What is a comparison rate, and how is it calculated?

While many people talk about home loan interest rates, far fewer people talk about comparison rates. This is unfortunate, as home loan comparison rates can make a big difference when you’re estimating the costs of different mortgage options, whether you’re applying for your first home loan or refinancing.

What is a comparison rate?

A comparison rate is an indication of a home loan’s overall cost, combining its interest, fees and other standard charges into a single percentage rate.

Looking at the comparison rates of two or more home loans can help you estimate at a glance which mortgages may end up costing you more or less money in overall costs.

From July 2003, the Australian government made it mandatory to display a comparison rate alongside an advertised interest rate, whether that’s for a home loan, personal loan, credit card, car loan, or other form of credit.

How are home loan comparison rates calculated?

To ensure that home loan comparison rates remain consistent across the mortgage market, they are calculated from the same starting point.

A home loan comparison rate assumes:

  • A loan of $150,000
  • A 25 year loan term
  • Principal and interest repayments

The comparison rate is calculated using these assumptions, factoring the following costs:

  • Interest rate
  • Standard fees and charges
  • Factors affecting the above (e.g. low introductory “honeymoon” rates, and the revert rates that follow when they expire)

All of these factors are combined to work out the approximate total cost of this example home loan, which is expressed as a single percentage of the loan value, just like an interest rate – this is the comparison rate. 

Example

At first glance, a home loan with an interest rate of 8% may appear cheaper than a home loan with an interest rate of 8.25%.

However, if the first home loan’s fees and charges cost approximately the equivalent of paying 0.5% extra interest, and the second home loan’s fees and charges cost approximately the equivalent of paying just 0.1% extra interest, the second loan could end up costing less in total than the first loan.

Home loan Interest rate Fees & charges Comparison rate
Home loan A 8% 0.5% 8.5%
Home loan B 8.25% 0.1% 8.35%

Source: MoneySmart

Is a comparison rate accurate?

While a  comparison rate can help you get a general idea of whether one home loan option is likely to have higher fees and charges than an alternative option, it may not give you a 100% accurate estimation of your home loan’s total cost.

This is partially because the assumptions used to calculate a comparison rate may not match the circumstances of your home loan. For example, comparison rates are calculated on the assumption of a $150,000 home loan, when the average owner-occupied home loan in November 2017 was $388,900, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). The larger a home loan, the smaller the impact that fees and charges are likely to make on the total cost compared to the interest rate.  

It’s also important to remember that a comparison rate doesn’t necessarily include every cost of a home loan, as some mortgages have nonstandard charges to consider, such as fees associated with loan options that you may not choose to use (e.g. early repayment fees or redraw fees).

Finally, a comparison rate doesn’t account for some of the extra features and benefits offered with some home loans, such as an offset account – you’ll need to decide for yourself whether this potential extra value justifies any extra cost. 

While a comparison rate can be useful for making a quick and simple comparison of home loan costs, for a more accurate summary of a home loan’s overall cost, you should use a home loan repayment calculator, such as RateCity’s, or MoneySmart’s . Alternatively, get in touch with a home loan expert or mortgage broker. 

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Learn more about home loans

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.

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. 

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.

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 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 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.

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 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 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 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's the difference between Real Time Ratings and comparison rates?

A comparison rate calculates the cost of a $150,000 loan over 25 years. While a comparison rate is a good industry benchmark, it doesn’t consider your specific lending requirements.

Real Time RatingsTM factors in essential information like your loan size, your loan-to-value ratio (LVR), whether you want an offset account and whether you are an investor or an owner-occupier.

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.

How do I know if I have to pay LMI?

Each lender has its own policies, but as a general rule you will have to pay lender’s mortgage insurance (LMI) if your loan-to-value ratio (LVR) exceeds 80 per cent. This applies whether you’re taking out a new home loan or you’re refinancing.

If you’re looking to buy a property, you can use this LMI calculator to work out how much you’re likely to be charged in LMI.