Coming off a ‘mortgage holiday’? Ask your bank these questions

Coming off a ‘mortgage holiday’? Ask your bank these questions

Hundreds of thousands of people are going to be hearing from their banks to see if they’re ready to resume making their mortgage repayments

A number of options will be raised depending on each person’s financial situation. Some of them may involve restructuring.

But there’s some questions to ask and matters to consider before making such a long term decision. Here’s a few.

1. Ask: “Can you cut my interest rate?”

Banks have said they’re prepared to help people struggling financially due to the extraordinary circumstances brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

An impactful way for them to do this is by reducing the interest rate you’re being charged, Sally Tindall said, research director at RateCity. 

“As a customer in financial difficulty, you should be on their lowest available rate,” she said. “This alone could potentially save you thousands of dollars over the life of your loan.”

The recent fall in interest rates has resulted in even big banks offering cheaper mortgages than average. 

The average customer is on a rate of 3.22 per cent, according to RBA July figures, but there are ‘big four’ banks offering variable loans from 2.69 per cent and fixed loans of 2.19 per cent.

If this customer -- an owner occupier paying principal and interest with a remaining 25 year term -- was to switch their $500,000 balance to the 2.69 variable rate, they’d pay $137 less a month in repayments.

They’d save $2630 in interest in the first year. Over five years, they’d save $12,661.

2. Ask: Would restructuring save me more money than deferring?

Banks are offering some customers a few options that will likely lower their mortgage repayments so that they can be resumed, but these options could affect the amount that would need to be repaid over the life of the loan.

These options may include converting your mortgage to an interest-only loan, extending the loan term, or deferring mortgage repayments for a further four months.

Interest only loans generally charge a higher rate of interest

The repayments on an interest only loan is typically less than the principal and interest repayment, but these loans generally have higher interest rates.

“If you switch to interest-only repayments because that’s all you can afford to pay, make sure your bank doesn’t hike your rate,” Ms Tindall said.

“Customers shouldn’t be hit with a rate hike at a time when they can’t make ends meet.”

Repaying your loan over a longer term could cost more money

Another option is to stretch the repayment of a loan over a longer period of time, so that less money needs to be repaid each month.

Extending your loan term will reduce your monthly repayments but will cost significantly more in the long term, Ms Tindall said.

Deferring repayments does not stop interest charges

If you’ve deferred mortgage repayments for six months but still haven’t recovered financially, the banks and financial regulators have made it possible to extend the deferral for a further four months.

It’s a welcome relief option if you’ve lost your job or income, but taking it up is likely to leave you spending more money on your mortgage.

Deferring the repayments does not stop interest from being charged. Interest will keep being calculated on the growing balance of the loan, likely adding thousands of dollars over its term

Extra repayments can shave these costs down, but not everyone will be able to make them, Ms Tindall said.

“Customers coming off a deferral must decide whether they can afford to make higher repayments to catch up on their mortgage, or extend out their loan term and keep their repayments the same,” she said.
 
“While paying extra on your mortgage will help you get back on track, a lot of people just won’t be in a position to make extra repayments right now.

3. Ask: “Can you waive my fees?”

Fees can be enough to offset the benefits of a low interest rate on a mortgage, and this is one reason why banks present a comparison rate alongside the advertised rate -- because it factors in fees when it comes to the servicing cost of the loan.

Asking your bank to waive fees while you are in financial difficulty then could make meeting your mortgage repayments easier, while freeing up funds to help you meet the other commitments in your life.

4. Do: Get independent financial advice

Banks have gone on record claiming they’ll help customers recover their financial footing, but it’s worth getting independent financial advice too.

Financial advice can be obtained for free or at a very low cost, depending on your financial circumstances. Consider your situation and speak to a financial advisor or a mortgage broker. 

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Fact Checked -

This article was reviewed by Personal Finance Editor Mark Bristow before it was published as part of RateCity's Fact Check process.

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Learn more about home loans

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 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.

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 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.

When do mortgage payments start after settlement?

Generally speaking, your first mortgage payment falls due one month after the settlement date. However, this may vary based on your mortgage terms. You can check the exact date by contacting your lender.

Usually your settlement agent will meet the seller’s representatives to exchange documents at an agreed place and time. The balance purchase price is paid to the seller. The lender will register a mortgage against your title and give you the funds to purchase the new home.

Once the settlement process is complete, the lender allows you to draw down the loan. The loan amount is debited from your loan account. As soon as the settlement paperwork is sorted, you can collect the keys to your new home and work your way through the moving-in checklist.

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.

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 should I have my mortgage for?

The standard length of a mortgage is between 25-30 years however they can be as long as 40 years and as few as one. There is a benefit to having a shorter mortgage as the faster you pay off the amount you owe, the less you’ll pay your bank in interest.

Of course, shorter mortgages will require higher monthly payments so plug the numbers into a mortgage calculator to find out how many years you can potentially shave off your budget.

For example monthly repayments on a $500,000 over 25 years with an interest rate of 5% are $2923. On the same loan with the same interest rate over 30 years repayments would be $2684 a month. At first blush, the 30 year mortgage sounds great with significantly lower monthly repayments but remember, stretching your loan out by an extra five years will see you hand over $89,396 in interest repayments to your bank.

How long can you fix a home loan rate for?

Most lenders should let you fix your interest rate for anywhere between one and five years. While rare, a few lenders may offer fixed rate terms for as long as 10 years.

Fixing your home loan interest rate for a longer term can keep your budgeting fairly straightforward, as you shouldn't have to factor in changes to your mortgage repayments if variable rates change, such as when the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) changes its rates at its monthly meeting. Additionally, if variable rates rise during your fixed rate term, you can continue to pay the lower fixed rate until the fixed term ends, potentially saving you some money.

Of course, a longer fixed term also means a longer length of time where you may have less flexibility in your home loan repayments. It’s also a longer period where you won’t be able to refinance your mortgage without paying break fees. If variable rates were to fall during this period, you may also be stuck paying a higher fixed rate for a longer period.

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 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.

How does a mortgage calculator work?

A mortgage calculator is an extremely helpful tool when planning to take out a home loan and working out the costs. Although each mortgage calculator you come across may be slightly different, most will help you estimate how much your repayments will be. The calculator will often also show you the difference in repayments if you repay weekly, monthly or fortnightly. 

To calculate these figures, you’ll be asked to enter a few details. These include the amount you plan to borrow, whether you’re an owner-occupier or an investor, the proposed interest rate and the home loan term. It will also often show you the total interest you’ll be charged and the total amount you’ll repay over the life of the loan.  

Understanding how the mortgage calculator works, helps you to use it to see how different loan amounts, interest rates and terms affect your repayments. This can then help you choose a home loan that you can repay comfortably and save on interest costs. The mortgage calculator lets you compare the benefits and costs of home loans from different lenders to help you make a more informed choice. Use a mortgage calculator to help identify which home loan is most suitable for your requirements and financial situation.

What is the average length of a home loan?

Most Aussie lenders offer home loans with a 30-year term, meaning that you should pay back the full loan amount and the interest you owe on the amount in 30 years. 

However, home loans can also have a shorter or longer term. They may be as low as ten years or up to 45 years, depending on the product and lender. 

It’s worth remembering that a longer loan term usually means you’ll end up paying a lot more interest in total, but your scheduled repayments may be more manageable. In contrast, you could opt for a shorter loan term if you are comfortable making large repayments in exchange for paying less interest over the term of the loan.

Which mortgage is the best for me?

The best mortgage to suit your needs will vary depending on your individual circumstances. If you want to be mortgage free as soon as possible, consider taking out a mortgage with a shorter term, such as 25 years as opposed to 30 years, and make the highest possible mortgage repayments. You might also want to consider a loan with an offset facility to help reduce costs. Investors, on the other hand, might have different objectives so the choice of loan will differ.

Whether you decide on a fixed or variable interest rate will depend on your own preference for stability in repayment amounts, and flexibility when it comes to features.

If you do not have a deposit or will not be in a financial position to make large repayments right away you may wish to consider asking a parent to be a guarantor or looking at interest only loans. Again, which one of these options suits you best is reliant on many factors and you should seek professional advice if you are unsure which mortgage will suit you best.