The pros and cons of fixing your loan

The pros and cons of fixing your loan

Many Australians take out home loans in order to realise their property goals and while making the jump from a tenant to a homeowner is a big step, whether people opt for a fixed or variable home loan is another story entirely. 

The Big Four Australian banks have pleased would-be homeowners with a recent drop in fixed home loan rates but as a result, have prompted a country-wide debate as borrowers ask themselves the question, “Is it time to fix?”

Alex Parsons, CEO of RateCity, said choosing to fix your mortgage is a personal and financial decision, which will vary for every Australian borrower.

“Consumers should look at both their short and long-term circumstances, compare a range of home loan options and look at the pros and cons of fixing before taking up one, or the other.” 

Pro: You want certainty

With the Commonwealth Bank of Australian (CBA), National Australia Bank (NAB) and Westpac dropping their five year fixed rate home loans to 4.99 percent and ANZ reducing its equivalent loan to 5.49 percent –these historically low fixed-rates are nothing to be shy about. 

Gai McGrath, Westpac‘s general manager of Retail Banking explained that affordable fixed-rate mortgages are particularly appealing to customers looking to secure their repayment amount over the long term.

If you’re starting out on the home loan journey, locking a long-term competitive interest rate could be a smart move. You’ll have a clear idea of your fortnightly or monthly payments for the fixed term of your loan, which makes budgeting easier.

Pro: You’re protected against cash rate fluctuations

By locking in a fixed interest rate, those with home loans can protect themselves from rate rises that may occur in the future. One big influence on lenders’ mortgage rates is the Reserve Bank of Australia’s official cash rate.

At the beginning of July, Glenn Stevens, RBA Governor, noted that the cash rate may remain stable for some time.

“On present indications, the most prudent course is likely to be a period of stability in interest rates.”

Despite indications suggesting rate stability, if the cash rate did lift, lenders could well respond by increasing their variable-rate loans too. By having a fixed rate mortgage, you’ll be protected against such changes for the duration of your agreed fixed term.

But beware – if the cash rate drops, borrowers with fixed rate home loans won’t reap the benefits.

Con: Know the revert interest rates

Fixed interest rates are usually offered for a period of one to five years. After the fixed rate period ends your home loan will automatically revert to the lender’s variable interest rate. Unless, you choose to fix your rate again – but this could be at a much higher rate than previously.

Either way, at the end of the term you will be changing interest rates so it’s imperative that do your research and know what your lenders revert interest rate is – so you aren’t left with a nasty surprise at the end of your loan term.

Con: Less flexibility 

Individuals who get a pay rise, a bonus or inherit some money may wish to put these extra funds towards paying off their home loans but may not be able to if they are locked into a fixed loan. 

Some fixed-term home loans restrict the ability to make extra repayments. You may not be able to make such payments, or have to pay a fee to do so. 

Likewise, there are often restrictions on paying the loan off before the stipulated term.

“The interest rate is only one part of the overall home loan equation – so make sure you look at the fees, charges, repayment options and the terms and conditions,” Parsons said.

Fixed rate loan terms are less flexible than variable, which means in most cases you can’t make extra repayments or pay off your loan earlier – if you do so it could be at a cost – whereas, extra repayments paid on a variable rate loan could save you thousands and cut years off your loan term.”

Can’t decide? Split it!

If you are stuck on the fence trying to decide which mortgage route is the safest and best for you financially, why not consider covering all bases by splitting your loan?

Most banks and lenders will allow you to split your loan so that you can pick up some of the pros and cons of both loan options.

Still undecided? Let the figures do the talking.

RateCity crunched the numbers and data showed that moving from the average variable rate to a 5 year fixed rate at 4.99 percent could save borrowers $51 per month on a $300,000, or $3060 over the course of five years, excluding fees and charges.

Carry out a home loan comparison and calculate your repayments to establish which loan type is best for your needs.   

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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 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.

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.

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 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 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).

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 a split home loan?

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 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.

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.

Will I be paying two mortgages at once when I refinance?

No, given the way the loan and title transfer works, you will not have to pay two mortgages at the one time. You will make your last monthly repayment on loan number one and then the following month you will start paying off loan number two.

Does Australia have no cost refinancing?

No Cost Refinancing is an option available in the US where the lender or broker covers your switching costs, such as appraisal fees and settlement costs. Unfortunately, no cost refinancing isn’t available in Australia.

Can I change jobs while I am applying for a home loan?

Whether you’re a new borrower or you’re refinancing your home loan, many lenders require you to be in a permanent job with the same employer for at least 6 months before applying for a home loan. Different lenders have different requirements. 

If your work situation changes for any reason while you’re applying for a mortgage, this could reduce your chances of successfully completing the process. Contacting the lender as soon as you know your employment situation is changing may allow you to work something out.