Is the cheapest home loan always the best?

We all want to pay as little for our mortgage as possible, but it would be wrong to assume that lower-rate products are automatically better.

In some ways, a home loan is like a meal or a car or a pair of shoes – the cheapest isn’t always the best.

Here are five reasons why the product with the lowest rate might not be all it’s cracked up to be.

The lowest rate might not be the lowest rate

Lenders like to entice customers with what is called a ‘honeymoon rate’ – an artificially low rate that soon reverts to the higher ‘real’ rate.

For example, a lender might offer a discount of 0.50 percentage points to lure in the borrower, but then move them to the real rate six months into the mortgage.

Hidden costs can be surprisingly high

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Another reason the headline interest rate might be misleading is that you could end up paying significantly more than you expected once fees and charges have been added on.

That’s why borrowers should check not just the headline rate but also the ‘comparison rate’, which also incorporates fees and charges. Sometimes, the comparison rate can be more than 1 percentage point higher than the headline rate.

Cheap products are often cheap for a reason

Ultra-low mortgage products are often no-frills products, so even if they really are as cheap as they look, they might be missing desirable features.

For example, you might want access to an offset account or redraw facility, or you might want the option of temporarily reducing or freezing your repayments – all of which might be absent.

As a result, you might be better off choosing a mortgage that has a higher rate but offers you more control.

You might be denied branch access

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Another reason some lenders are able to offer such low rates is because they don’t have to fund expensive branch networks – either because they have just a few branches or because they’re online-only operations.

But what if you want the security of always having a branch on hand? In that case, you might want to choose an alternative lender, even if it means paying a little bit more.

Pricier fixed rates might be a better option

Ultra-low variable rates are all well and good, but what if you expect interest rates to increase or you need certainty so you can better manage your finances?

Again, you might feel more comfortable opting for a pricier fixed-rate mortgage.

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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 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.

What is a honeymoon rate and honeymoon period?

Also known as the ‘introductory rate’ or ‘bait rate’, a honeymoon rate is a special low interest rate applied to loans for an initial period to attract more borrowers. The honeymoon period when this lower rate applies usually varies from six months to one year. The rate can be fixed, capped or variable for the first 12 months of the loan. At the end of the term, the loan reverts to the standard variable rate.

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.

What is a standard variable rate (SVR)?

The standard variable rate (SVR) is the interest rate a lender applies to their standard home loan. It is a variable interest rate which is normally used as a benchmark from which they price their other variable rate home loan products.

A standard variable rate home loan typically includes most, if not all the features the lender has on offer, such as an offset account, but it often comes with a higher interest rate attached than their most ‘basic’ product on offer (usually referred to as their basic variable rate mortgage).

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 the difference between a fixed rate and variable rate?

A variable rate can fluctuate over the life of a loan as determined by your lender. While the rate is broadly reflective of market conditions, including the Reserve Bank’s cash rate, it is by no means the sole determining factor in your bank’s decision-making process.

A fixed rate is one which is set for a period of time, regardless of market fluctuations. Fixed rates can be as short as one year or as long as 15 years however after this time it will revert to a variable rate, unless you negotiate with your bank to enter into another fixed term agreement

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 however fixed rates do offer customers a level of security by knowing exactly how much they need to set aside each month.

What is the best interest rate for a mortgage?

The fastest way to find out what the lowest interest rates on the market are is to use a comparison website.

While a low interest rate is highly preferable, it is not the only factor that will determine whether a particular loan is right for you.

Loans with low interest rates can often include hidden catches, such as high fees or a period of low rates which jumps up after the introductory period has ended.

To work out the best value for money, have a look at a loan’s comparison rate and read the fine print to get across all the fees and charges that you could be theoretically charged over the life of the loan.

What is the average annual percentage rate?

Also known as the comparison rate, or sometimes the ‘true rate’ of a loan, the average annual percentage rate (AAPR) is used to indicate the overall cost of a loan after considering all the fees, charges and other factors, such as introductory offers and honeymoon rates.

The AAPR is calculated based on a standardised loan amount and loan term, and doesn’t include any extra non-standard charges.

Which mortgage is the best for me?

The best mortgage to suit your needs will vary depending on your individual circumstances. If you want to be mortgage free as soon as possible, consider taking out a mortgage with a shorter term, such as 25 years as opposed to 30 years, and make the highest possible mortgage repayments. You might also want to consider a loan with an offset facility to help reduce costs. Investors, on the other hand, might have different objectives so the choice of loan will differ.

Whether you decide on a fixed or variable interest rate will depend on your own preference for stability in repayment amounts, and flexibility when it comes to features.

If you do not have a deposit or will not be in a financial position to make large repayments right away you may wish to consider asking a parent to be a guarantor or looking at interest only loans. Again, which one of these options suits you best is reliant on many factors and you should seek professional advice if you are unsure which mortgage will suit you best.

What is a guarantor?

A guarantor is someone who provides a legally binding promise that they will pay off a mortgage if the principal borrower fails to do so.

Often, guarantors are parents in a solid financial position, while the principal borrower is a child in a weaker financial position who is struggling to enter the property market.

Lenders usually regard borrowers as less risky when they have a guarantor – and therefore may charge lower interest rates or even approve mortgages they would have otherwise rejected.

However, if the borrower falls behind on their repayments, the lender might chase the guarantor for payment. In some circumstances, the lender might even seize and sell the guarantor’s property to recoup their money.

How do I take out a low-deposit home loan?

If you want to take out a low-deposit home loan, it might be a good idea to consult a mortgage broker who can give you professional financial advice and organise the mortgage for you.

Another way to take out a low-deposit home loan is to do your own research with a comparison website like RateCity. Once you’ve identified your preferred mortgage, you can apply through RateCity or go direct to the lender.

What is breach of contract?

A failure to follow all or part of a contract or breaking the conditions of a contract without any legal excuse. A breach of contract can be material, minor, actual or anticipatory, depending on the severity of the breaches and their material impact.

What happens when you default on your mortgage?

A mortgage default occurs when you are 90 days or more behind on your mortgage repayments. Late repayments will often incur a late fee on top of the amount owed which will continue to gather interest along with the remaining principal amount.

If you do default on a mortgage repayment you should try and catch up in next month’s payment. If this isn’t possible, and missing payments is going to become a regular issue, you need to contact your lender as soon as possible to organise an alternative payment schedule and discuss further options.

You may also want to talk to a financial counsellor.