When a cheap home loan could be costly

When a cheap home loan could be costly

Not surprisingly, borrowers often make the interest rate their key point of consideration when shopping for a home loan. But a low rate doesn’t always offer the best deal. Chris Walker reports.

December 1, 2009

A wafer thin home loan rate is always an eye-catcher, especially for first homebuyers, who may be strapped for cash after years of building a deposit. But a skinny rate may be a smokescreen for what could prove to be a costly loan, so it pays to be very sure about what you’re getting for your money.

Thankfully, most variable rate home loans come with the option to make extra repayments at no additional cost. This is a must-have. Even if you’re not in the position to pay more today, your income is likely to rise over time, and paying a bit extra off your loan is the single best way to make big savings on mortgage interest. Many fixed rate loans do not permit, or put a limit on, additional loan repayments.

A pitfall to be wary of is loans that appear to offer a budget rate while being packed with fees and charges. The best way to avoid this trap is by referring to the loan’s comparison rate, which includes most upfront and ongoing fees and charges.

For instance, La Trobe Financial offers a 6-month Intro Variable home loan but the product comes with a raft of upfront fees totalling over $1,500 at the time of writing, which would push up the comparison rate.

Mortgages offering an introductory rate can be problematic because the low rate typically applies for a limited time, reverting to a much higher charge once the honeymoon period is over. The honeymoon period is often for only one year so the majority of the loan term will be stung with a higher rate.

By contrast, basic home loans have some of the lowest rates around and also come with some features and benefits such as an offset account (though usually not 100 percent offset) and a redraw facility.

It goes to show the value of crunching some numbers and checking the fine print to see if a low rate really is as good as it seems.

 

 
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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 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 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 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 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.

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.

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.

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 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.

How long does Bankwest take to approve home loans?

Full approval for a home loan usually involves a property valuation, which, Bankwest suggests, can take “a week or two”. As a result, getting your home loan approved may take longer. However, you may get full approval within this time if you applied for and received conditional approval, sometimes called a pre-approval, from Bankwest before finalising the home you want to buy.  

Another way of speeding up approvals can be by completing, signing, and submitting your home loan application digitally. Essentially, you give the bank or your mortgage broker a copy of your home’s sale contract and then complete the rest of the steps online. Bankwest has claimed this cuts the approval time to less than four days, although this may only happen if your income and credit history can be verified easily, or if your home’s valuation doesn’t take time.

Why should I get an ING home loan pre-approval?

When you apply for an ING home loan pre-approval, you might be required to provide proof of employment and income, savings, as well as details on any on-going debts. The lender could also make a credit enquiry against your name. If you’re pre-approved, you will know how much money ING is willing to lend you. 

Please note, however, that a pre-approval is nothing more than an idea of your ability to borrow funds and is not the final approval. You should receive the home loan approval  only after finalising the property and submitting a formal loan application to the lender, ING. Additionally, a pre-approval does not stay valid indefinitely, since your financial circumstances and the home loan market could change overnight.

 

 

Can I get a NAB home loan on casual employment?

While many lenders consider casual employees as high-risk borrowers because of their fluctuating incomes, there are a few specialist lenders, such as NAB, which may provide home loans to individuals employed on a casual basis. A NAB home loan for casual employment is essentially a low doc home loan specifically designed to help casually employed individuals who may be unable to provide standard financial documents. However, since such loans are deemed high risk compared to regular home loans, you could be charged higher rates and receive lower maximum LVRs (Loan to Value Ratio, which is the loan amount you can borrow against the value of the property).

While applying for a home loan as a casual employee, you will likely be asked to demonstrate that you've been working steadily and might need to provide group certificates for the last two years. It is at the lender’s discretion to pick either of the two group certificates and consider that to be your income. If you’ve not had the same job for several years, providing proof of income could be a bit of a challenge for you. In this scenario, some lenders may rely on your year to date (YTD) income, and instead calculate your yearly income from that.