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Why the bank levy will mean a ‘lazy tax’ for Aussies

Get ready for a $6 billion hit

bank levy bank tax lazy tax

Would you move your home loan if the interest rate increased by 0.15%.

In dollar terms that’s around $35 a month extra on a $400,000 loan at 5%.

What if the hike was more, say 0.25%. That’s a jump of $59 a month in repayments.

I guess the answer really depends on how good your interest rate was to start with and if there was a better one available.

Analysts have suggested this is how much the big five banks – which were hit with a levy in last month’s budget – would have to reprice their mortgages if they were to offset the full cost.

For shareholders, the news isn’t that good either as the levy does represent a cost and, if not offset, it will place dividends under pressure.

So far, though, it’s been more a case of investors snapping up bargains, as the five affected stocks regained any losses just days after they took a hit.

Time will certainly tell what impact this levy will have but it’s almost certain that it will be passed onto bank customers.

The CEOs of the big four have made this very clear. Shame, really, as this tax is no different from consumers having to pay mortgage insurance, yet these borrowers can’t pass this “tax” onto anybody.

Mortgage insurance exists on risky loans.

When a borrower wants more than 80% of the purchase price, the loan is considered a risk and therefore they are charged an insurance premium that protects the lender – not them – if things turn sour.

This bank levy is similar in that the government is making banks pay extra for taking on more risk.

Given 80% plus of all mortgages are with the big four, chances are that if you’re a homeowner or even a deposit holder with one of these banks you will be hit.

Kirsty Lamont, from Mozo, says the reason big banks will get away with rate hikes is that they know most customers won’t switch.

“Customers might be frustrated for a while but they eventually move on with their lives,” she says.

Which takes me back to my first question: would you move if your loan’s interest rate increased by only 0.15%.

Hate to admit it but I’d probably cop this “lazy tax”.

The thought of having to get valuations on our properties and go over my serviceability yet again with a new lender sends shivers up my spine – which is the exact reaction that banks want from us.

If the jump were, say, 0.5% then I’d definitely consider moving.

While there are certainly hurdles to moving, the government’s “open banking” regime announced in the budget can only be good news for lazy people like me.

Under the regime, consumers will be allowed to consent to their data being shared with competitors.

This will make it easier for consumers to switch to a better-value provider or put them in a better position to negotiate a more competitive deal with their current credit provider.

The regime will also make it easier for banks to tailor pricing to individual customers.

“Banks will have a better understanding of a customer’s financial situation and history and be able to offer customers interest rates based on their risk level,” says Lamont.

“Consumers with a better credit rating will be rewarded for their savvy money management with more competitive interest rates.”

It is a case of watch this space. The new bank levy has certainly opened a window of opportunity for smaller banks and non-bank lenders.

Lamont says that while the big banks are busy figuring out how to plug the revenue gap left by the levy, smaller lenders not funded by the majors will be taking every opportunity to woo customers with significantly better interest rates.

Cheat sheet

WHAT IS IT?

A tax on each bank’s liabilities that is calculated quarterly at 0.015%, which gives an annual rate of 0.06%. “Liabilities” include “risky” loans that banks get to fund their lending. It’s a form of protection for taxpayers.

WHICH BANKS?

Only those with liabilities of at least $100 billion: Commonwealth Bank, National Australia Bank, Westpac, ANZ and Macquarie.

HOW LONG WILL IT LAST?

No end date was given. The levy will raise between $1.5 billion and $1.6 billion each year for four years.

WHO PAYS

Consumers, shareholders or both.

WHO WINS

Consumers who are willing to switch.

Written by Effie Zahos

Effie Zahos

Editor Effie Zahos started out as a graduate trainee for one of Australia’s major banks. She moved to TV in 1997, kick-starting her career in finance journalism as head researcher for Channel Nine’s Money Show. A regular finance commentator on TV and radio, she is the author of The Great $20 Adventure.

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