Is it time to fix your home loan?

Is it time to fix your home loan?

It’s the age-old question people love to ask: is now the best time to fix your home loan?

With cash rate at a historic low of 1 per cent, the question of whether to fix or not has become more prevalent than ever. 

In the last four weeks, RateCity.com.au’s data team has seen around 50 lenders slash fixed rates, including all four big banks, and big-name lenders such as Macquarie Bank, St George, Bank of Melbourne and Bendigo Bank.

The big four banks are all now offering 2- and 3-year fixed rates for less than their variable rates.

Why? The banks have one eye on the possibility of one, if not two more RBA rate cuts. They also know fixed rates are a great way to get new business in the door – and keep them on their books for up to five years. With some low-cost lenders now offering rates that start with a 2 – it’s a sure-fire way to grab someone’s attention.

Big four bank lowest fixed home loan rates

Major banks

2-year

3-year

5-year

CBA

3.18%

3.28%

3.49%

Westpac

3.18%

3.28%

3.49%*

NAB

3.09%*

3.29%

3.59%

ANZ

3.18%

3.28%

3.53%

*First home buyer special

So, is now the time to fix?

The cash rate is at record lows so now wouldn’t be the worst time to fix, but there’s a lot of speculation that the RBA will cut again – potentially even twice – so it’s a difficult decision that really does depend on your personal finances, and personality.

If you like the idea of knowing exactly how much your mortgage repayments will be every month, then fixing could be a good option for you.

However, if you absolutely hate the idea of missing out on a rate cut, even if you’re getting a good deal, then maybe you’re better off on variable. Variable rate products typically come with a more flexibility as well. You’re not locked in to a fixed term contract which gives you the ability to refinance more easily when you’re unhappy.

Alternatively, if you like idea of not having to worry about what your bank, or the RBA is going to do for the next few years then you might want to find a competitive rate that you know you will be happy with for the fixed term.

If you do decide you want to fix, it is worth shopping around for a decent rate but there’s a few other potential curve balls you want to be aware of:

1) Flexibility – most fixed rate loans don’t have an offset account and will only let you make limited extra repayments. Find out if your new fixed loan offers either of these things and make sure this is not going to work against you.

2) The fixed term – Work out how long you want to fix for and check the revert rate. Some fixed rate loans can revert to a much higher ongoing variable rate which will see you worst off in the long run. When you settle on a fixed rate loan, work out a plan for when it comes to an end. Some 1-year fixed rates, for example, can be more trouble than they’re worth if they revert to a high variable rate just 12 months later and you choose not to fix your loan again.

3) Break costs – Understand this is a contract that will cost you a pretty penny to break. If you decide to break that contract early, you could be liable for any costs your bank incurs as a result. Break fees can run into the thousands of dollars. If you are thinking about potentially selling the property or paying down a significant chunk of your debt, then fixing might not be a good option for you.

4) Split loans – If you’re undecided, consider a spilt loan. A split loan is a good way to have a foot in each camp. In this scenario the fixed part of the loan will be immune to any rate hikes, but if rates go down, you’ll see the savings in the variable portion of the loan. This also offers more flexibility as it’s often possible to make uncapped extra repayments and/or an offset account for the variable portion of your home loan. 

If I want to fix my rate, should I fix now?

If you fix your rate now, there is a chance you could miss out on one, potentially two more RBA rate cuts. But that’s only if your bank passes on the rate cut to their variable customers.

On the flip side if you fix, you’ll be protecting yourself from any rate hikes from the RBA or independent ones from your own bank that happen over your fixed term.

People spend years trying to game it and often still get it wrong so it might be worth putting the crystal ball aside and try and make a decision that’s right for you and your finances. With any major financial decision, it’s often worth seeking personal advice. An objective view might be just what you need.

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Learn more about home loans

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 the difference between a fixed rate and variable rate?

A variable rate can fluctuate over the life of a loan as determined by your lender. While the rate is broadly reflective of market conditions, including the Reserve Bank’s cash rate, it is by no means the sole determining factor in your bank’s decision-making process.

A fixed rate is one which is set for a period of time, regardless of market fluctuations. Fixed rates can be as short as one year or as long as 15 years however after this time it will revert to a variable rate, unless you negotiate with your bank to enter into another fixed term agreement

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 however fixed rates do offer customers a level of security by knowing exactly how much they need to set aside each month.

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 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 is a split home loan?

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 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.

What is a standard variable rate (SVR)?

The standard variable rate (SVR) is the interest rate a lender applies to their standard home loan. It is a variable interest rate which is normally used as a benchmark from which they price their other variable rate home loan products.

A standard variable rate home loan typically includes most, if not all the features the lender has on offer, such as an offset account, but it often comes with a higher interest rate attached than their most ‘basic’ product on offer (usually referred to as their basic variable rate mortgage).

What is a honeymoon rate and honeymoon period?

Also known as the ‘introductory rate’ or ‘bait rate’, a honeymoon rate is a special low interest rate applied to loans for an initial period to attract more borrowers. The honeymoon period when this lower rate applies usually varies from six months to one year. The rate can be fixed, capped or variable for the first 12 months of the loan. At the end of the term, the loan reverts to the standard variable rate.

What is break fee?

Break fees are charged when a customer terminates a fixed-rate mortgage. The amount is determined at the time you decide to break the loan and is based on how much your bank stands to lose by you breaking the contract. As a general rule, the more the variable rate has dropped, the higher the fee will be.

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. 

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.