Why you should compare mortgage rates when conducting a home loan health check

A home loan is the biggest financial commitment that most people will ever make. It's not just a big commitment, but a long one - generally 25 to 30 years.

That's why a home loan should never be something that you "set and forget" for two or three decades.

Instead, it should be something you review on a regular basis to ensure you're getting the best mortgage rates, the best fees and the best features for your household's unique needs.

In other words, it's time for your home loan health check.

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2.19%

Fixed - 3 years

2.45%

Macquarie Bank

$1,516

Redraw facility
Offset Account
Borrow up to 70%
Extra Repayments
Interest Only
Owner Occupied

3.78

/ 5
More details

2.74%

Fixed - 5 years

2.62%

Macquarie Bank

$1,613

Redraw facility
Offset Account
Borrow up to 70%
Extra Repayments
Interest Only
Owner Occupied

2.88

/ 5
More details

2.09%

Fixed - 2 years

2.35%

Tic Toc

$1,499

Redraw facility
Offset Account
Borrow up to 90%
Extra Repayments
Interest Only
Owner Occupied

3.68

/ 5
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2.68%

Variable

2.69%

Suncorp Bank

$1,602

Redraw facility
Offset Account
Borrow up to 80%
Extra Repayments
Interest Only
Owner Occupied

3.71

/ 5
View Now
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2.29%

Variable

2.33%

Mortgage House

$1,533

Redraw facility
Offset Account
Borrow up to 60%
Extra Repayments
Interest Only
Owner Occupied

3.70

/ 5
View Now
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How do mortgage interest rates affect your home loan's health?

One reason to conduct regular home loan health checks is because a seemingly small difference in mortgage rates can make a big difference over the term of a loan.

Some people don't refinance their mortgage because they don't compare mortgage rates and realise there are lower-rate options on the market.

Other people never get around to refinancing because they keep telling themselves, "There's no rush, I'm only paying a few dollars extra per month”.

However, a small reduction in monthly repayments can add up to a saving in total costs over the life of the loan.

For example, imagine you have 20 years left on your mortgage and you manage to refinance from a home loan with an interest rate of 4.50 per cent to one at 4.00 per cent. Here’s how much you could save based on an outstanding loan of $300,000, $500,000 or $700,000:

  $300,000 $500,000  $700,000 
Total repayments at 4.50 per cent $455,508 $759,179 $1,062,851
Total repayments at 4.00 per cent $436,306 $727,176 $1,018,047
Savings $19,202 $32,003 $44,804

Hypothetical examples are for illustrative purposes only. Does not account for fees or interest rate changes over time. Source: MoneySmart

The cheapest loan isn't necessarily the best loan, but the interest rate is always an important factor when assessing the pros and cons of a mortgage.

By conducting a home loan health check, you can not only get an idea of how your home loan interest rate compares to the rest of the market, but you can also consider several alternative mortgage options.

Watch out for honeymoon rates

When you’re comparing home loan interest rates, check to see whether the lender’s low rate comes from a discount available as an introductory offer. Once this initial “honeymoon” period expires, the loan may revert to a higher interest rate, resulting in higher repayments.

Fees in your home loan health check

Conducting a home loan health check shouldn't mean just comparing mortgage interest rates. It's also important to look at home loan fees.

Many home loans come with ongoing fees, which can include:

  • monthly fees
  • annual fees
  • offset account fees 

Borrowers can also be slugged with fees for making use of some home loan features, like redrawing funds or making additional repayments.

Some lenders also get you on the way out by charging a discharge fee when you finally close the loan.

Fees can be a bit like interest rates in that paying a bit more in the short term can lead to a paying a lot more over the loan's full term. 

Imagine that you had 20 years left on your mortgage and you switched to a home loan with lower fees. Here’s how those savings can add up:

  • $100 per year = $2,000 over 20 years
  • $200 per year = $4,000 over 20 years
  • $300 per year = $6,000 over 20 years
  • $400 per year = $8,000 over 20 years
  • $500 per year = $10,000 over 20 years

Still not convinced about the benefits of a home loan health check?

Features in your home loan health check

Does your home loan offer the kind of features and benefits that could make managing your finances quicker and easier? 

A few examples include:

  • Extra repayments: Paying more than the minimum required amount onto your home loan can shrink your home loan principal, paying off your property faster and helping you save on interest charges. 
  • Redraw facility: This flexible feature gives you the option to take any extra repayments you make onto your home loan back out of your mortgage again if you need the cash. 
  • Offset account: A savings or transaction account linked to your home loan. Money saved in this account is used to “offset” your mortgage principal, so you can be charged less interest. For example, if you owe $300,000 on your mortgage, and have $20,000 saved in your offset account, you’ll be charged interest as if you only had $280,000 owing. 

Similarly, if you’re not getting a lot of use out of your current home loan’s features and benefits, refinancing to a more basic “no frills” home loan could mean enjoying a lower interest rate and/or cheaper fees. 

Home loan package deals

Some banks and mortgage lenders offer home loan bundles, which combine a home loan with a transaction account, credit card, or other financial products, and let you benefit from a discount on the lot.

How to refinance a mortgage

Once you've done a home loan health check and mortgage rate comparison, if you decide you do want to switch home loans, you'll have to refinance your mortgage.

How refinancing works: 

  1. Imagine you have a mortgage with Lender X, with an interest rate of 4.50%, outstanding debt of $300,000, and a remaining loan term of 20 years.
  2. After comparing more than 100 lenders, you decide you like the look of Lender Y, which is offering a similar home loan to Lender X, but with a mortgage interest rate of just 4.00%.
  3. If you decide to refinance, Lender Y would repay your debt to Lender X – you would owe nothing to your old lender, and instead owe $300,000 to your new lender.

However, before you sign on any dotted lines, it’s important to ask yourself a few questions, such as:

Did you check the comparison rate?

When you make a home loan comparison as part of a home loan health check, it’s important to consider the 'comparison rate', and not just the 'advertised rate'.

A home loan’s advertised rate only indicates the cost of mortgage interest, and doesn't include fees or other charges. Sometimes a home loan with a low interest rate but high fees can actually cost more over the long term than a home loan with a higher interest rate and low or no fees. 

A home loan’s comparison rate combines its interest rate with the cost of its standard fees and charges, giving you a better idea of its total overall cost. This can provide a quick and simple way to compare home loans and provide a better idea of which offers may cost more over the long term.  

With some loans, there will be no gap between the advertised and comparison rates, while others will have a significant gap of one percentage point or more.

Will you need to pay fees? And what for?

If you do refinance, you may have to pay a range of fees to both lenders. 

Your old lender may slug you with a discharge fee, and if you're exiting a fixed-rate loan ahead of schedule, you will probably have to pay break costs as well.

Your new lender will probably charge you any combination of standard set-up fees – establishment fee, valuation fee and settlement costs. All these fees could easily add up to more than $1000.

Has your property’s value fallen?

If your property is located in an area where values have fallen in recent years, refinancing could potentially cost you more money than you expect.  

For example, imagine that when you bought the property it cost you $500,000 and you borrowed $400,000. That would have given you a loan-to-value ratio (LVR) of 80% and allowed you to avoid paying Lenders Mortgage Insurance (LMI), which is generally only charged if you have an LVR above 80%.

Now imagine that two years later, you've decided to refinance, having reduced your debt to $385,000 – but you’ve also seen the value of your property fall to $475,000.

When Lender Y values your property as part of the refinancing process, it will discover that your LVR is now 81% and charge you LMI, which could cost you thousands.

Are you refinancing into a longer home loan?

When you refinance, you may want to check if your new loan term matches your old one. The default loan term for many mortgages is 30 years, so if you're not careful, you could accidentally exit from a mortgage that has 20 years left to run with Lender X, and sign up for a new 30-year mortgage with Lender Y.

A longer loan term means you’ll be in debt and paying interest for longer. This could end up costing you more money, even if the mortgage interest rate is lower: 

  • The total repayments for a $300,000 mortgage over 20 years at 4.50% is $455,508
  •  The total repayments for a $300,000 mortgage over 30 years at 4.00% is $515,609
  • That's a difference of over $60,000!

Hypothetical examples are for illustrative purposes only. Does not account for fees or interest rate changes over time. Source: MoneySmart.

You could save tens of thousands

Conducting regular home loan health checks is a no-brainer. Comparing home loans is quick, simple and free, plus there's no obligation to refinance.

Conducting your own home loan health check might reveal that there are alternative loans out there with mortgage rates, fees and features that could save you literally tens of thousands of dollars over the lifetime of your loan.

If you’d like some help conducting your home loan health check, you could consider contacting a mortgage broker. These home loan experts can look at your current home loan and financial situation and make personal recommendations of mortgage offers that may better suit your goals and situation, including exclusive home loan deals that aren’t typically advertised. 

Frequently asked questions

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 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.

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 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 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.

How much are repayments on a $250K mortgage?

The exact repayment amount for a $250,000 mortgage will be determined by several factors including your deposit size, interest rate and the type of loan. It is best to use a mortgage calculator to determine your actual repayment size.

For example, the monthly repayments on a $250,000 loan with a 5 per cent interest rate over 30 years will be $1342. For a loan of $300,000 on the same rate and loan term, the monthly repayments will be $1610 and for a $500,000 loan, the monthly repayments will be $2684.

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 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 are the responsibilities of a mortgage broker?

Mortgage brokers act as the go-between for borrowers looking for a home loan and the lenders offering the loan. They offer personalised advice to help borrowers choose the right home loan for their needs.

In Australia, mortgage brokers are required by law to carry an Australian Credit License (ACL) if they offer credit assistance services. Which is the legal term for guidance regarding the different kinds of credit offered by lenders, including home loan mortgages. They may not need this license if they are working for an aggregator, for instance, as a franchisee. In both these situations, they need to comply with the regulations laid down by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).

These regulations, which are stipulated by Australian legislation, require mortgage brokers to comply with what are called “responsible lending” and “best interest” obligations. Responsible lending obligations mean brokers have to suggest “suitable” home loans. This means loans that you can easily qualify for,  actually meet your needs, and don’t prove unnecessarily challenging for you.

Starting 1 January 2021, mortgage brokers must comply with best interest obligations in addition to responsible lending obligations. These require mortgage brokers to act in the best interest of their customers and also requires them to prioritise their customers’ interests over their own. For instance, a mortgage broker may not recommend a lender who gives them a commission if that lender’s home loan offer does not benefit that particular customer.

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.

Remaining loan term

The length of time it will take to pay off your current home loan, based on the currently-entered mortgage balance, monthly repayment and interest rate.

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.

What's wrong with traditional ratings systems?

They’re impersonal 

Most comparison sites give you information about rates, fees and features, but expect you’ll pay more with a low advertised rate and $400 ongoing fee or a slightly higher rate and no ongoing fee. The answer is different for each borrower and depends on a number of variables, in particular how big your loan is. Comparisons are either done based on just today or projected over a full 25 or 30 year loan. That’s not how people borrow these days. While you may take a 30 year loan, most borrowers will either upgrade their house or switch their home loan within the first five years. 

You’re also expected to know exactly which features you want. This is fine for the experienced borrower, but most people know some flexibility is a good thing, but don’t know exactly which features offer more flexibility than others. 

What is the flexibility score?

Today’s home loans often try to lure borrowers with a range of flexible features, including offset accounts, redraw facilities, repayment frequency options, repayment holidays, split loan options and portability. Real Time Ratings™ weights each of these features based on popularity and gives loans a ‘flexibility score’ based on how much they cater to borrowers’ needs over time. The aim is to give a higher score to loans which give borrowers more features and options.

They’re not always timely

In today’s competitive home loan market, lenders are releasing new offers almost daily. These offers are often some of the most attractive deals in the market, but won’t get rated by traditional ratings systems for up to a year. 

The assumptions are out of date 

The comparison rate is based on a loan size of $150,000 and a loan term of 25 years. However, the typical loan size is much higher than that. Million dollar loans are becoming increasingly common, especially if you live in metropolitan parts of Australia, like Sydney and Melbourne. It’s also uncommon for borrowers to hold a loan for 25 years. The typical shelf life for a home loan is a few years. 

The other problem is because it’s a percentage, the difference between 3.9 or 3.7 per cent on a $500,000 doesn’t sound like much, but equals around $683 a year. Real Time Ratings™ not only looks at the difference in the monthly repayments, but it will work out the actual cost difference once fees are taken into consideration. 

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. 

Can I get a home loan if I am on an employment contract?

Some lenders will allow you to apply for a mortgage if you are a contractor or freelancer. However, many lenders prefer you to be in a permanent, ongoing role, because a more stable income means you’re more likely to keep up with your repayments.

If you’re a contractor, freelancer, or are otherwise self-employed, it may still be possible to apply for a low-doc home loan, as these mortgages require less specific proof of income.

Will I have to pay lenders' mortgage insurance twice if I refinance?

If your deposit was less than 20 per cent of your property’s value when you took out your original loan, you may have paid lenders’ mortgage insurance (LMI) to cover the lender against the risk that you may default on your repayments. 

If you refinance to a new home loan, but still don’t have enough deposit and/or equity to provide 20 per cent security, you’ll need to pay for the lender’s LMI a second time. This could potentially add thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in upfront costs to your mortgage, so it’s important to consider whether the financial benefits of refinancing may be worth these costs.

Is there a limit to how many times I can refinance?

There is no set limit to how many times you are allowed to refinance. Some surveyed RateCity users have refinanced up to three times.

However, if you refinance several times in short succession, it could affect your credit score. Lenders assess your credit score when you apply for new loans, so if you end up with bad credit, you may not be able to refinance if and when you really need to.

Before refinancing multiple times, consider getting a copy of your credit report and ensure your credit history is in good shape for future refinances.

I have a poor credit rating. Am I still able to get a mortgage?

Some lenders still allow you to apply for a home loan if you have impaired credit. However, you may pay a slightly higher interest rate and/or higher fees. This is to help offset the higher risk that you may default on your repayments.

I can't pick a loan. Should I apply to multiple lenders?

Applying for home loans with multiple lenders at once can affect your credit history, as multiple loan applications in short succession can make you look like a risky borrower. Comparing home loans from different lenders, assessing their features and benefits, and making one application to a preferred lender may help to improve your chances of success