Where to now for homeowners on mortgage freezes

Where to now for homeowners on mortgage freezes

Were you one of the thousands of mortgage holders who paused repayments due to the economic impact of COVID-19? Here’s what you need to know if you’re coming to the end of your freeze period.

The ability to pause mortgage repayments offered much-needed relief to hundreds of thousands of Aussie households – not only during the first weeks of the COVID-19 restrictions, but throughout an unexpectedly tumultuous economic period.

Australian Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, confirmed the country had entered a recession only last week. And the latest ABS unemployment figures show that the jobless rate is now 7.1 per cent, the highest it’s been in 19 years.

A huge side effect of pausing repayments that Australian households may not have expected is that in the long run, mortgage deferrals come at a huge cost

This is because lenders continue to charge their customers interest even when the loan is paused.

The $7,000 home loan pause

Analysis from RateCity shows that for the average mortgage holder with $400K owing, after pausing their repayments for six months, their total balance would have risen to $407,203.

After the deferral, they would start paying $62 a month more on their loan. In one year, this would climb to $744, which may mean missing out on a new phone, or ditching your next local weekend away.

The real cost of a mortgage repayment pause on a $400K loan:

Increase in loan balance after the six-month pause $7,203
Increase in monthly repayment after pause $62

Notes: Based on an owner occupier paying principal and interest with an outstanding loan balance of $400K, 5 years in to a 30-year loan, when they take a 6-month repayment pause. Based on the average discounted variable rate from the big four banks. Assumes the customer keeps their loan term the same and interest is charged during the pause.

Banks pump the breaks on deferrals

Now that restrictions are starting to lift across Australia, some lenders are increasinglytrying to check in with customers to ensure people aren’t on repayment holidays if they don’t need to be.

Commonwealth Bank is no longer automatically offering mortgage deferrals and will now do it on a case by case basis. NAB has said it’s checking in with customers who are on pause to see if they still need it.

A third of ANZ customers who deferred loan repayments have now restarted repayments, according to ANZ group executive of Australia retail and commercial, Mark Hand.

“[We’re] seeing some customers call us to unwind the arrangement because they’ve got some certainty, they’ve got that confidence going forward,” he said.

“In rough numbers, about a third of our [business and home loan] customers who took a deferral are making some payments – not full payments – although nearly 5 per cent are now back to making full payment.”

Customers returning to making mortgage repayments may be a positive sign of the times, according to Domain economist, Trent Wiltshire.

Mr Wiltshire said the early return to repayments “reflected rising consumer sentiment and was a promising sign for the housing market.”

“Consumer confidence is rising and some of the job advertisement numbers are starting to pick up, which is a sign that the labour market is looking a bit stronger than expected,” he said.

“People were offered these deferrals and they took them as they were fearful because they had lost their job or thought they would … but the economy has opened quicker than expected, it’s ramping up quite quickly and that may have left some people in a better position than they expected to be.”

What to consider if you’re nearing the end of your mortgage holiday

If you’re coming to the end of your repayment pause period and hadn’t realised the potential interest costs, you may be wondering how you can budget for your new, higher bill.

If you’re now in a better financial position, it may be worth considering asking for a lower rate or even refinancing to a lower rate lender.

Thanks to the Reserve Bank of Australia cash rate sitting at a record low of 0.25 per cent, home loan rates have never been lower. And, typically, the lowest rates are reserved for new customers as a means to get them on the books.

As you near the end of your mortgage repayment pause, call up your lender and request to be moved to a lower rate that its offering new customers.

If that doesn’t work, while you may be thankful to your lender for allowing you to pause mortgage repayments, there’s still no need to be loyal to a bank if it’s going to cost you more in the long run.

Consider refinancing to one of the lower rate providers out there. There are currently 108 lenders offering home loans with rates under 3 per cent, according to the RateCity database.

 

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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

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.

Why does Westpac charge an early termination fee for home loans?

The Westpac home loan early termination fee or break cost is applicable if you have a fixed rate home loan and repay part of or the whole outstanding amount before the fixed period ends. If you’re switching between products before the fixed period ends, you’ll pay a switching break cost and an administrative fee. 

The Westpac home loan early termination fee may not apply if you repay an amount below the prepayment threshold. The prepayment threshold is the amount Westpac allows you to repay during the fixed period outside your regular repayments.

Westpac charges this fee because when you take out a home loan, the bank borrows the funds with wholesale rates available to banks and lenders. Westpac will then work out your interest rate based on you making regular repayments for a fixed period. If you repay before this period ends, the lender may incur a loss if there is any change in the wholesale rate of interest.

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. 

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 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.

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 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 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 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.

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 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.

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.

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.