum Fixed Rate Home Loan

    • Owner Occupier
    • Principal & Interest
    Interest rate
    5.69 % p.a.
    Fixed 3 years
    Comparison rate
    6.34 % p.a.
    Initial monthly repayment
    $2,899
    Go to site

    Lock in a competitive interest rate and enjoy peace of mind for the fixed period. Available for owner occupied new and refinanced home loans with at least 20% deposit. Split option available as well as offset and redraw. Noapplication, ongoing or banking fees. Third Party fees may be applicable - payable within loan repayments. Extra repayments up to $20K per annum permitted. Apply online, 100% member owned credit union.

  • Unloan Variable

    • Owner Occupier
    • LVR <80%
    Interest rate
    5.99 % p.a.
    Variable
    Comparison rate
    5.90 % p.a.
    Initial monthly repayment
    $2,995
    Go to site

    Built by CommBank, the Unloan is the first home loan with an increasing discount (conditions apply) for borrowers. No application or banking fees. No monthly account keeping or early exit fees. Apply online in minutes.

  • Flex Home Loan

    • Fixed
    • Owner Occupier
    • Principal & Interest
    • LVR <60%
    Interest rate
    5.99 % p.a.
    Fixed 3 years
    Comparison rate
    6.34 % p.a.
    Initial monthly repayment
    $2,995
    Go to site

    Competitive Fixed rate. Multiple offset accounts available. Borrowers can also make extra repayments. Redraw facility available. Simple online application process. 40% deposit required.

  • Express Home Loan

    • Owner Occupier
    • Principal & Interest
    • LVR <90%
    Interest rate
    6.01 % p.a.
    Variable
    Comparison rate
    6.14 % p.a.
    Initial monthly repayment
    $3,001
    Go to site

    Get online approval from the award-winning Bendigo Bank Express Home Loan. Multiple offset accounts and redraw available. 100% offset on variable rate loans and partial offset on fixed rate. Flexible repayment options. New home loans only.

  • Neat Home Loan

    • Owner Occupier
    • Principal & Interest
    • LVR <60%
    Interest rate
    6.09 % p.a.
    Variable
    Comparison rate
    6.11 % p.a.
    Initial monthly repayment
    $3,027
    Go to site

    Competitively-priced variable rate loan. Ideal for owner occupiers and investors. No service fees to pay. Make free extra repayments and redraws. Flexible repayment schedule available.

  • Special Real Deal Home Loan

    • Owner Occupier
    • Principal & Interest
    • LVR <80%
    Interest rate
    6.09 % p.a.
    Variable
    Comparison rate
    6.13 % p.a.
    Initial monthly repayment
    $3,027
    Go to site

    Refinancers or first home buyers pay no monthly or annual fees. Flexibility to choose your repayment schedule (weekly, fortnightly or monthly). Redraw facility available. Split your home loan into multiple loan accounts.

  • Fixed Rate Loan

    • Owner Occupier
    • Principal & Interest
    • LVR <80%
    Interest rate
    6.09 % p.a.
    Fixed 3 years
    Comparison rate
    6.15 % p.a.
    Initial monthly repayment
    $3,027

    Additional repayments of up to $10K per fixed year. Interest rate discounts available. Waiver of $499 application fee when combined with an Orange Advantage Home Loan.

  • Basic Home Loan

    • Owner Occupier
    • LVR<60%
    • Principal & Interest
    Interest rate
    6.14 % p.a.
    Variable
    Comparison rate
    6.16 % p.a.
    Initial monthly repayment
    $3,043
    Go to site

    Enjoy a low rate home loan with $0 application fee and $0 ongoing fees. Flexibility to split your loan and set different repayment types. Fee free redraw from your loan using online banking. Flexible ways to repay. 40% Deposit required.

  • Mortgage Simplifier

    • LVR<80%
    • Owner Occupier
    • Principal & Interest
    Interest rate
    6.14 % p.a.
    Variable
    Comparison rate
    6.17 % p.a.
    Initial monthly repayment
    $3,043

    Get a competitive variable rate with ING’s Mortgage Simplifier. Free extra repayments, no monthly or annual fees. Freedom to make free extra repayments or redraws.

  • Flex Home Loan

    • Owner Occupier
    • Principal & Interest
    • LVR <60%
    Interest rate
    6.14 % p.a.
    Variable
    Comparison rate
    6.38 % p.a.
    Initial monthly repayment
    $3,043
    Go to site

    Competitive variable rate. Multiple offset accounts available. Borrowers can also make extra repayments. Redraw facility available. Simple online application process. 40% deposit required.

  • Offset Home Loan

    • Owner Occupier
    • LVR<60%
    • Principal & Interest
    Interest rate
    6.14 % p.a.
    Variable
    Comparison rate
    6.39 % p.a.
    Initial monthly repayment
    $3,043
    Go to site

    Ability to open up to 10 offset accounts per loan account. Fast online application. Linked Debit Mastercard® with fee-free access at ATMs across Australia. Package a credit card with your home loan and the annual card fee will be waived (T&Cs apply). 40% deposit required.

  • Basic Home Loan

    • Fixed
    • Owner Occupier
    • Principal & Interest
    • LVR<70%
    Interest rate
    6.25 % p.a.
    Fixed 3 years
    Comparison rate
    6.20 % p.a.
    Initial monthly repayment
    $3,079
    Go to site

    No upfront or ongoing fees. Free extra repayments and redraw facility. Option to earn Qantas points. Min 30% deposit required. Borrow up to $10,000,000.

  • Offset Home Loan

    • Fixed
    • Owner Occupier
    • Principal & Interest
    • LVR <70%
    Interest rate
    6.25 % p.a.
    Fixed 3 years
    Comparison rate
    6.42 % p.a.
    Initial monthly repayment
    $3,079
    Go to site

  • Fixed Rate

    • Owner Occupier
    • Principal & Interest
    • <80% LVR
    Interest rate
    6.54 % p.a.
    Fixed 2 years
    Comparison rate
    7.10 % p.a.
    Initial monthly repayment
    $3,174

    Enjoy up to $3000 cashback for eligible first home buyers and $2000 cashback for refinancers on eligible home loans with the ANZ Fixed Rate Home Loan. Get the security of repayment certainty with a competitive locked in rate. No ongoing fees to pay. Offset account on 1-year fixed loans ($10/month fee applies). Interest-only payments allowed.

image of houses

Need help with refinancing?

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* WARNING: This comparison rate applies only to the example or examples given. Different amounts and terms will result in different comparison rates. Costs such as redraw fees or early repayment fees, and cost savings such as fee waivers, are not included in the comparison rate but may influence the cost of the loan. The comparison rate displayed is for a secured loan with monthly principal and interest repayments for $150,000 over 25 years.

** Initial monthly repayment figures are estimates only, based on the advertised rate. You can change the loan amount and term in the input boxes at the top of this table. Rates, fees and charges and therefore the total cost of the loan may vary depending on your loan amount, loan term, and credit history. Actual repayments will depend on your individual circumstances and interest rate changes.

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