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

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A HECS debt can significantly reduce your income and serviceability potential. Find out how you can improve your chance of qualifying for a home loan.

If you’re a university graduate, it’s likely that you’ve accumulated a debt as part of the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) 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.

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

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.

Compare loans or speak to a broker about your options

Rates last updated October 19th, 2017
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Name Product Interest Rate (p.a.) Comp Rate^ (p.a.) Application Fee Ongoing Fees Max LVR Monthly Payment Short Description
3.64%
3.66%
$0
$0 p.a.
80%
A basic home loan with a competitive rate and low fees.
3.65%
3.66%
$0
$0 p.a.
90%
Enjoy a low variable rate with no ongoing fees and borrow up to 90% of the value of the property.
3.54%
3.54%
$440
$0 p.a.
80%
Borrow up to 80% LVR with no ongoing fees and a 100% offset account.
3.58%
3.59%
$0
$0 p.a.
80%
A competitive variable rate product with low fees offered by a 100% online lender.
3.64%
3.66%
$0
$0 p.a.
80%
A home loan with a competitive variable rate, limited fees and plenty of flexibility.
3.49%
4.47%
$0
$375 p.a.
90%
Discount off an already competitive interest rate for loans over $150k. NSW, QLD and ACT residents only.
3.69%
4.86%
$0
$395 p.a.
90%
A special rate for first home buyers buying residential property and borrowing over $150K. 350K NAB Rewards Points offer available. Terms and conditions apply.
3.54%
3.56%
$0
$0 p.a.
80%
For new home buyers only. No refinance option. A low interest variable home loan with no application fee and free redraws.
3.74%
3.74%
$0
$0 p.a.
80%
A basic owner-occupier home loan with a low variable rate that requires a 20% deposit.
3.65%
4.84%
$0
$395 p.a.
90%
A 2 years fixed platinum package that has $0 application and a loan redraw facility.
3.74%
3.74%
$0
$0 p.a.
80%
Combine a low variable interest rate and free redraw with no application or ongoing fees.
3.69%
3.72%
$0
$0 p.a.
80%
A low rate home loan with no ongoing fees.
3.74%
3.75%
$0
$0 p.a.
80%
A special variable rate home loan with no application or ongoing fees.
3.79%
3.92%
$0
$10 monthly ($120 p.a.)
80%
A competitive variable rate home loan with flexible features. You can earn 30,000 Velocity Points for every $100k you borrow (for a limited time, subject to eligibility requirements).
3.68%
3.83%
$0
$10 monthly ($120 p.a.)
80%
A low interest rate home loan that allows borrowers to borrow up to 80% of the property value.
3.77%
3.81%
$200
$0 p.a.
95%
A basic home loan with a low interest rate and a redraw facility available.
3.72%
3.74%
$0
$0 p.a.
80%
Take advantage of a 100% offset account along with no annual or application fees.
3.73%
3.73%
$0
$0 p.a.
90%
A special limited time offer for owner occupiers. An IMB Transaction Account must be opened with this loan.
3.81%
3.81%
$0
$0 p.a.
80%
A home loan with a competitive rate and plenty of handy features.
3.94%
4.88%
$0
$0 p.a.
95%
Enjoy a low interest rate and borrow up to 95% (with LMI) of your property's value.
3.72%
3.75%
$600
$0 p.a.
80%
A maximum 80% LVR home loan with no ongoing service fees and a linked transaction account.
3.79%
4.00%
$0
$10 monthly ($120 p.a.)
90%
Get a competitive interest rate for 3 years and a discounted variable rate when the fixed period ends.
3.69%
4.15%
$395
$0 p.a.
80%
A one year fixed rate offer with no ongoing bank fees.
3.84%
3.84%
$0
$0 p.a.
110%
Requires a family member to act as guarantor. Discounted rate available with family pledge loans. Family pledge loans require no LMI and no deposit. NSW, Qld and ACT only.
3.97%
4.02%
$445
$0 p.a.
90%
Get a competitive rate without features you may not use.
3.99%
4.02%
$600
$0 p.a.
90%
Take advantage of a 0.60% discount on your rate, a 100% offset account and no ongoing fees.
3.74%
3.74%
$0
$0 p.a.
90%
A competitive variable rate with a redraw facility. NSW, QLD and ACT residents only.
4.09%
4.11%
$0
$0 p.a.
80%
A low variable rate loan with no application or ongoing fees.
3.86%
3.87%
$0
$0 p.a.
80%
Pay no ongoing fees on a competitive variable rate home loan.
3.69%
4.00%
$0
$350 p.a.
95%
Fix your rate for 3 years and borrow up to 95% LVR.
3.85%
4.10%
$500
$0 p.a.
95%
Apply for Easy Street fixed rate home loans and get a competitive loan with a fixed interest rate.
3.69%
3.75%
$600
$0 p.a.
80%
A low interest rate variable home loan with no ongoing fees.
3.96%
3.98%
$0
$0 p.a.
90%
Take advantage of a redraw facility, competitive variable rate and no application or settlement fees for a limited time.
3.72%
4.19%
$0
$0 p.a.
80%
Enjoy a variable 3 year introductory rate with the Bankwest Equaliser Home Loan.
3.97%
3.99%
$0
$0 p.a.
90%
A low rate variable home loan offer with no monthly fees or application fee charge.
3.84%
4.83%
$0
$0 p.a.
95%
Get a competitive 2-year fixed rate with no application or ongoing fees.
3.88%
4.89%
$0
$395 p.a.
95%
A fixed rate package with flexible repayment options. 350K NAB Rewards Points offer available. Terms and conditions apply.
4.09%
4.12%
$0
$0 p.a.
80%
Access the equity in your home with a competitive interest-only rate and no application fee.
3.69%
4.45%
$0
$375 p.a.
90%
Discount off an already competitive 2 year fixed rate for loans over $150k. NSW,QLD and ACT residents only.
3.97%
3.97%
$0
$0 p.a.
80%
A competitive variable rate home loan with no ongoing fees.
3.83%
3.83%
$0
$0 p.a.
70%
A special low variable rate for owner occupiers with 100% offset account and no application or ongoing fees.
3.64%
3.64%
$0
$0 p.a.
70%
A basic low-rate home loan that still offers some useful features.
4.19%
4.19%
$0
$0 p.a.
90%
Access to redraw facility and offset account without the annual fee.
3.79%
3.80%
$0
$0 p.a.
80%
A competitive rate with no ongoing monthly fees or application fees.
4.03%
4.07%
$0
$0 p.a.
95%
Enjoy a basic home loan with a high LVR and no application or ongoing fees.
3.85%
4.95%
$0
$395 p.a.
95%
A discounted package rate for owner occupiers with the ability to package a Qantas rewards earning Amplify credit card. $1,500 cashback available for refinancers. Conditions apply.
3.99%
4.99%
$0
$395 p.a.
95%
A package home loan with fee free extra repayments available during the fixed term.
4.39%
5.42%
$300
$10 monthly ($120 p.a.)
95%
Lock in a competitive fixed rate for 3 years.
3.69%
4.03%
$0
$299 p.a.
80%
Enjoy a low variable rate with no application fee.
3.88%
4.47%
$0
$0 p.a.
95%
This competitive introductory rate is a limited time offer for new owner-occupiers
3.68%
3.69%
$600
$0 p.a.
90%
Get a low variable rate along with some important basic features.
3.80%
3.81%
$0
$0 p.a.
95%
A no frills loan with a competitive rate and a maximum LVR of 95%.

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Belinda Punshon

Belinda is a journalist here at finder.com.au. Specialising in the home loans and property sections, she is passionate about helping Australians improve their financial wellbeing.

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