The volatility in interest rates in India has affected borrowers of all types of loans. However, home loan borrowers are the most affected, as home loans are by far the biggest loans quantum-wise. Discrepancy in interest rates between existing borrowers and new borrowers, porting of home loan, stringent rules by lenders and clauses on fixed rate home loans are some of the issues faced by home loan borrowers in the country.
One of the most common issues faced by existing home loan borrowers is the discrepancy in interest rates paid by them vis-a-vis a new borrower. While this is a valid complaint, let's first see what causes this discrepancy. Interest rates on home loans are usually linked to the benchmark rate of the bank (be it the Prime Lending Rate - PLR or the more recently introduced Base Rate, as the case may be). From this benchmark rate, a fixed rate is either deducted (in the case of a PLR) or marked up (in the case of a Base Rate) to arrive at the floating rate on the home loan. Any changes in the benchmark rate will thus automatically result in a change in the interest rate on the home loan as well.
For example, consider a borrower who has taken a home loan from a Housing Finance Company (HFC) at terms which state that his interest rate will be 300bps lower than the prevailing PLR. This was the agreement entered into with the bank at the time of availing the loan. The PLR at the time of granting the loan was 15%, and the interest rate on the home loan thus stands at 12%. Now, if after 2 years, the PLR is reduced by 50 bps to 14.5%, then the interest on his home loan also automatically falls to 11.5%. On the other hand, in order to attract customers, a new borrower may be offered terms with a mark down of 350 bps. As a result, the interest rate he gets on his home loan will be 11% only. This is the reason for the discrepancy in interest rates.
In recent times, in view of the increasing incidence of customers switching banks to avail better rates, the existing borrowers are being offered an option to change to new rates in the same bank by paying a switch fee or a conversion fee. This can be 0.5% to 1% of the outstanding loan amount. This is a good way of availing interest rates offered to new customers. However, this scheme is not actively pushed by banks, and not all lenders offer this too.
In such a situation, most existing borrowers resort to porting their home loans to banks which offer lower interest rates. This has been encouraged by RBI by removing the prepayment penalties on floating rate loans. However, it is important for customers to read the fine print before taking this step, as there may be many unanticipated costs to be borne. Processing fees, stamp duty, notarization charges, franking charges and insurance premium are some of the likely costs which a customer needs to bear. This can easily work out to be 0.5% to 0.75% of the loan amount. Add to this the requirement of submitting all documentation again to the new bank. It is therefore important to understand the merits of switching your home loan, and try to use the option of staying with your old bank using the switching fee option, wherever possible.
Another issue faced by fixed rate home loan borrowers in the applicability of the reset clause. Fixed rate loans are not fixed for the entire loan tenure. The reset clause is invoked as and when applicable according to the terms of the agreement. Thus, if there is a scenario of increasing interest rates in the economy, banks will reset the interest on the fixed rate home loan. Although there is no option to remove this clause, borrowers can search for banks that offer fixed rate loans with no reset clause.
Borrowers also sometimes face the issue of the inflexibility on the bank's part to adjust the EMI amount or tenure in case of an interest rate revision. The hassle of reworking EMIs as well as changing ECS mandates may deter banks from changing the EMI amount. However, from the customer point of view, it must always be remembered that reducing the tenure is a better option compared to reducing the EMI amount in case of a downward interest revision, to save on interest costs.
It is hoped that RBI and the Government will continue to take proactive steps in addressing the concerns of home loan borrowers - both existing as well as new borrowers.
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