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Is a fixed or variable home loan better?

Is a fixed or variable home loan better?

The best choice between a fixed or variable home loan interest rate may depend on your personal and financial situation, as well as your home loan goals. There are advantages and disadvantages to fixed and variable interest rates, which could affect the value that different home loans offer you.

Variable rate home loans

The majority of home loans have a variable interest rate. This means the bank or mortgage lender could choose to increase or decrease the interest you’ll pay on your loan at any time. This could increase or decrease your home loan repayments from month to month, affecting your household budget.

Banks and lenders choose to cut or hike variable rates based on a range of factors, from the current national cash rate set by the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), to the cost of overseas funding, to the performance of investments and the national and international economy. Basically, the more it costs a lender to lend you money, the more likely they are to increase interest rates to make up these costs, and vice versa.

If your rate is cut, you could pay less for your home loan each month, allowing you to spend that money elsewhere. Alternatively, you could choose to keep your repayments the same and put the extra money towards reducing your mortgage principal, bringing you closer to paying off your property early so you’re charged less total interest.

But if your interest rate is increased, so will your home loan repayments. A sustained pattern of regular interest rate rises could see your repayments increase beyond what your household budget can comfortably handle. You may be able to refinance onto a lower rate with another lender, depending on your personal and financial situation.

The flexibility of variable interest rates often cuts both ways. Variable rate home loans are typically more likely to offer options for flexible repayments, such as unlimited extra repayments, free unlimited redraws, and an offset account. While these extra bells and whistles can mean paying higher rates and/or fees than a “vanilla” or “no-frills” home loan, careful use of these features and benefits could let you better manage your home loan repayments and potentially pay less in interest on your property.

Fixed rate home loans

Some lenders offer the chance to fix your home loan interest rate for a predetermined length of time; typically between 1 and 5 years, though some lenders will let you fix for as long as 10 years. This means you’ll be charged the same amount of interest on each repayment over this period, keeping the monthly cost of your home loan consistent. No matter whether your lender hikes or cuts its variable rates, your home loan repayments will remain the same, for simpler, more straightforward budgeting.

Fixed rate loans can be attractive to borrowers who want to keep their repayments manageable, as you’ll be insulated from your interest rate rises for a limited time. This can give you a chance to build up some equity in your property, so even if you revert to a higher variable rate on the expiry of your fixed rate term, you may have the option of refinancing available.

One of the biggest risks of a fixed rate home loan is a potential lack of flexibility. Agreeing to pay interest at a fixed rate for a limited time often means giving up options to make extra repayments, make redraws on your loan, or use an offset account. Additionally, if you find yourself wanting to refinance your home loan (such as if lenders have cut variable rates to below your fixed rate, and you want to benefit from these interest savings), you’ll need to pay break costs to get out of the fixed term early, which could reduce the overall value of refinancing your loan.

And once your fixed rate term comes to an end, your loan will revert to a variable interest rate, which may be higher than what you were paying before. This could lead to some sudden bill shock if you don’t budget carefully.

So which is better; fixed or variable?

Ultimately, the answer to the question of whether to fix your home loan interest rate or not comes down to you, your financial situation, and your personal goals.

If you’d prefer to keep your repayments steady for a limited time, a fixed rate loan may suit your needs. But if you’d prefer more flexibility around how you pay your mortgage, you may decide on a variable rate home loan.

There’s also the option to split your home loan, so that interest is charged at a fixed rate on a portion of your mortgage principal, and at a variable rate on the remining portion. This could allow you to enjoy the best of both worlds, with some flexibility and some consistency in your repayments.

If you’re unsure of which home loan option may best suit your budget and goals, consider contacting a mortgage broker for more personal advice.

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This article was reviewed by Personal Finance Editor Alex Ritchie before it was published as part of RateCity's Fact Check process.

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Learn more about home loans

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 are the different types of home loan interest rates?

A home loan interest rate is used to calculate how much you’ll pay the lender, usually annually, above the amount you borrow. It’s what the lenders charge you for them lending you money and will impact the total amount you’ll pay over the life of your home loan. 

Having understood what are home loan rates in general, here are the two types you usually have with a home loan:

Fixed rates

These interest rates remain constant for a specific period and are a good option if you’re a first-time buyer or if you’re looking for a fixed monthly repayment. One possible downside of a fixed rate is that it may be higher than a variable rate. Also, you don’t benefit from any lowering of interest rates in the market. On the flip side, if rates go up, your rate won’t change, possibly saving you money.

Variable rates

With variable interest rates, the lender can change them at any time. This change can be based on economic conditions or other reasons. Changes in interest rates could be beneficial if your monthly repayment decreases but can be a problem if it increases. Variable interest rates offer several other benefits often not available with fixed rate home loans like redraw and offset facilities and free extra repayments. 

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.

How long can you fix a home loan rate for?

Most lenders should let you fix your interest rate for anywhere between one and five years. While rare, a few lenders may offer fixed rate terms for as long as 10 years.

Fixing your home loan interest rate for a longer term can keep your budgeting fairly straightforward, as you shouldn't have to factor in changes to your mortgage repayments if variable rates change, such as when the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) changes its rates at its monthly meeting. Additionally, if variable rates rise during your fixed rate term, you can continue to pay the lower fixed rate until the fixed term ends, potentially saving you some money.

Of course, a longer fixed term also means a longer length of time where you may have less flexibility in your home loan repayments. It’s also a longer period where you won’t be able to refinance your mortgage without paying break fees. If variable rates were to fall during this period, you may also be stuck paying a higher fixed rate for a longer period.

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.

Does the Home Loan Rate Promise apply to discounted interest rate offers, such as honeymoon rates?

No. Temporary discounts to home loan interest rates will expire after a limited time, so they aren’t valid for comparing home loans as part of the Home Loan Rate Promise.

However, if your home loan has been discounted from the lender’s standard rate on a permanent basis, you can check if we can find an even lower rate that could apply to you.

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).

When does Commonwealth Bank charge an early exit fee?

When you take out a fixed interest home loan with the Commonwealth Bank, you’re able to lock the interest for a particular period. If the rates change during this period, your repayments remain unchanged. If you break the loan during the fixed interest period, you’ll have to pay the Commonwealth Bank home loan early exit fee and an administrative fee.

The Early Repayment Adjustment (ERA) and Administrative fees are applicable in the following instances:

  • If you switch your loan from fixed interest to variable rate
  • When you apply for a top-up home loan
  • If you repay over and above the annual threshold limit, which is $10,000 per year during the fixed interest period
  • When you prepay the entire outstanding loan balance before the end of the fixed interest duration.

The fee calculation depends on the interest rates, the amount you’ve repaid and the loan size. You can contact the lender to understand more about what you may have to pay. 

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 is the Home Loan Rate Promise?

The Home Loan Rate Promise is RateCity putting its money where its mouth is. We believe that too many Australians are paying too much for their home loans. We’re so confident we can help Aussies save money, if we can’t beat your current rate, we’ll give you a $100 gift card.*

There are two reasons it pays to check your rate with the Home Loan Rate Promise:

  • You can find out how much you could save on your home loan by switching to a loan with a lower interest rate
  • If we can’t beat your current rate, you can claim a $100 gift card with our Home Loan Rate Promise*

How does ANZ calculate early repayment costs?

If you have a fixed interest home loan, you’ll pay ANZ home loan early exit fees for partial or full repayment of the loan amount before the end of the fixed interest rate duration. These fees are also payable if you switch to another variable or fixed-rate loan.

The ANZ mortgage early exit fees can vary and you can get an estimate from the lender before you decide to prepay the loan. However, the exact early repayment cost can be determined when you prepay the loan.

The early exit fees are calculated after considering factors like the prepayment amount, the period left before the fixed-rate duration ends, and the change in the market rates since the beginning of the fixed-rate period. The early exit fees may not be charged if you’re paying off a smaller amount. You can check with ANZ to see how much you’ll have to pay.

How do I apply for a home improvement loan?

When you want to renovate your home, you may need to take out a loan to cover the costs. You could apply for a home improvement loan, which is a personal loan that you use to cover the costs of your home renovations. There is no difference between applying for this type of home improvement loan and applying for a standard personal loan. It would be best to check and compare the features, fees and details of the loan before applying. 

Besides taking out a home improvement loan, you could also:

  1. Use the equity in your house: Equity is the difference between your property’s value and the amount you still owe on your home loan. You may be able to access this equity by refinancing your home loan and then using it to finance your home improvement.  Speak with your lender or a mortgage broker about accessing your equity.
  2. Utilise the redraw facility of your home loan: Check whether the existing home loan has a redraw facility. A redraw facility allows you to access additional funds you’ve repaid into your home loan. Some lenders offer this on variable rate home loans but not on fixed. If this option is available to you, contact your lender to discuss how to access it.
  3. Apply for a construction loan: A construction loan is typically used when constructing a new property but can also be used as a home renovation loan. You may find that a construction loan is a suitable option as it enables you to draw funds as your renovation project progresses. You can compare construction home loans online or speak to a mortgage broker about taking out such a loan.
  4. Look into government grants: Check whether there are any government grants offered when you need the funds and whether you qualify. Initiatives like the HomeBuilder Grant were offered by the Federal Government for a limited period until April 2021. They could help fund your renovations either in full or just partially.  

How do you determine which home loan rates/products I’m shown?

When you check your home loan rate, you’ll supply some basic information about your current loan, including the amount owing on your mortgage and your current interest rate.

We’ll compare this information to the home loan options in the RateCity database and show you which home loan products you may be eligible to apply for.