The primary difference between the HEM and a living expenses calculator is that the HEM calculation is designed to produce an average expenditure benchmark based on statistical data that lenders can judge household spending against. Conversely, a living expenses calculator helps you assess your own expenditure and budget and is specific to your financial situation.
However, just because the two are different doesn’t mean they can’t be used together. Most lenders may ask you to perform a self-assessment using a living expenses calculator or form that they provide. You’ll fill out your expenses, typically on a monthly basis, and submit it to the lender.
They can then use your self-assessment in conjunction with your proven income, bank statements and their HEM calculator tool to get the most accurate possible understanding of your expenses, and subsequently determine your borrowing capacity.
It’s entirely possible that your real expenses could be quite different to the HEM average for your type of household; after all, it’s just an average. However, lenders can’t and don’t rely on HEM exclusively when assessing your spending habits. They’ll typically also look at your bank statements and recent transaction history, compare them against the HEM for your type of household and will usually use whichever is higher when determining your expenditure and borrowing power.
Most notably, HEM doesn’t include your housing costs, such as rent or current mortgage repayments. While it covers the median spend on absolute basics, it doesn’t include things like:
The HEM also isn’t directly affected by interest rate or cash rate changes. However, that being said, a lift in inflation could potentially see the HEM increase due to the uptick in the cost of consumer goods as a result.
While the HEM is used in the home loan applications and approvals process due to its utility as a benchmark for average expenditure, its nature as a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution can cause issues. It’s previously come under fire from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), Australia’s financial services regulator, for being too broad-based and having the potential to be misrepresentative.²
For example, the way items are classified for the purposes of HEM calculations can paint a misleading picture of someone’s annual expenditure. Food, take-aways and restaurants are all classified as either absolute or discretionary basics; however, a home loan applicant could have feasibly spent thousands of dollars a year on luxurious groceries and meals, but all of that spending would be painted as part of their ‘necessary’ expenditure.
That being said, however, it’s generally not worth worrying about HEM’s potential shortcomings. Financial institutions and lenders are always working on improving and refining their respective approvals processes, and a lot of that is largely out of the hands of the individual.
What you do have control over is your own finances and expenditure, so your focus should be on making sure your spending and saving behaviours align with the level of prudence that home loan providers look for in a home loan applicant.
Always remember that the HEM isn’t a factor specific to you; rather, it’s a database of indexed values used by lenders to determine your capacity to take on a home loan.
The other factors that typically also form part of the lender assessment may include:
So, at the end of the day, your own suitability for a home loan is largely influenced by your own personal circumstances, decisions and actions.
You can’t magically double your income, but living within your means, saving as much as possible, paying down any existing debt and avoiding new debt will all typically go a long way towards setting future you up to be approved for a home loan.
Stephen has more than 30 years of experience in the financial services industry and holds a Certificate IV in Finance and Mortgage Broking. He’s also a member of both the Australian and New Zealand Institute of Insurance and Finance (ANZIIF) and the Mortgage and Finance Association of Australia (MFAA).
Stephen leads our team of Home Loan Specialists, and reviews and contributes to Compare the Market’s banking-relating content to ensure it’s as helpful and empowering as possible for our readers.