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What are the pros and cons of a mortgage offset account?

What are the pros and cons of a mortgage offset account?

Getting a home loan with the right features is one of the simplest ways to reduce your costs in the long term. A mortgage offset account is one feature that could make a huge difference, potentially saving you thousands of dollars per year, and may help you repay your mortgage sooner.

What’s a mortgage offset account?

A mortgage offset account works like a regular savings or transaction account but is linked to your mortgage. You can deposit, withdraw or transfer money to and from your mortgage offset account as often as you like. However, the money in this account is used to “offset” your outstanding home loan balance, reducing the amount of interest you’re charged.

For example, if you have a $500,000 mortgage and keep $40,000 in a 100 per cent offset account, you’ll only be charged interest on $460,000. Thus, if you keep more money in your offset account, you’ll be charged less interest on your mortgage. However, your repayment amount will usually not change. Instead, a larger part of your regular repayment will be paying down the principal. This means you’ll be repaying your home loan faster while saving money on interest. 

You may choose to have your salary paid directly into your offset account to maintain a balance. You can then transfer amounts out of your offset account into your transaction account to use for your day-to-day spending. This will keep funds in your offset that can reduce the interest paid on your mortgage and help you budget better if you only withdraw the money you need.

What are the benefits of a mortgage offset account?

If you have some savings available, putting them in a mortgage offset account could help make your money work harder for you. This may not save you money on your regular repayments, but may save you money in the long term and help you repay your home loan sooner. 

For example, assuming you have a $500,000 mortgage, $40,000 in your offset account, an interest rate of 3 per cent per annum and a 25-year term, you might be able to pay off this mortgage 29 months sooner and save over $71,000 in interest charges (This example is only an illustration, and the actual figures may vary according to the terms and conditions of your loan).

Lowering how much you pay in interest is the most obvious potential benefit of mortgage offset accounts, but they aren’t the only  benefit. Another benefit is that because the money in your offset account helps to reduce the interest charged on your mortgage, rather than earning interest like a regular savings account, it won’t increase your taxable income. You may find it a good strategy to put any extra income or windfalls, including profits from investments, into an offset account to lower your mortgage repayments and potentially save on tax as well. 

Instead of using an offset account, you could put your savings or extra money into your home loan directly through additional repayments. This will have the same impact on your home loan in terms of saving on interest and helping you pay it off sooner. However, if you choose this option, your money may be locked in your loan. This will make it harder to access unless you have a redraw facility (which might have fees attached). When you use a mortgage offset account, there are generally no restrictions on depositing, transferring and withdrawing money if you need or want it.

Is an offset mortgage always a good idea?

Despite the benefits, there are also some potential disadvantages of an offset mortgage that you need to be aware of. Some of these include:

  • A mortgage with an offset account may have a higher interest rate than a mortgage without it.
  • Some lenders may also charge a monthly account-keeping fee.
  • Some lenders might also charge you each time you withdraw money from the account.

One way to calculate whether an offset mortgage is worth it is by calculating your annual costs versus the expected savings. Usually, an offset mortgage is most helpful if you’ve got a reasonable sum of money you can keep in your offset account.

If, however, you think you’ll be paying more than you save, it might be worth considering a basic no-frills home loan. Paying an extra fee for a feature, like an offset account, when you only have a few hundred dollars saved in the account may even leave you worse off. 

It’s also helpful to read the fine print when comparing offset mortgages. Some only offset a percentage of the account’s balance and not all of it. For example, with a 50 per cent offset account, only half of the balance in your account will be used to offset your outstanding loan. Some lenders may also have a minimum balance requirement to set up an offset account, so make sure to check with your lender if you’re eligible for one. Or, you could connect with a mortgage broker for obligation-free expert advice on mortgages and help in crunching the numbers to make an informed choice.

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

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Learn more about home loans

How does an offset account work?

An offset account functions as a transaction account that is linked to your home loan. The balance of this account is offset daily against the loan amount and reduces the amount of principal that you pay interest on.

By using an offset account it’s possible to reduce the length of your loan and the total amount of interest payed by thousands of dollars. 

Example: If you have a mortgage of $500,000 but holding an offset account with $50,000, you will only pay interest on $450,000 rather then $500,000.

What is the difference between offset and redraw?

The difference between an offset and redraw account is that an offset account is intended to work as a transaction account that can be accessed whenever you need. A redraw facility on the other hand is more like an “emergency fund” of money that you can draw on if needed but isn’t used for everyday expenses.

When do mortgage payments start after settlement?

Generally speaking, your first mortgage payment falls due one month after the settlement date. However, this may vary based on your mortgage terms. You can check the exact date by contacting your lender.

Usually your settlement agent will meet the seller’s representatives to exchange documents at an agreed place and time. The balance purchase price is paid to the seller. The lender will register a mortgage against your title and give you the funds to purchase the new home.

Once the settlement process is complete, the lender allows you to draw down the loan. The loan amount is debited from your loan account. As soon as the settlement paperwork is sorted, you can collect the keys to your new home and work your way through the moving-in checklist.

Why does Westpac charge an early termination fee for home loans?

The Westpac home loan early termination fee or break cost is applicable if you have a fixed rate home loan and repay part of or the whole outstanding amount before the fixed period ends. If you’re switching between products before the fixed period ends, you’ll pay a switching break cost and an administrative fee. 

The Westpac home loan early termination fee may not apply if you repay an amount below the prepayment threshold. The prepayment threshold is the amount Westpac allows you to repay during the fixed period outside your regular repayments.

Westpac charges this fee because when you take out a home loan, the bank borrows the funds with wholesale rates available to banks and lenders. Westpac will then work out your interest rate based on you making regular repayments for a fixed period. If you repay before this period ends, the lender may incur a loss if there is any change in the wholesale rate of interest.

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.

How does a mortgage calculator work?

A mortgage calculator is an extremely helpful tool when planning to take out a home loan and working out the costs. Although each mortgage calculator you come across may be slightly different, most will help you estimate how much your repayments will be. The calculator will often also show you the difference in repayments if you repay weekly, monthly or fortnightly. 

To calculate these figures, you’ll be asked to enter a few details. These include the amount you plan to borrow, whether you’re an owner-occupier or an investor, the proposed interest rate and the home loan term. It will also often show you the total interest you’ll be charged and the total amount you’ll repay over the life of the loan.  

Understanding how the mortgage calculator works, helps you to use it to see how different loan amounts, interest rates and terms affect your repayments. This can then help you choose a home loan that you can repay comfortably and save on interest costs. The mortgage calculator lets you compare the benefits and costs of home loans from different lenders to help you make a more informed choice. Use a mortgage calculator to help identify which home loan is most suitable for your requirements and financial situation.

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.

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.

Can I borrow extra on my mortgage for furniture?

Yes, you may be able to borrow extra on your mortgage for furniture. This may be done by considering a home equity loan. A home equity loan may allow you to access the equity in your mortgage for furniture via:

  • A line of credit – A pre-approved credit limit based on your equity.
  • A lump sum payment – Like a persona loan, with equity in your home loan used as security.

If you want to avoid borrowing more money, consider accessing cash deposited into your offset account or drawing down on extra repayments with a redraw facility to fund furniture purchases.

What are the features of home loans for expats from Westpac?

If you’re an Australian citizen living and working abroad, you can borrow to buy a property in Australia. With a Westpac non-resident home loan, you can borrow up to 80 per cent of the property value to purchase a property whilst living overseas. The minimum loan amount for these loans is $25,000, with a maximum loan term of 30 years.

The interest rates and other fees for Westpac non-resident home loans are the same as regular home loans offered to borrowers living in Australia. You’ll have to submit proof of income, six-month bank statements, an employment letter, and your last two payslips. You may also be required to submit a copy of your passport and visa that shows you’re allowed to live and work abroad.

Cash or mortgage – which is more suitable to buy an investment property?

Deciding whether to buy an investment property with cash or a mortgage is a matter or personal choice and will often depend on your financial situation. Using cash may seem logical if you have the money in reserve and it can allow you to later use the equity in your home. However, there may be other factors to think about, such as whether there are other debts to pay down and whether it will tie up all of your spare cash. Again, it’s a personal choice and may be worth seeking personal advice.

A mortgage is a popular option for people who don’t have enough cash in the bank to pay for an investment property. Sometimes when you take out a mortgage you can offset your loan interest against the rental income you may earn. The rental income can also help to pay down the loan.

What is mortgage stress?

Mortgage stress is when you don’t have enough income to comfortably meet your monthly mortgage repayments and maintain your lifestyle. Many experts believe that mortgage stress starts when you are spending 30 per cent or more of your pre-tax income on mortgage repayments.

Mortgage stress can lead to people defaulting on their loans which can have serious long term repercussions.

The best way to avoid mortgage stress is to include at least a 2 – 3 per cent buffer in your estimated monthly repayments. If you could still make your monthly repayments comfortably at a rate of up to 8 or 9 per cent then you should be in good position to meet your obligations. If you think that a rate rise would leave you at a risk of defaulting on your loan, consider borrowing less money.

If you do find yourself in mortgage stress, talk to your bank about ways to potentially reduce your mortgage burden. Contacting a financial counsellor can also be a good idea. You can locate a free counselling service in your state by calling the national hotline: 1800 007 007 or visiting www.financialcounsellingaustralia.org.au.

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. 

How do I save for a mortgage when renting?

Saving for a deposit to secure a mortgage when renting is challenging but it can be done with time and patience. If you’re on a single income it can be even more difficult but this shouldn’t discourage you from buying your own home.

To save for a deposit, plan out a monthly budget and put it in a prominent position so it acts as a daily reminder of your ultimate goal. In your budget, set aside an amount of money each week to go into a savings account so you can start building up the ‘0’s’ in your account.  There are a range of online savings accounts that offer reasonable interest, although some will only off you high rates for the first few months so be wary of this.

If you aren’t able to save a large deposit, you can consider ways of entering the market that require small or no deposits. This can include getting a parent to act as guarantor for your home loan or entering the market with an interest only loan.