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Why you need to compare home loans

 Whether you’re a first home buyer or a long-time property investor, one of the first steps you should take before taking out a mortgage is to compare home loans from a range of Australian lenders. 

Buying a home is arguably the most expensive purchase you’ll ever make, so it pays to do your research. This is first and foremost to ensure you choose the most competitive home loan for your financial needs, and don’t end up paying more than you have to. 

When it comes to home loan comparison, a lot of people fall into the trap of just looking at the interest rate. 

However, there are several components of a home loan that can influence how much you’ll pay, including:

  • The loan amount
  • The interest rate
  • The loan type (fixed rate, variable rate or split rate loan)
  • What type of borrower you are (owner-occupier or investor)
  • The features (redraw facility, extra repayments, offset accounts etc.)
  • The fees (upfront fees, ongoing fees etc.) 

You shouldn’t need a law degree to understand the fine print of a home loan and make your choice. This is where home loan comparison rates come in. 

What is a comparison rate?

A comparison rate is a combination of the loan’s interest rate with its fees and other charges, such as ongoing monthly or yearly fees and upfront fees. 

The comparison rate will combine these fees with the interest rate and then create an average rate for the loan, based on a pre-set loan amount and loan term. 

What you should compare when searching for a home loan

When it comes to home loan comparison, a lot of people fall into the trap of just looking at the interest rate. 

However, there are several components of a home loan that can influence how much you’ll pay, including:

Home loan component About
Loan amount The principal amount repaid over the life of a home loan. If a borrower purchased a $500,000 house and had a deposit of $100,000, the amount borrowed would be $400,000.
Interest rate The amount of interest charged by a lender on your loan principal. The higher the interest rate, the higher your ongoing mortgage repayments.
Interest rate type Variable rate - A variable interest rate is subject to market fluctuation and may rise or fall depending on the Reserve Bank of Australia’s cash rate. Variable rate loans typically have more access to loan features.

Fixed rate - The borrower locks in an interest rate for a set period of time, generally 2-5 years. The interest rate will not change, and allows for simplified budgeting.

Split rate - Divide a percentage of a mortgage’s repayments between fixed and variable rates. For example, a $400,000 loan may be split 70/30 variable to fixed.

Repayment type Borrowers may choose between principal and interest repayments, or interest-only repayments. As the name suggests, interest-only repayments involve only paying the interest portion of your home loan for a set period of time (typically 2-5 years).

This option is generally used by investors, as making interest-only repayments lowers their mortgage expenses and increases their net gain - particularly if they sell the property quickly. However, by only paying interest charges, a borrower is not reducing their principal amount. When the interest-only period ends, their repayments will now be higher as their loan term will be shorter.

Borrower type Owner-occupiers, or those who live in the purchased dwelling, are typically charged lower interest rates than investors, as the latter carries a higher level of perceived risk to the lender. However, this gap has begun to shrink over recent years.
Length of loan/loan term The number of years a borrower repays a mortgage, with a regular home loan term sitting at 25-30 years. The loan term can significantly impact the total interest charged, as well as ongoing repayments. A shorter home loan term (10-20 years) may mean higher mortgage bills but less interest charged, and vice versa for a longer home loan term (30-40 years).
Loan features There are a range of home loan features available which can unlock a loan’s potential by allowing borrowers to reduce their repayments or chip away at their debt faster. For more information on all the loan features, please read below.
Loan fees Home loan fees can be some of the biggest ongoing costs associated with a mortgage, particularly for borrowers on low interest rates. For more information on all the loan features, please read below.

How to compare home loans 

  • Comparison tables & tools

One of the best ways to compare home loans in Australia is by utilising home loan comparison tools. These include interest rate comparison tables, mortgage repayment calculators, Lenders Mortgage Insurance (LMI) calculators and stamp duty calculators. 

RateCity.com.au allows you to easily compare home loans through its easy to navigate comparison tables. Search for and compare home loan interest rates from over 100 Australian lenders, and use the filtering system to narrow down your options to find a loan that suits your specific financial needs. 

You can then click on one or more loans and select ‘Compare’ to see how the loan stacks up against the big four banks and/or any other loans you may be interested in. 

  • Comparison rates

When it comes to mortgage comparison, you shouldn’t only look at the advertised interest rate. Once you’ve narrowed down a selection of home loans thanks to the comparison tools, you can use the comparison rate as a starting-off guide to calculate your potential mortgage repayments with RateCity.com.au’s mortgage repayment calculator, and measure this against your budget. 

This is one of the more effective ways to compare home loan interest rates as comparison rates give you a more realistic interest rate for what your total costs will be, and allows you to budget your expenses and repayments much more effectively. 

For example, Nick wants to borrow $350,000 for a 30-year home loan and he can afford up to $1,600 a month on mortgage repayments. By using the RateCity.com.au comparison tools, he found a home loan with an interest rate of 3.50 per cent. He then used a mortgage repayment calculator and found his monthly repayments will be $1,572.  

As a rule of thumb, you should avoid paying more than 30 per cent of your income on your mortgage, or risk entering into mortgage stress. 

  • Look at the features and flexibility

The lowest interest rate isn’t necessarily the most important thing to consider when comparing home loans. If you’re desperate for a home loan with features such as an offset account, there’s no point just looking at the comparison rate. You need to choose a loan that actually suits your financial needs and offers those features. 

RateCity's comparison tables allow you to easily view a home loan product’s features, so you can compare what is on offer and level of flexibility in the home loan. 

What are the best home loan comparison rates in Australia? 

There are a range of factors that you need to consider when comparing home loans, and the best home loan for one person may not necessarily be the best for another. 

While there is no one ‘best’ home loan on the market, you can utilise home loan comparison tools, mortgage repayment calculators, as well as home loan guides to make the most educated decision around what is the best home loan for you. 

It is important that you don’t just look at the comparison rate when choosing your home loan. These are the questions you should ask yourself when comparing your home loan options to find the most competitive mortgage for you: 

  • What is the length of the loan?
  • What will my repayments be?
  • Is the rate fixed, variable or split?
  • Can I make additional repayments?
  • What fees have or haven’t been included in my calculations?
  • Will my mortgage repayments be more than 30 per cent of my pre-tax income? 

Home Loans 101 

What home loan features are available?

There are a range of helpful home loan features that allow you to have the most flexibility in your mortgage, including:

Home Loan Feature

About

Additional repayments

Allows you to lower your total interest and shortens the length of your loan. Some fees may apply.

Interest only repayments

Allows you to pay only for the interest on your home loan first, to reduce mortgage repayments in the short term. Will prevent you from growing equity or making a dent in your principal repayments.

Introductory rate

Lower rate offered to new customers to entice them into joining. This will revert to a higher interest rate once this introductory period is over.

Line of credit

Lets you access the equity in your current home to use for a holiday, renovations etc.

Lump sum repayments

Your lender will allow you to make ad-hoc bulk repayments towards your mortgage (useful if you get a large tax return, or come into some money). 

Offset account

A transaction account linked to your home loan where the balance of the transaction account is offset against the unpaid balance of your loan, to reduce the amount of interest payable. Can involve higher interest rates.

Mortgage portability

You can transfer your loan from your current home to a different property, sometimes reducing fees (establishment fees etc.)

Redraw facility

Allows you to access extra payments you’ve made towards the mortgage by using the equity in your home as security to borrow money. The more money you put into a redraw facility, the less you’ll pay on your home loan.

Split loan

For when you can’t decide whether to have a fixed or variable home loan – split it 50/50. 

What home loan fees could I be charged? 

There are a range of fees that lenders may charge that you should consider when comparing home loans, as they will impact your overall mortgage cost. These include:

  • Application fee
  • Annual fees 
  • Additional repayment fee
  • Late payment fee
  • Break costs and exit fees
  • Mortgage discharge fee
  • Redraw facility
  • Switching fee
  • Lenders Mortgage Insurance (LMI)
  • Stamp duty 

If you've nabbed a rock-bottom interest rate but are still paying through the nose in annual fees, then you may not be saving as much as you expected on ongoing mortgage repayments. However, there are many home loans that waive some of these fees to help customers keep costs down. Many lenders may also waive the costs associated with refinancing to encourage customers to refinance with said lender. Do your research around which fees a lender may charge before applying for a mortgage. 

Frequently asked questions

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.

 

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.  

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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 can I calculate interest on my home loan?

You can calculate the total interest you will pay over the life of your loan by using a mortgage calculator. The calculator will estimate your repayments based on the amount you want to borrow, the interest rate, the length of your loan, whether you are an owner-occupier or an investor and whether you plan to pay ‘principal and interest’ or ‘interest-only’.

If you are buying a new home, the calculator will also help you work out how much you’ll need to pay in stamp duty and other related costs.

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.

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.

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.

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 an interest-only loan? How do I work out interest-only loan repayments?

An ‘interest-only’ loan is a loan where the borrower is only required to pay back the interest on the loan. Typically, banks will only let lenders do this for a fixed period of time – often five years – however some lenders will be happy to extend this.

Interest-only loans are popular with investors who aren’t keen on putting a lot of capital into their investment property. It is also a handy feature for people who need to reduce their mortgage repayments for a short period of time while they are travelling overseas, or taking time off to look after a new family member, for example.

While moving on to interest-only will make your monthly repayments cheaper, ultimately, you will end up paying your bank thousands of dollars extra in interest to make up for the time where you weren’t paying off the principal.

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 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*

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 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.