Home loan serviceability: What is it and how can you increase yours?

Calculating your home loan serviceability.

When taking out a home loan, the amount a bank or lender will grant you will depend on a few things. Along with your loan to value ratio (LVR), you’ll also likely hear the term “serviceability” pop up.

Recently, there's been talk between regulatory bodies about tightening serviceability laws, which could mean potential borrowers will have access to less funds. So what does serviceability mean, and why is it so important? 

Home loan serviceability meaning

When a bank calculates your serviceability, they are essentially gauging your ability to pay off a loan. They do this by looking at your income and expenses (among other factors) and determining how much you could comfortably afford to pay. 

Based on this information, banks will generate your debt service ratio (DSR). This is how much of your monthly income you can expect to go towards servicing your debt, expressed as a percentage.

While there’s some flexibility when setting serviceability floors, banks will generally err on the side of caution. That’s because the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) holds banks to strict standards to ensure they’re not issuing loans to borrowers that can’t afford them.

How is serviceability calculated?

When determining your ability to service a home loan, banks will take your after-tax income and subtract expenses and any other liabilities, such as credit card debt or money owed on another loan.

Banks will also add a buffer to your home loan interest rate to accommodate any future hikes. That means if you sign up for a $500,000 loan with an interest rate of 2.5% p.a., you’ll be assessed on your ability to pay off that same loan at a higher rate.

Before July 2019, lenders would use a minimum interest rate of at least 7%. But this was deemed needlessly high and amended to better reflect the current interest rate environment. Nowadays, lenders are advised to add a margin of at least 2.5% to a loan’s rate.

How is income assessed?

Of course, the amount you earn in a year will feature pretty highly on the list of things lenders will be looking at. But how it’s assessed is not always so clear cut, as in the case of money received from working overtime.

Those who work in emergency services can generally expect to have overtime payments included in their serviceability assessments. But for professions where overtime payments aren’t so frequent, or aren’t as integral a part of the job, lenders might consider them at a reduced rate.

Restrictions will also apply to any income you receive from second jobs. For example, if you freelance or work in the gig economy to supplement income from your main job, any money you earn may only be considered if you have held the job continuously and for a certain period of time.

As for income from rental properties and investments, lenders will apply a buffer to account for any vacancy periods or fluctuations in the market, meaning that any money you receive will only be partially assessed.

How can you increase your serviceability?

How much you’ll be able to borrow will ultimately depend on your lender and the criteria they use, but that’s not to say there aren’t things you can do to put your best foot forward. Below are the main ways you can increase your home loan serviceability.

  • Increase your income
  • Reduce debt
  • Reduce your expenses
  • Lower your credit limits

Increase your income: The most obvious way to increase your serviceability (though by no means the easiest) is to increase the amount of money you earn. You could do this by asking your employer for a raise, applying for a higher paying job, or even taking on a second job.

Reduce your expenses:
Lenders will scrutinise your spending habits over the three months prior to applying for a home loan, so if you want to boost your borrowing power you’ll have to rein in any unnecessary purchases and show you can be responsible with your money.

Reduce debt:
If you have any existing debt, try to pay it off as soon as possible. If you’re not sure where to start, identify which debt is accruing the most interest and tackle that one first.

Lower your credit limits:
When determining your serviceability, lenders will usually calculate your minimum monthly repayment at 3% of your approved credit card limit. High credit limits don’t go over well, so try to reduce them where you can. And if you have any unused cards it’s a good idea to cancel them too.

If you’re thinking of taking out a loan, use our home loan borrowing calculator to get a rough estimate of your borrowing power based on your current income and living expenses. And if you’re wondering where rates currently sit, browse our home loan comparison page for an idea.

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