If you’re considering investing in buy-to-let, or if you’ve become a landlord by accident – due to job relocation or moving in with a partner, you will probably need a buy-to-let mortgage.

The rules around buy-to-let mortgages are similar to those for regular mortgages, but there are some key differences.

Here we explore what you need to know before you apply for a buy-to-let mortgage.

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What is a buy-to-let mortgage?

A buy-to-let mortgage is a mortgage explicitly sold to people who buy property as an investment, rather than as a place to live.

If you already have a mortgage on your home, you will likely need to switch to a buy-to-let product before searching for tenants.

Who can get a buy-to-let mortgage?

Not everyone is entitled to take out a buy-to-let mortgage. To be eligible for most buy-to-let mortgages you will need to:

  • Already own your own home, either outright or with an outstanding mortgage. You may find it hard to get a buy-to-let mortgage if you are a first-time buyer, although many specialist products are available.
  • Earn at least £25,000, aside from your rental income.
  • Satisfy the maximum age criteria. Most buy-to-let products are open to those who will be 70 or younger at the end of the mortgage term. For this reason, you may find it difficult to get a buy-to-let mortgage if you’re over 45. However, as people are retiring later and looking to rental property to fund their retirement, many lenders are becoming more flexible in this regard. For example, Santander has extended the maximum permitted age at the end of the mortgage for its buy-to-let products to 85.

How do buy-to-let mortgages work?

Buy-to-let mortgages are a lot like ordinary residential mortgages, but with some key differences:

BTL mortgages explained1. Most buy-to-let mortgages are interest-only

One big difference between buy-to-let and residential property mortgages is that most buy-to-let products are interest-only. This means that you will pay the interest on the loan each month but none of the capital.

The good news is that your monthly payments will be lower than with a domestic repayment mortgage. However, at the end of the mortgage term, you won’t have paid off any of the loan and will need to find the funds to do so – by selling the house, arranging another loan or from savings.

Repayment mortgages are also available and are becoming a popular alternative.

2. You will need a bigger deposit

Lenders regard buy-to-let mortgages as riskier than residential property ones, so will usually ask for a larger deposit than might be required if you were buying the home to live in yourself. There are more potential pitfalls with rental property – that your tenants won’t pay their rent or that you’ll face void periods. This means that there is a risk you won’t meet your mortgage payments and the property may be repossessed.

Most lenders will expect you to find a 25% deposit for a buy-to-let mortgage. If you can put down 40%, you are likely to get a better rate.

3. The affordability rules are different

Unlike with residential mortgage, lenders are less interested in your salary than the expected income from the property. That said, some lenders will require you to earn at least £25,000 aside from your rental income.

To decide whether to offer you a mortgage, lenders will carry out affordability tests. They will use so-called interest cover ratios (ICRs) to work out how much income you are likely to make. ICRs look at your projected rental income alongside your mortgage payments and other fees and charges – management fees and landlords insurance, for example.

Most lenders will look for an ICR of 125%, meaning your rental income must be 125% of your mortgage payments. Some may impose higher levels, of around 145%, particularly if you are a higher rate taxpayer.

4. The fees and interest rates tend to be higher

Because of the risk factor mentioned above, buy-to-let mortgages have traditionally attracted much higher interest rate. However, this gap may be narrowing. Moneyfacts says that two-year fixed-rate buy-to-let mortgages are currently not much more expensive than the equivalent residential mortgages, with longer-term fixed mortgage rates about 1% higher.

Arrangement fees can, however, be much higher, so it’s essential to look at these as well as interest rates when shopping around for the best deal.

What else should I consider?

btl mortgages ukPlan for times when there’s no rent coming in

There will almost certainly be void periods when your property is unoccupied, or your tenants may be late with their rent payments. You must ensure that you have a financial ‘cushion’ to meet your mortgage payments.

Don’t rely on selling the property to repay the mortgage

If you opted for an interest-only mortgage, you should be careful about relying solely on the sale of the property to meet the repayment – in case house prices in the area fall.

Tax implications of buy-to-let mortgages

Capital Gains Tax (CGT)

You will have to pay CGT when you sell your buy-to-let property. Basic-rate taxpayers pay 18% on gains they make when selling property, while higher rate taxpayers pay 28%.

All taxpayers have an annual CGT allowance, meaning they can earn a certain amount tax-free. For the 2020 to 2021 tax year the allowance is £12,300. Couples who jointly own assets can combine this allowance, potentially allowing a gain of £24,600.

Income Tax

You must pay income tax on any profit you earn from rental property you own. This is the rental income you receive less any allowable expenses.

You should inform HMRC when you start renting a property as you will probably need to complete a tax return (even if you are making very little profit or even a loss). Keep a record of how much rental income you receive and allowable expenses you incur in each tax year. From 2020 none of the interest on your mortgage payments can be considered an allowable expense.