What a HECS/HELP debt means for your home loan application

A HECS debt can reduce your income and serviceability potential when applying for a home loan. But it's the least worrying form of debt you can have.

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If you’re a university graduate, it’s likely that you’ve accumulated HECS-HELP debt during your tertiary studies. Many students choose to defer payment of their tertiary education through this higher education loan program with the intention of paying the government back once they start working.

Your higher education debt may have been a non-issue during your course when you were darting in and out of lectures, but you have to face the music once you enter the workforce and reach a certain income threshold.

In essence, a HECS/HELP debt is treated like any other liability during a home loan application. Because it reduces your income, your serviceability potential and borrowing capacity is lowered, which increases your risk profile. But because this debt doesn't come with interest and repayments are taken automatically from your salary it won't hurt your borrowing power as much as other debts.

But there are steps you can take to minimise the effects of your help debt and potentially increase your borrowing capacity.

However, there are steps you can take to raise your chance of qualifying for finance.

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How can a HECS debt affect my chance of qualifying for a loan?

When you apply for a home loan, the lender will ask you to disclose information about your liabilities, including the number of dependents that you have, poor credit ratings as well as any other debts. This is where your HECS/HELP debt comes in.

If you’ve decided to defer part or all of your HECS/HELP payment, then you normally aren’t required to start repaying the debt until your annual taxable income is $51,309 or greater.

Once you reach this threshold, your employer will withhold 4% of your taxable income, which will be directed towards your HECS/HELP debt. The amount of withheld salary will increase once you start earning $77,248 or more.

Data from the Australian Scholarship Group (ASG) indicates that an average four-year bachelor degree ranges from $18,000 and $30,000, depending on the institution. This is a hefty debt, which can reduce your home loan serviceability potential.

As a result, the lender will review this debt carefully (just like other personal liabilities such as credit cards or number of dependents) when deciding whether or not you’re in a sound financial position to repay the loan.

How can a HECS debt affect my borrowing power?

As stated above, HECS debt payments are withheld from your taxable income starting at a rate of 4% once you hit the annual taxable income threshold $51,309, and rising to a maximum of 8% once your income reaches $77,248 or more.

Because HECS debt effectively reduces your income, it also reduces your borrowing power. And the amount by which it reduces your borrowing power can be significant. Take a look at the figures below:

Screen Shot 2016-07-12 at 4.39.03 PM
As you can see from finder.com.au's Borrowing Power Calculator, an income of $100,000 with no other debts would allow you to borrow approximately $664,000.

Now if HECS debt were to effectively reduce that income by 8%, it's clear below how borrowing power would be impacted.

Screen Shot 2016-07-12 at 4.45.20 PM

As you can see, borrowing power has been reduced by $56,000.

Obviously, the example above is a slight simplification. Different lenders may have different criteria by which they assess HECS debt, and its impact on your borrowing power will vary depending on your income and the size of your HECS debt. However, regardless of how lenders choose to treat it, HECS debt will have an impact on your borrowing power.

Should I pay off my HECS debt?

HECS debt in general is an inexpensive debt, as it doesn't accrue interest but is instead indexed against inflation. Always seek expert advice, but in general, unless you believe your HECS debt will disqualify you for a home loan or drastically reduce your borrowing power, it's usually more effective to devote extra funds toward paying off higher interest debt such as credit cards, car loans or personal loans.


How can I improve my chance of qualifying?

Having a HECS/HELP debt can negatively affect your ability to qualify for a loan, so here are some ways you can improve your chance of qualifying:

  • Request credit file. Before applying for a home loan, you should order a copy of your credit file to understand your financial position. Reviewing your credit file can help you understand how you will be perceived as a borrower and whether you need to take any steps to improve your credit status.
  • Reduce existing debt. If you have several debts such as personal loans or credit cards, you may want to consider consolidating them to benefit from a lower interest rate. However, be careful about combining short-term debt with long-term debt due to the variation in loan terms. For instance, if you took out a $10,000 personal loan at 14.5% interest over five years, you would have monthly repayments of $235 and total interest payable of $4,117. However, if you decided to consolidate this debt into your mortgage over 30 years (even at an average interest rate of 4.5%), the total interest payable on this portion of the loan would be significantly higher, as it’s extended over a longer term.
  • Evidence of savings. As a HECS/HELP debt greatly reduces your income and serviceability potential, you should be proactive about demonstrating that you have a good savings record. This can be done by making regular deposits into a high-interest savings account, as it shows the lender that you have financial discipline.
  • Speak to a broker. A licensed mortgage broker can help you understand your home loan options and your borrowing capacity. Mortgage brokers have expert knowledge of the home loan industry and can help you find a specialist lender that may be more likely to approve your application despite your HECS/HELP debt. A broker can also help you complete the paperwork and negotiate a competitive rate on your behalf.
  • Be candid. When you approach a broker or lender, you need to be honest about your financial position. This means you need to disclose all details regarding your assets and liabilities, including your HECS/HELP debt. If you omit this from conversations, you risk applying for the wrong home loan product, defaulting on your home loan or potentially experiencing mortgage stress.
  • Be conservative. It’s important to be conservative when estimating your income, assets and liabilities. For instance, don’t include superannuation in your base salary, and ensure that your property has been recently and independently valued. Don’t overlook expenses such as childcare costs.
  • Don't overapply. Be selective about the home loans you apply for. Each time you apply for a home loan, your lender will review your credit rating. When this happens, it shows up on your credit file. As the lender cannot see the outcome of previous enquiries on your credit file, it may be assumed that you’ve been rejected for several home loan applications. This is a red flag in the lender’s point of view. Thus, applying for several loans at once can harm your ability to qualify for a loan.

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years
Name Product Interest Rate (p.a.) Comp. Rate^ Application Fee Ongoing Fees Max LVR Monthly Payment
Westpac Flexi First Option Home Loan
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2.72%
$0
$8 monthly ($96 p.a.)
95%
$577.55
Up to $3,000 refinance cashback.
A flexible and competitive variable rate loan. Eligible borrowers refinancing $250,000 or more can get $2,000 cashback per property plus a bonus $1,000 for their first application. Other conditions apply.
St.George Basic Home Loan
2.54%
2.56%
$0
$0 p.a.
80%
$596.91
Up to $4,000 refinance cashback. With this competitive variable rate loan from St.George, refinancers borrowing $250,000+ can get up $4,000 cashback and borrow up to 80% of the property's value. (Terms, conditions & exclusions apply).
HSBC Fixed Rate Home Loan
1.88%
2.98%
$0
$0 p.a.
80%
$546.6
Lock in a competitive fixed rate for 2 years and buy your home with a 20% deposit.
Macquarie Bank Basic Home Loan
2.49%
2.49%
$0
$0 p.a.
60%
$593.01
A competitive variable rate home loan for owner-occupiers. Requires a 40% deposit.
UBank UHomeLoan Variable Rate
2.34%
2.34%
$0
$0 p.a.
80%
$581.39
Enjoy flexible repayments, a redraw facility and the ability to split your loan. Plus, pay no application or ongoing fees.
Suncorp Back to Basics Home Loan
2.54%
2.55%
$0
$0 p.a.
80%
$596.91
A competitive variable interest rate loan with low fees. The establishment fee is waived if you borrow $150,000 or more.
Athena Variable Home  Loan
2.19%
2.19%
$0
$0 p.a.
60%
$569.91
Owner occupiers with 40% deposits or equity can get this competitive variable rate loan. No upfront or ongoing fees.
St.George Fixed Rate Advantage Package
2.09%
3.46%
$0
$395 p.a.
95%
$562.33
Lock in a low fixed rate for the first two years. Refinancers borrowing $250,000 or more can get cashbacks between $2,000 and $4,000 depending on their loan to value ratio (Other terms, conditions and exclusions apply
UBank UHomeLoan Fixed
1.95%
2.27%
$0
$0 p.a.
80%
$551.82
A competitive fixed interest rate loan with no ongoing fees. Requires a 20% deposit.
Suncorp Home Package Plus Fixed
1.89%
2.94%
$0
$0 p.a.
80%
$547.35
Lock in a low fixed rate loan for two years and get the annual package fee waived in the first year. Available for borrowers with 20% deposits.
Westpac Fixed Option Home Loan Premier Advantage Package
2.09%
3.5%
$0
$395 p.a.
95%
$562.33
Up to $3,000 refinance cashback.
Competitive fixed rate home loan. Eligible borrowers refinancing $250,000 or more can get up to $3,000 cashback. Other conditions apply.
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2.59%
2.6%
$0
$0 p.a.
80%
$600.83
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homeloans.com.au Low Rate Home Loan with Offset
2.14%
2.16%
$0
$0 p.a.
60%
$566.11
A competitive rate with no application or ongoing fee. This loan is not available for construction.
Virgin Money Reward Me Fixed Rate Home Loan
2.04%
2.79%
$300
$10 monthly ($120 p.a.)
80%
$558.56
$3,000 refinance cashback.
Buy your home and lock in a low rate for the first two years. Get a $3,000 cashback when you switch to Virgin Money with a loan amount of $300,000 or more with an LVR up to 80%. You must apply by 30 November 2020 and settle by 23 April 2021.
Macquarie Bank Offset Home Loan Package
2.49%
2.76%
$0
$0 p.a.
60%
$593.01
A sharp variable rate with low fees for borrowers with 40% deposits or refinancers with equity in their properties.
homeloans.com.au Low Rate Home Loan with Offset
2.24%
2.26%
$0
$0 p.a.
90%
$573.72
This loan offers a competitive variable rate and a 100% offset account to help save you on interest repayments. This loan is not available for construction.
St.George Basic Home Loan
2.59%
2.61%
$0
$0 p.a.
90%
$600.83
Up to $4,000 refinance cashback.
With this competitive variable rate loan from St.George, refinancers borrowing $250,000+ can get up $4,000 cashback and borrow up to 90% of the property's value. (Terms, conditions & exclusions apply).
Macquarie Bank Basic Fixed Home Loan
2.19%
2.53%
$0
$0 p.a.
80%
$569.91
Borrow up to $750,000 with this basic 3 years fixed rate home loan.
Bank of Melbourne Basic Home Loan
2.54%
2.56%
$0
$0 p.a.
80%
$596.91
Up to $4,000 refinance cashback
A competitive variable rate loan from Bank of Melbourne. Refinancers borrowing $250,000 or more can get $4,000 cashback (Other terms, conditions and exclusions apply).
UBank UHomeLoan Fixed
2.14%
2.35%
$0
$0 p.a.
80%
$566.11
Fix your mortgage for 1 year with a very competitive rate and no ongoing fees.
Bank of Melbourne Advantage Package Fixed Home Loan
2.09%
3.46%
$0
$395 p.a.
95%
$562.33
Competitive fixed rate loan. Refinancers borrowing $250,000 or more can get cashbacks between $2,000 and $4,000 depending on their loan to value ratio (Other terms, conditions and exclusions apply
BankSA Basic Home Loan
2.54%
2.56%
$0
$0 p.a.
80%
$596.91
Up to $4,000 refinance cashback
A competitive variable rate loan from BankSA. Refinancers borrowing $200,000 or more can get a $4,000 cashback (Other terms, conditions and exclusions apply).
homeloans.com.au Low Rate Home Loan with Offset
2.59%
2.61%
$0
$0 p.a.
90%
$600.83
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Bank of Melbourne Basic Home Loan
2.59%
2.61%
$0
$0 p.a.
80%
$600.83
Competitive variable rate home loan. Refinancers borrowing $250,000 or more can get cashbacks between $2,000 and $4,000 depending on their loan to value ratio (Other terms, conditions and exclusions apply
BankSA Advantage Package Fixed Home Loan
2.09%
3.46%
$0
$395 p.a.
80%
$562.33
Competitive fixed rate loan. Refinancers borrowing $200,000 or more can get cashbacks between $2,000 and $4,000 depending on their loan to value ratio (Other terms, conditions and exclusions apply
CUA Achieve Variable Home Loan
2.55%
2.6%
$600
$0 p.a.
95%
$597.7
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Athena Variable Home  Loan
2.29%
2.23%
$0
$0 p.a.
80%
$577.55
A competitive variable rate mortgage for owner occupiers $0 application and $0 ongoing fees. This interest rate falls over time as you pay off the loan.
UBank UHomeLoan Variable Rate
2.74%
2.74%
$0
$0 p.a.
80%
$612.67
Get a discounted, low-fee investor loan from a convenient online lender. 20% deposit required.
Virgin Money Reward Me Variable Home Loan
2.59%
2.76%
$300
$10 monthly ($120 p.a.)
60%
$600.83
$3,000 refinance cashback.
A variable rate loan for owner occupiers with a 40% deposit (or equity) borrowing under $500,000. Get a $3,000 cashback when you switch to Virgin Money with a loan amount of $300,000 or more with an LVR up to 80%. You must apply by 30 November 2020 and settle by 23 April 2021.
Athena Variable Home  Loan
2.24%
2.21%
$0
$0 p.a.
70%
$573.72
A low variable rate for owner occupiers with 30% deposits. No upfront or ongoing fees.
UBank UHomeLoan Fixed
2.29%
2.35%
$0
$0 p.a.
80%
$577.55
A competitive 3 year fixed rate with no ongoing bank fees.
Macquarie Bank Basic Fixed Home Loan
2.09%
2.43%
$0
$0 p.a.
70%
$562.33
Get a low interest rate and a mortgage with flexible, basic features. No application or ongoing fees. Requires a 30% deposit.
UBank UHomeLoan Fixed
2.29%
2.36%
$0
$0 p.a.
80%
$577.55
A one year fixed rate offer with no ongoing bank fees.
Athena Variable Home  Loan
2.84%
2.46%
$0
$0 p.a.
80%
$620.63
Owner occupiers can refinance to one of the most competitive interest-only rates in the market. No application fee and no ongoing fees.
UBank UHomeLoan Fixed
2.44%
2.74%
$0
$0 p.a.
80%
$589.12
Investors can enjoy flexible repayments and an easy application process with this pioneering online lender.
Heritage Bank Fixed Rate Home Loan
2.19%
4.23%
$600
$8 monthly ($96 p.a.)
95%
$569.91
Get a partial offset account and the option to make interest-only repayments.
UBank UHomeLoan Fixed
2.29%
2.72%
$0
$0 p.a.
80%
$577.55
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Heritage Bank Discount Variable Home Loan
2.68%
2.73%
$600
$0 p.a.
80%
$607.92
Family guarantee option available. Enjoy flexible repayments and a low minimum loan amount.
HSBC Home Value Loan
2.64%
2.65%
$0
$0 p.a.
90%
$604.76
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Macquarie Bank Basic Home Loan
2.64%
2.64%
$0
$0 p.a.
80%
$604.76
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Heritage Bank Advantage Package Fixed
2.39%
3.23%
$0
$350 p.a.
95%
$585.25
Get a partial offset account and flexible repayments with this package loan.
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Up to $4,000 refinance cashback. With this competitive variable rate loan from St.George, refinancers borrowing $250,000+ can get up $4,000 cashback and borrow up to 90% of the property's value. (Terms, conditions & exclusions apply).

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Athena Liberate Home Loan - 70% to 80% LVR Owner Occupier, P&I

A competitive variable rate mortgage for owner occupiers $0 application and $0 ongoing fees. This interest rate falls over time as you pay off the loan.

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Suncorp Back to Basics Home Loan - Better Together Special Offer $150k+ LVR ≤ 80% (Owner Occupier, P&I)

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