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Should I get an offset account?

Should I get an offset account?

When searching for your ideal home loan, there are a range of helpful features that can offer more flexibility and reduce your ongoing repayments. One of the most popular features for a home loan which may do just that is an offset account.

What is an offset account?

An offset account is like a transaction or savings account in that it is an active account connected to your home loan and the money in it may be accessed at any time.

However, any funds you deposit into said account will “offset” or help to reduce the amount owing daily on your loan. This may decrease the interest you have to pay, as your interest is now calculated on a lower loan balance.

Put simply, the lender will base your mortgage repayments as if the money in your offset had been paid into your home loan.

For example, if you have a 25-year, $400,000 home loan with a rate of 2.5%, your monthly repayments would be $1,794. If you had the same home loan and $70,000 in your offset account, the lender would base your interest charges as if your mortgage was $330,000. This would mean being charged $314 less for interest each month, which can instead be used to shrink your loan principal and pay off your mortgage faster.

Further, if the $70,000 was deposited at the time of home loan approval, the difference in interest charged over the life of the loan may see you save over $50,000.

Repayments on a $400k loan with and without an offset account

With an offset accountWithout an offset account
Amount in offset account$70,000$0
Interest over life of loan$86,535.25$138,340
Savings$51,805

Source: RateCity.com.au

Note: Based on a hypothetical 25-year, $400,000 home loan at a rate of 2.5% with $70,000 in offset account from beginning of loan term. Assumes that the offset account balance remains unchanged at the end of each month. Assumes rate does not fluctuate and no fees charged for the sake of the example.

Essentially, an offset account allows you to effectively make extra payments on your loan that can help reduce your interest charges. But unlike standard additional repayments, you may access these funds when needed – without the additional hassles a redraw facility may offer.

What are the benefits of an offset account?

If you’re tossing up whether you should get an offset account, you’ll want to take into consideration it’s advantages and disadvantages. Let’s start with some of the benefits first, which may include:

  • Pay less interest – As funds in your offset account help to reduce the principal you owe, the interest charged on your ongoing mortgage repayments should fall too, and allow you to pay off your property faster. Interest is one of the costliest parts of a mortgage, so reducing this in any way may help you to save over the life of your loan.
  • Less restrictions – Unlike a redraw facility, an offset account will generally have less restrictions about accessing the funds in the offset account when needed. If you need the funds in a pinch, this flexibility may be a lifesaver.
  • Tax advantages – It’s also worth noting that the funds you deposit into your offset account don’t generate taxable income. If the funds you deposit into your offset were instead placed into a savings account, the interest you earn would be taxed. If you have a large sum of money to deposit somewhere, it may be better served in your offset than savings account if these tax benefits are important to you.

What are the disadvantages of an offset account?

There are some downsides involved with opting for a loan with an offset account that are worth weighing up against the pros in your home loan comparison. This includes:

  • Limited home loan options – Offset accounts are typically reserved for variable rate home loans. While there may be some exceptions to this rule, generally speaking, you will need a variable home loan to use this feature. If having a fixed rate home loan is important to your financial situation and budget, then this may be worth taking into consideration.
  • Pay for the perks – It’s also worth noting that having an offset account linked to your home loan may cost you more in interest and/or fees than if you chose a more no-frills option. A home loan with this feature may come with a higher interest rate or greater annual fees than a lender’s basic home loan. You may also find your lender hits you with a fee for every withdrawal you make, so be sure to read the product disclosure statement before you apply.
  • Need money to save money – To see the greatest savings from using your offset account you will need to deposit a considerable amount into it. Unfortunately, a few thousand dollars may only be a drop in the ocean of chipping away at your principal. If you don’t have a savings plan to grow your offset balance over the next few years, then it may not be as effective as you’d like in reducing your repayments.

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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.

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.  

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 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 you find cheap home loans?

With so many interest rate options and repayment types available, finding the cheapest home loan may depend on the type of loan you choose.

Whether you’re looking for an owner-occupier or investor loan, with interest-only or principal and interest repayments, on a fixed or variable interest rate, the cheapest home loan rate available may vary greatly.

One way to find the cheapest option for you is to narrow down your search and compare the options that best suit your individual requirements. RateCity’s home loan comparison tables can help you get started on your search and take the hassle out of shopping around.

Can I take a personal loan after a home loan?

Are you struggling to pay the deposit for your dream home? A personal loan can help you pay the deposit. The question that may arise in your mind is can I take a home loan after a personal loan, or can you take a personal loan at the same time as a home loan, as it is. The answer is that, yes, provided you can meet the general eligibility criteria for both a personal loan and a home loan, your application should be approved. Those eligibility criteria may include:

  • Higher-income to show repayment capability for both the loans
  • Clear credit history with no delays in bill payments or defaults on debts
  • Zero or minimal current outstanding debt
  • Some amount of savings
  • Proven rent history will be positively perceived by the lenders

A personal loan after or during a home loan may impact serviceability, however, as the numbers can seriously add up. Every loan you avail of increases your monthly installments and the amount you use to repay the personal loan will be considered to lower the money available for the repayment of your home loan.

As to whether you can get a personal loan after your home loan, the answer is a very likely "yes", though it does come with a caveat: as long as you can show sufficient income to repay both the loans on time, you should be able to get that personal loan approved. A personal loan can also help to improve your credit score showing financial discipline and responsibility, which may benefit you with more favorable terms for your home loan.

Is the lowest home loan rate always the cheapest?

The home loan with the lowest interest rate may not always be the cheapest mortgage option for you. Sometimes a home loan with a low interest rate may charge high fees, which may cost more in total than a mortgage with a higher interest rate and no fees.

Consider checking the comparison rate, which combines interest and standard fees, to get a better idea of the overall cost of different home loan options.

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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 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.