Athena offers automatic interest rate cuts to mortgage holders

Athena offers automatic interest rate cuts to mortgage holders

Digital-only home loan lender Athena is dishing out automatic interest rate cuts to borrowers as they pay off bigger chunks of their mortgages. 

Launching today, the new scheme, dubbed “AcceleRates”, has three mortgage rate bands based on a borrower’s loan-to-value ratio (LVR), or the percentage amount of the property a mortgage holder is borrowing: 

  1. For borrowers with an LVR of 70-80 per cent,
  2. For borrowers with an LVR of 60-70 per cent, and 
  3. For borrowers with an LVR of less than 60 per cent.

As a borrower pays down their home loan to reach the next tier, the lender will automatically trim the customer’s interest rate.

It’s the first time in Australia a home loan lender has set up an LVR-based tier system to determine a borrower’s interest rates.

The lowest rates on offer under the tier-based program start from 2.39 per cent for owner-occupiers, and 2.79 per cent for investors.

The AcceleRates scheme is only open to mortgage borrowers who are paying principal and interest on their home loan.

Customers paying interest only are on the standard variable rates, which have been lowered by 5 basis points to 3.04 per cent for both owner-occupiers and investors.

The new rates take effect for existing customers from September 30, and new customers who apply for a loan from August 12 will also benefit from the lower rates.

How you can pay down your home loan faster

According to RateCity analysis, an existing Athena customer, with a $400,000 loan balance and a 60 per cent LVR with 20 years remaining could:

  • move from a rate of 2.59 per cent to 2.39 per cent, and
  • save a total of $9,348 over the remainder of the loan. (This assumes no further rate changes are made.)

Sally Tindall, research director at RateCity.com.au, said it was great to see customers being rewarded for paying down their debt.

“It’s not everyday you see a lender initiating an out-of-cycle rate cut for its existing customers,” she said.

“Latest figures from the Reserve Bank of Australia show that, on average, existing customers are paying 0.56 per cent more in interest than new ones."

Nathan Walsh, chief executive officer and co-founder of Athena, said the typical borrower paying off their mortgage on this new scheme could potentially save tens of thousands of dollars.

“What this also means is even greater savings for customers. On average, we are saving customers who switch to us $60,000 over the life of their loan. With our new AcceleRates pricing model, many of these customers will now save $70,000.”

Michael Starkey, chief operations officer & co-founder at Athena, said the typical customer is likely to spend most of the life of their loan on the lowest rate in the scheme, as they could potentially move through the tiers in a matter of years.

“If they start out at the 80 per cent LVR tier and pay the minimum on a principal and interest loan, they would hit the 70 per cent LVR tier in only four years and two months,” Mr Starkey said.

“From there, they would hit our lowest rate in just three years and nine months, where they would stay for the rest of the loan.”

Borrowers have the option to make extra repayments on their mortgage to reduce their LVR and move up the tiers faster.

How to find the right home loan for you

Some Australian mortgage holders struggle with negotiating with their lenders for a rate cut. You may have more bargaining power if you:

  • Are an owner-occupier.
  • Have less than 80 per cent LVR in your property.
  • Have a good credit record.

That’s because lenders see these customers as reliable borrowers, it’s likely that they’d want to keep your business.

Some of the things you should be looking for when refinancing include:

  • Low interest rate.
  • Low fees.
  • Ability to pay it off sooner.
  • Ability to offset your savings.

However, not everyone will be seeking the same features in a home loan. For example, if you know you won’t have much to stash away into your offset account, it may not be worth paying extra for this feature if you aren’t going to use it. Similarly, there may not be much point in switching to a low fixed rate if you know you might sell your property during the fixed rate term.

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Learn more about home loans

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 are the pros and cons of no-deposit home loans?

It’s no longer possible to get a no-deposit home loan in Australia. In some circumstances, you might be able to take out a mortgage with a 5 per cent deposit – but before you do so, it’s important to weigh up the pros and cons.

The big advantage of borrowing 95 per cent (also known as a 95 per cent home loan) is that you get to buy your property sooner. That may be particularly important if you plan to purchase in a rising market, where prices are increasing faster than you can accumulate savings.

But 95 per cent home loans also have disadvantages. First, the 95 per cent home loan market is relatively small, so you’ll have fewer options to choose from. Second, you’ll probably have to pay LMI (lender’s mortgage insurance). Third, you’ll probably be charged a higher interest rate. Fourth, the more you borrow, the more you’ll ultimately have to pay in interest. Fifth, if your property declines in value, your mortgage might end up being worth more than your home.

What is a loan-to-value ratio (LVR)?

A loan-to-value ratio (otherwise known as a Loan to Valuation Ratio or LVR), is a calculation lenders make to work out the value of your loan versus the value of your property, expressed as a percentage.   Lenders use this calculation to help assess your suitability for a home loan, and whether you need to pay lender’s mortgage insurance (LMI). As a general rule, most banks will require you to pay LMI if your loan-to-value ratio is 80 per cent or more.   LVR is worked out by dividing the loan amount by the value of the property. If you are looking for a quick ball-park estimate of LVR, the size of your deposit is a good indicator as it is directly proportionate to your LVR. For instance, a loan with an LVR of 80 per cent requires a deposit of 20 per cent, while a 90 per cent LVR requires 10 per cent down payment. 

LOAN AMOUNT / PROPERTY VALUE = LVR%

While this all sounds simple enough, it is worth doing a more accurate calculation of LVR before you commit to buying a place as there are some traps to be aware of. Firstly, the ‘loan amount’ is the price you paid for the property plus additional costs such as stamp duty and legal fees, minus your deposit amount. Secondly, the ‘property value’ is determined by your lender’s valuation of the property, not the price you paid for it, and sometimes these can differ so where possible, try and get your bank to evaluate the property before you put in an offer.

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 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.

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.

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.

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. 

How do I know if I have to pay LMI?

Each lender has its own policies, but as a general rule you will have to pay lender’s mortgage insurance (LMI) if your loan-to-value ratio (LVR) exceeds 80 per cent. This applies whether you’re taking out a new home loan or you’re refinancing.

If you’re looking to buy a property, you can use this LMI calculator to work out how much you’re likely to be charged in LMI.

Do mortgage brokers need a consumer credit license?

In Australia, mortgage brokers are defined by law as being credit service or assistance providers, meaning that they help borrowers connect with lenders. Mortgage brokers may not always need a consumer credit license however if they’re operating solo they will need an Australian Credit License (ACL). Further, they may also need to comply with requirements asking them to mention their license number in full.

Some mortgage brokers can be “credit representatives”, or franchisees of a mortgage aggregator. In this case, if the aggregator has a license, the mortgage broker need not have one. The reasoning for this is that the franchise agreement usually requires mortgage brokers to comply with the laws applicable to the aggregator. If you’re speaking to a mortgage broker, you can ask them if they receive commissions from lenders, which is a good indicator that they need to be licensed. Consider requesting their license details if they don’t give you the details beforehand. 

You should remember that such a license protects you if you’re given incorrect or misleading advice that results in a home loan application rejection or any financial loss. Brokers are regulated by the Australian Securities & Investment Commission (ASIC), as per the National Consumer Credit Protection (NCCP) Act. 

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.

How to break up with your mortgage broker

If you find a mortgage broker giving you generic advice or trying to sell you a competitive offer from an unsuitable lender, you might be better off  breaking up with the mortgage broker and consulting someone else. Breaking up with a mortgage broker can be done over the phone, or via email. You can also raise a complaint, either with the broker’s aggregator or with the Australian Financial Complaints Authority as necessary.

As licensed industry professionals, mortgage brokers have the responsibility of giving you accurate advice so that you know what to expect when you apply for a home loan. You may have approached the mortgage broker, for instance, because you have questions about the terms of a home loan a lender offered you. 

You should remember that mortgage brokers are obliged by law to act in your best interests and as part of complying with The Australian Securities and Investments Commission’s (ASIC) regulations. If you feel you didn’t get the right advice from the mortgage broker, or that you lost money as a result of accepting the broker’s suggestions regarding a lender or home loan offer, you can file a complaint with the ASIC and seek compensation. 

When you first speak to a mortgage broker, consider asking them about their Lender Panel, which is the list of lenders they usually recommend and who may pay them a commission. This information can help you decide if the advice they give you has anything to do with the remuneration they may receive from one or more lenders.

How do I take out a low-deposit home loan?

If you want to take out a low-deposit home loan, it might be a good idea to consult a mortgage broker who can give you professional financial advice and organise the mortgage for you.

Another way to take out a low-deposit home loan is to do your own research with a comparison website like RateCity. Once you’ve identified your preferred mortgage, you can apply through RateCity or go direct to the lender.