There have been stories emerging in recent years about banks getting a little too familiar when assessing home loan applications. “Why did you spend all that money on duty free at the airport a few months back?”
“That was a big bill at that fancy restaurant, how often do you dine out at the top end of town?
These may not be exact quotes, but they are the types of questions people are being asked when applying for home loans these days. Don’t worry, the bank’s loan assessment team aren’t following you on flights or spying from adjacent restaurant tables, but they do have a forensic level of access to your expenditure.
It’s a far cry from the days of banks just approving loans that are around five times your yearly income, give or take a 2.25% repayment buffer in case of a rate rise or rainy day.
Times have changed
A decade of events like the GFC and royal commission on banking have forced banks to get serious about responsible lending. Regulations have been put in place so stop borrowers being approved for finance they are unable to cope with.
Meanwhile the ready availability of more and more consumer behavior data makes it easier to predict if you will be unable to service a loan. One feature of this brave new lending world is that lifestyle expenses are now taken into account when assessing loan applications.
You might say “I work hard, I can afford a mortgage, what I spend my spare money on is my business”. Well that’s true, but who a bank lends money to is their business too, and they now have to make snap judgements on whether it’s wise – and legal – to lend money to you. So, like it or not, your lifestyle spending habits go hand in hand with your loan serviceability. And that’s where the Home Expenditure measure (HEM) comes into play.
OK, so what is it?
Dreamt up by an economic think tank a number of years back, the HEM is a standard guide that lenders use to estimate what a potential borrower might spend on annual living expenses. That figure may then be added to whatever algorithm a lender uses to assess a loan application. The HEM is believed to be used for the great majority of home loans applied for each year.
The HEM takes into account the borrower’s location, their dependents, their total income (some lenders include rental income as part of the total gross income) and the type of lifestyle they live. Most borrowers fall into the ‘basic’ lifestyle category, estimated to spend just over $32,000 a year, while those considered ‘lavish’ spend closer to $60,000.
Items considered ‘absolute basics’ include food and supermarket, coffee, lunches and takeaway, entertainment (includes cigarettes and alcohol), domestic and international holidays, hairdressing and grooming, media streaming and subscription services, phone, internet and pay TV, utilities, transport, communication, kid’s clothing, while ‘discretionary basics’ may be gifts, private health fund, private education, fashion and childcare.
The HEM calculates the median spend on absolute basics, plus the 25th percentile spend on discretionary basics.
How do banks use it?
Ordinarily, if you apply for a loan, the bank will ask you to estimate your weekly or monthly spend on various expenses. They then compare your estimation to what the HEM tells them about people with a similar profile to you (those living in your neighbourhood, with the same number of kids, similar income, etc).
To be conservative, the lender will often use the higher of the two estimated spends when figuring out whether you can afford the loan.
Is it accurate?
Banks have been criticised for relying too heavily on the HEM because it is often deemed to underestimate what people spend on lifestyle and may therefore leave them stuck, unable to pay off a loan. Banks have therefore been pressured to take extra steps in conducting their due diligence in verifying spending.
That is where some of those questions about your big one-off splurges may be asked. You may “conveniently forget” to include some of your more frivolous spending habits in your own estimations, but be called to answer for them anyway, which may make you seem untrustworthy. Honesty is the best policy when applying for a loan.