A beginner's guide to refinancing home loans

A beginner's guide to refinancing home loans

As much as we often want things to stay the same over time, often our situation changes. Whether it’s a home no longer being suitable for a growing family, your job taking you to a new location, or simply a once-happy relationship breaking down, we often realise that big shifts have occurred in our lives and change is required.

This is no different when you take out a home loan. Price cycles rise and fall, and interest rates oscillate over time as well. Add in changes to your income, and you may find yourself in a completely different financial situation than you were five years ago, for better or worse. When this is the case, it might be time to consider refinancing. 

When is the right time to refinance?

The right time to refinance depends on one basic principle: when the difference between your current interest rate and the average market rate is close to 1 percent.

Take Jenny, for instance. Five years ago she took out an introductory rate home loanwhich reverted to her current variable rate of 7.81 percent. With an outstanding balance of $320,000, her monthly repayments over the next 20 years are about $2640, which equates to $633,334 over the loan term (assuming the interest rate remains the same).

If you compare this to the current average basic variable rate of 6.80 percent, that’s 1.01 percentage points less than Jenny’s current rate. By refinancing and switching to a cheaper loan with the average basic variable rate, Jenny could save herself almost $200 per month, and almost $47,280 in interest over the loan term. This doesn’t take into account break costs Jenny may be charged from her old loan and establishment fees for a new loan.

And that’s not even the best deal Jenny could find. For instance, one of the lowest-rate home loans on RateCity is by State Custodians with a comparison rate at 6.46 percent. In Jenny’s case, this is 1.35 percentage points less than what she currently pays with her lender. If she was to switch, she could potentially save herself $262 each month or $62,880 over the next 20 years of her loan (if rates remain the same, not including associated fees and charges).

If your situation is similar to Jenny’s then you should consider refinancing your mortgage as there may be better deals and savings you could be missing out on. The first step to refinancing is to compare home loans online every 12 months to see how your deal measures up to what’s on the market.

What is refinancing, and why do people do it?

Refinancing is the process of taking out a new home loan, which replaces your existing mortgage with a new set of interest rates, terms and conditions. It can be done for a number of reasons:

  • Securing a home loan at a lower interest rate
  • Decreasing monthly mortgage repayments
  • Rolling several existing debts into one package
  • Freeing up cash for a large-scale purchase
  • Switching to a different lender
  • Paying less in mortgage fees

On the whole, it is a process by which people try to save money. Over time, interest rates on a loan may increase, meaning it is no longer feasible for you to continue making these repayments. Or perhaps you have changed jobs and are unable to keep up with the fees. Many Australians have refinanced their home loans to great effect, but it is not a one-size-fits-all solution.

Example refinancing rates:


What are the risks of refinancing?

There can be some upfront costs associated with refinancing a home loan. Firstly, there may be exit fees on your current mortgage. However, these are not incurred if you took out a home loan after July 2011, thanks to a ban on them from the Australian government. 

The Reserve Bank of Australia has noted certain mortgage lenders or brokers make commission when they persuade someone to switch from one home loan to another. This is important to keep in mind when considering refinancing, and it may be prudent to find out how your broker or lender is paid. 

Furthermore, it is important to use a home loan calculator to determine whether you will actually pay more in the long run. Consolidating short term debts (like credit cards) into a home loan refinancing package could actually result in a higher overall cost, as you may be paying interest on a short-term line of credit over a much longer period.

You may also refinance a 20-year mortgage to one with a 30-year term to reduce monthly repayments, but keep in mind that you will also pay more interest in the long-term. 

Is it worth it? 

As with any move that boosts your credit, products should be carefully compared, and pros and cons need to be laid out in full. Undertaking due diligence and research is a must, as is using a home loan calculator to work out how much you will pay in both the short term and long term.

At the very least, consider using this guide to give yourself a home loan health check. Doing so can give you the necessary information about how your loan compares with the market, and if your mortgage doesn’t stack up, then talk to your lender about how they can give you a better deal on rates, fees or both.

Try our calculator:

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How do I refinance my home loan?

Refinancing your home loan can involve a bit of paperwork but if you are moving on to a lower rate, it can save you thousands of dollars in the long-run. The first step is finding another loan on the market that you think will save you money over time or offer features that your current loan does not have. Once you have selected a couple of loans you are interested in, compare them with your current loan to see if you will save money in the long term on interest rates and fees. Remember to factor in any break fees and set up fees when assessing the cost of switching.

Once you have decided on a new loan it is simply a matter of contacting your existing and future lender to get the new loan set up. Beware that some lenders will revert your loan back to a 25 or 30 year term when you refinance which may mean initial lower repayments but may cost you more in the long run.

What happens to my home loan when interest rates rise?

If you are on a variable rate home loan, every so often your rate will be subject to increases and decreases. Rate changes are determined by your lender, not the Reserve Bank of Australia, however often when the RBA changes the cash rate, a number of banks will follow suit, at least to some extent. You can use RateCity cash rate to check how the latest interest rate change affected your mortgage interest rate.

When your rate rises, you will be required to pay your bank more each month in mortgage repayments. Similarly, if your interest rate is cut, then your monthly repayments will decrease. Your lender will notify you of what your new repayments will be, although you can do the calculations yourself, and compare other home loan rates using our mortgage calculator.

There is no way of conclusively predicting when interest rates will go up or down on home loans so if you prefer a more stable approach consider opting for a fixed rate loan.

What is a variable home loan?

A variable rate home loan is one where the interest rate can and will change over the course of your loan. The rate is determined by your lender, not the Reserve Bank of Australia, so while the cash rate might go down, your bank may decide not to follow suit, although they do broadly follow market conditions. One of the upsides of variable rates is that they are typically more flexible than their fixed rate counterparts which means that a lot of these products will let you make extra repayments and offer features such as offset accounts.

Remaining loan term

The length of time it will take to pay off your current home loan, based on the currently-entered mortgage balance, monthly repayment and interest rate.

Who has the best home loan?

Determining who has the ‘best’ home loan really does depend on your own personal circumstances and requirements. It may be tempting to judge a loan merely on the interest rate but there can be added value in the extras on offer, such as offset and redraw facilities, that aren’t available with all low rate loans.

To determine which loan is the best for you, think about whether you would prefer the consistency of a fixed loan or the flexibility and potential benefits of a variable loan. Then determine which features will be necessary throughout the life of your loan. Thirdly, consider how much you are willing to pay in fees for the loan you want. Once you find the perfect combination of these three elements you are on your way to determining the best loan for you. 

Can I change jobs while I am applying for a home loan?

Whether you’re a new borrower or you’re refinancing your home loan, many lenders require you to be in a permanent job with the same employer for at least 6 months before applying for a home loan. Different lenders have different requirements. 

If your work situation changes for any reason while you’re applying for a mortgage, this could reduce your chances of successfully completing the process. Contacting the lender as soon as you know your employment situation is changing may allow you to work something out. 

What is the difference between fixed, variable and split rates?

Fixed rate

A fixed rate home loan is a loan where the interest rate is set for a certain amount of time, usually between one and 15 years. The advantage of a fixed rate is that you know exactly how much your repayments will be for the duration of the fixed term. There are some disadvantages to fixing that you need to be aware of. Some products won’t let you make extra repayments, or offer tools such as an offset account to help you reduce your interest, while others will charge a significant break fee if you decide to terminate the loan before the fixed period finishes.

Variable rate

A variable rate home loan is one where the interest rate can and will change over the course of your loan. The rate is determined by your lender, not the Reserve Bank of Australia, so while the cash rate might go down, your bank may decide not to follow suit, although they do broadly follow market conditions. One of the upsides of variable rates is that they are typically more flexible than their fixed rate counterparts which means that a lot of these products will let you make extra repayments and offer features such as offset accounts.

Split rates home loans

A split loan lets you fix a portion of your loan, and leave the remainder on a variable rate so you get a bet each way on fixed and variable rates. A split loan is a good option for someone who wants the peace of mind that regular repayments can provide but still wants to retain some of the additional features variable loans typically provide such as an offset account. Of course, with most things in life, split loans are still a trade-off. If the variable rate goes down, for example, the lower interest rates will only apply to the section that you didn’t fix.

What is a fixed home loan?

A fixed rate home loan is a loan where the interest rate is set for a certain amount of time, usually between one and 15 years. The advantage of a fixed rate is that you know exactly how much your repayments will be for the duration of the fixed term. There are some disadvantages to fixing that you need to be aware of. Some products won’t let you make extra repayments, or offer tools such as an offset account to help you reduce your interest, while others will charge a significant break fee if you decide to terminate the loan before the fixed period finishes.

How can I calculate interest on my home loan?

You can calculate the total interest you will pay over the life of your loan by using a mortgage calculator. The calculator will estimate your repayments based on the amount you want to borrow, the interest rate, the length of your loan, whether you are an owner-occupier or an investor and whether you plan to pay ‘principal and interest’ or ‘interest-only’.

If you are buying a new home, the calculator will also help you work out how much you’ll need to pay in stamp duty and other related costs.

What is an interest-only loan? How do I work out interest-only loan repayments?

An ‘interest-only’ loan is a loan where the borrower is only required to pay back the interest on the loan. Typically, banks will only let lenders do this for a fixed period of time – often five years – however some lenders will be happy to extend this.

Interest-only loans are popular with investors who aren’t keen on putting a lot of capital into their investment property. It is also a handy feature for people who need to reduce their mortgage repayments for a short period of time while they are travelling overseas, or taking time off to look after a new family member, for example.

While moving on to interest-only will make your monthly repayments cheaper, ultimately, you will end up paying your bank thousands of dollars extra in interest to make up for the time where you weren’t paying off the principal.

What is an ongoing fee?

Ongoing fees are any regular payments charged by your lender in addition to the interest they apply including annual fees, monthly account keeping fees and offset fees. The average annual fee is close to $200 however there are almost 2,000 home loan products that don’t charge an annual fee at all. There’s plenty of extra costs when you’re buying a home, such as conveyancing, stamp duty, moving costs, so the more fees you can avoid on your home loan, the better. While $200 might not seem like much in the grand scheme of things, it adds up to $6,000 over the life of a 30 year loan – money which would be much better off either reinvested into your home loan or in your back pocket for the next rainy day.

Example: Anna is tossing up between two different mortgage products. Both have the same variable interest rate, but one has a monthly account keeping fee of $20. By picking the loan with no fees, and investing an extra $20 a month into her loan, Josie will end up shaving 6 months off her 30 year loan and saving over $9,000* in interest repayments.

What is a comparison rate?

The comparison rate is a more inclusive way of comparing home loans that factors in not only on the interest rate but also the majority of upfront and ongoing charges that add to the total cost of a home loan.

The rate is calculated using an industry-wide formula based on a $150,000 loan over a 25-year period and includes things like revert rates after an introductory or fixed rate period, application fees and monthly account keeping fees.

In Australia, all lenders are required by law to publish the comparison rate alongside their advertised rate so people can compare products easily.

How do I calculate monthly mortgage repayments?

Work out your mortgage repayments using a home loan calculator that takes into account your deposit size, property value and interest rate. This is divided by the loan term you choose (for example, there are 360 months in a 30-year mortgage) to determine the monthly repayments over this time frame.

Over the course of your loan, your monthly repayment amount will be affected by changes to your interest rate, plus any circumstances where you opt to pay interest-only for a period of time, instead of principal and interest.

Interest Rate

Your current home loan interest rate. To accurately calculate how much you could save, an accurate interest figure is required. If you are not certain, check your bank statement or log into your mortgage account.