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Home loan refinancing hits new high - what are your options?

Peter Terlato avatar
Peter Terlato
- 6 min read
Home loan refinancing hits new high - what are your options?

As interest rates climb higher, more Australians are refinancing their home loans, taking advantage of lower rates, reduced monthly repayments and improved mortgage features.

The latest lending indicators for May 2023 report that the value of external refinancing (in seasonally adjusted terms) for total housing rose 8.1% month-on-month to $21.0 billion, and was up 22.4% year-on-year.

Refinancing among owner-occupied housing jumped 8.6% month-on-month in May to reach a new high of $14.1 billion, and was up 21.0% compared to a year ago.

Investor housing refinancing rose 7.2% to $6.8 billion month-on-month in May, and was 25.6% higher year-on-year. 

For context, the ABS says external refinancing is when a new loan is obtained to replace an existing loan that was provided by a different lender. For housing, it includes refinancing an existing loan for the same residential property.

Serviceability buffer reductions encourage refinancing

In recent weeks, Westpac and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) have reduced their mortgage serviceability buffers to assist borrowers wanting to refinance and switch lenders.

The Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority (APRA) guidelines require authorised deposit-taking institution’s (ADIs) to stress test all new residential mortgage applications - including refinancers - at a rate of 3% above the rate they applied for, to ensure that the borrower will be able to afford their repayments.

However, in May, Westpac began allowing select refinancers who didn’t meet the bank’s standard serviceability test to apply for a lower, modified serviceability assessment rate, provided that it exceeds the bank’s floor rate.

In order to be eligible, customers need a credit score of more than 650 and a solid track record of repaying all existing debts over the last 12 months. Borrowers must also be refinancing to a loan that has lower monthly repayments than their existing mortgage.

CBA followed suit last month, reducing its serviceability buffer from 3% to 1% for qualifying customers. These moves may encourage the remaining big four banks, ANZ and NAB, to implement a similar policy.

APRA released a statement explaining that they're aware that some banks have recently made changes to their exceptions processes to support borrowers facing challenges refinancing with another lender. An “exception to policy” occurs when a bank approves a loan that doesn't meet standard loan criteria, such as serviceability buffers. 

"Under APRA’s prudential framework, banks can use exceptions to policy if these are managed prudently and limited. This approach allows banks to take into account additional indicators of repayment capacity beyond those captured in the standard serviceability test. For a borrower seeking to refinance, this could include past repayment behaviour," according to the statement.

How did things work before the RBA’s rate hike cycle?

Previously, APRA had required banks to have a minimum interest rate floor of 7%. This meant that any new home loan customer would have to be assessed at a serviceability rate of at least 7% before being approved.

When the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) began slashing the cash rate from mid-2019, the serviceability floor of 7% was removed entirely. With interest rates nearly at 0%, this essentially allowed the banks to review and set their own approval margins.

Now that the cash rate has soared to 4.10% in just over a year, the minimum interest rate floor, although not enforced, has almost returned organically. Average home loan interest rates among the big four banks rose to 6.86% in June.

What refinancing options are available?

Comparing your refinancing options can potentially help you to switch to a home loan with a reduced interest rate, cheaper monthly repayments and more desirable mortgage features.

Check out the tables below for some of the lowest rates listed on RateCity, covering a range of different homebuyers.

Owner occupied variable rate home loans:

LenderRateComparison Rate
Mortgage House5.39%5.43%
Community First Credit Union5.39%5.44%
Arab Bank5.45%5.58%
Bendigo Bank5.47%5.62%
G&C Mutual5.49%5.52%

Investor variable rate home loans:

LenderRateComparison Rate
Easy Street5.69%5.74%
Bendigo Bank5.72%5.87%
First Option Bank5.74%5.77%
Bank Australia5.79%5.84%
Queensland Country Bank5.84%5.85%

Owner occupied fixed-rate home loans:

LenderTermRateComparison Rate
RACQ5 years5.34%6.11%
Hume Bank3 years5.39%5.68%
Police Bank3 years5.39%5.90%
Community First Credit Union2 years5.39%5.94%
Illawarra Credit Union1 year5.40%6.82%

Investor fixed-rate home loans:

LenderTermRateComparison Rate
Australian Mutual Bank3 years5.53%6.47%
Police Bank3 years5.54%6.16%
RACQ5 years5.54%6.48%
Hume Bank2 years5.55%5.87%
Macquarie Credit Union1 year5.56%8.08%

Source: All rates listed above are available on RateCity.com.au, and are accurate as of 05/07/2023.

Economic factors such as inflation, the cost of living, and rising interest rates could see Australians at higher risk of “mortgage prison”, where they’re unable to refinance their home loans.

Being in mortgage prison can make it costly to switch lenders, as you are likely to have to pay Lender’s Mortgage Insurance (LMI), which can climb into the tens of thousands of dollars. Those most at risk of mortgage prison are:

  • Borrowers who purchased at the peak of property prices in their area; and
  • Borrowers with small deposits, such as first home buyers.

“While some people who borrowed at capacity may find themselves with limited options when they come off their fixed rate, CBA and Westpac’s lowering of the stress test for select refinancers has opened up the possibility of them now being able to refinance,” according to RateCity research director Sally Tindal.

“With the potential for up to three more rate hikes still to come, more banks will hopefully revisit their servicing policies for refinancers stuck in mortgage prison.”

The best actions to take in response to potential changes to lending rules, rising interest rates and declining property values will depend on your household’s financial position and your goals. A few general tips to consider include:

Compare home loans in Australia

Product database updated 21 May, 2024

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