Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 09 September 2023

Floating to fixed rate regime

Source: By Hitesh Vyas, George Mathew: The Indian Express

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) asked all regulated entities (REs), including banks and NBFCs, to give personal loan borrowers an option to switch over from a floating rate to a fixed rate regime at the time of resetting interest rates. In a circular on ‘Reset of floating interest rate on equated monthly instalments (EMI) based personal loans’, the central bank said the borrowers will also be given the choice to opt for enhancement in EMI or elongation of the tenor.

What are the new changes?

At the time of sanction, REs will have to clearly communicate to the borrowers about the possible impact of a change in benchmark interest rate on the loan leading to changes in EMI and/or tenor or both. Any increase in the EMI/ tenor or both will have to be communicated to the borrower immediately through appropriate channels.

SWITCHOVER: At the time of reset of interest rates, REs will have to give the option to borrowers to switch over to a fixed rate as per their board-approved policy. The policy will also specify the number of times a borrower will be allowed to switch during the tenor of the loan.

REs will have to disclose all applicable charges for switching loans from floating to fixed rate and any other service charges/ administrative costs in the sanction letter and also at the time of revision of charges or costs from time to time.

ELONGATION: The borrowers will also be given the choice to opt for enhancement in EMI or elongation of tenor or for a combination of both options, and to prepay, either in part or in full, at any point during the tenor of the loan, with foreclosure charges.

REs should ensure that the elongation of tenor in case of a floating rate loan does not result in negative amortisation. REs will have to share or make accessible to the borrowers, through appropriate channels, a statement at the end of each quarter which will enumerate the principal and interest recovered till date, EMI amount, the number of EMIs left and annualized rate of interest.

The RBI said REs will have to ensure that these instructions are extended to the existing as well as new loans by 31 December 2023.

Why has RBI issued new regulations?

The supervisory reviews undertaken by the RBI and the feedback and references from members of the public have revealed several instances of unreasonable elongation of tenor of floating rate loans by lenders without proper consent and communication to the borrowers.

Banks can change the interest rate by changing the internal benchmark rate and the spread during the term of the loan which could harm the interest of the borrower and also impair monetary transmission. Borrowers have complained that banks normally change or reset the EMIs in an arbitrary manner and tenors are extended without informing the borrowers. Further, borrowers are not informed about the foreclosure charges. The RBI has also observed that unduly long elongation of tenor has camouflaged stress in banks.

Theoretically, the borrower can refinance the floating rate loan by going to another bank, but in practice, this does not work well. Floating rate loans of different banks with internal benchmarks are not identical even if spreads are identical at loan origination and in future, given that different banks change or reset internal benchmarks differently. The borrower in such a situation is more often left with no choice, but to remain captive to the original bank and pay higher charges on existing loans rather than refinance.

What are personal loans?

As per the RBI definition, personal loans are the loans given to individuals and consist of consumer crediteducation loanloans given for the creation or enhancement of immovable assets (such as housing loans), and loans given for investment in financial assets (shares and debentures). The total outstanding under the personal loan category was Rs 42.60 lakh crore as of June 2023, which is almost 30 per cent of the non-food bank credit.

What’s the interest rate reset?

When a customer takes a home loan, the interest rate reset clause in the loan agreement allows the lender to review the interest rate after a certain period, as per the occurrence of a scheduled reset date of the loan. The reset rate is the new interest rate that a borrower must pay effective from the scheduled reset date. EMI of a floating rate loan changes with periodical changes in reset interest rates. These rates and the calculation are not uniform for all the banks as the cost of funds differs from banks.

What banks say

According to banks, when an external benchmark rate – banks use Repo rate now – is adopted for fixing the lending rate, the reset period should be linked to the tenor of the underlying external benchmark. While longer reset periods increase transmission lags, shorter resets increase interest rate risk for banks.

Banks have indicated that retail customers would resist a shorter (quarterly) reset, particularly in a rising interest rate cycle, because of the increase in equated monthly instalments (EMIs) or longer repayment period with uniform EMIs. Conversely, in a falling interest rate regime, borrowers prefer shorter resets.