Lenders slash mortgage rates while Australians top up offset accounts

Average home loan interest rates have declined by between 33 and 45 basis points over the last quarter, according to the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA). While this has reportedly led more Australians to refinance their mortgages and top up their offset accounts, fewer new home loans have been recorded.

Interest rates take a dive

According to the RBA’s Statement on Monetary Policy, interest rates on variable and fixed rate housing loans have declined substantially since the end of February 2020.

The biggest declines were recorded for new fixed rate housing loans, which fell by around 65 basis points during this period (more than the average shown in the table, due to delays associated with the expiry of existing fixed rate loan periods).

Average outstanding housing rates - June 2020

Loan type Interest rate  Change since February 2020 (basis points) 
Variable rate loans - owner-occupier  3.24%  -33
Variable rate loans - investor 3.61% -35
All variable rate loans 3.37% -34
Fixed rate loans - owner-occupier 3.28% -45
Fixed rate loans - investor 3.64% -37
Principal and interest* 3.28% -35
Interest-only* 3.88% -33

*weighted average across fixed and variable rate loans

Sources: APRA, RBA

The RBA also recorded a strong swing towards fixed-rate home loans in the most recent quarter.

RateCity has also observed fixed rates dive in recent months, with some of the lowest fixed rates on record being released.

Aussies top up their offset accounts

While many Australian mortgage holders saw their interest rates slashed over the June quarter, or were able to put their loan on a 6-month mortgage holiday, the RBA found that many of these mortgage holders also put more of their spare cash into their offset accounts.

According to the RBA, Aussies deposited the most into their offset accounts in April and May, when:

  1. Many mortgage holders were saving money for precautionary reasons, and;
  2. More containment measures were introduced to limit the spread of the virus, reducing opportunities for spending.

The RBA also mentioned money from the early release of superannuation as possibly contributing to higher offset account balances.

Fewer new loans this quarter

The RBA also found that new housing loan commitments have declined since the end of March this year. This was attributed to several causes, including:

  1. Less demand for new housing finance, partially due to uncertainty associated with the pandemic, and;
  2. Tightening lending standards, with lenders taking more time to assess loan applications, some of which are requiring more recent verification of income than previously, or lower maximum LVRs.

What this all means to you

If you’re in the market for a home loan, it’s clear there are a lot of low-rate options available. However, instead of going straight to the offer with the lowest interest rate, it’s important to also check what features and benefits the lender offers, and what terms and conditions may apply. 

As recorded by the RBA, fixed-rate home loans have seen some of the deepest falls in recent months. Choosing a home loan with a low fixed rate could let you enjoy consistently low repayments for as long as the fixed term lasts. Just remember that your loan will revert to the lender’s variable rate once this fixed term is up, and if you decide to refinance early, you could be stuck paying expensive break fees.

If you’re looking to build up an emergency fund for the future, one option could be to deposit your spare cash in your home loan’s offset account. This can help shrink your home loan interest charges, which can in turn help you clear your debt faster and pay off your property sooner. Keep in mind that offset accounts tend to be more commonly available with variable rate home loans than fixed rate options.

Whether you’re applying for a new home loan or refinancing your existing mortgage, it’s important to pay close attention to the lender’s eligibility criteria. To qualify for some of the lowest interest rates, you may need to provide a larger house deposit, or provide extra proof of income to demonstrate that you can comfortably afford the home loan.

If you’re unsure which home loan may be right for you, or which mortgage lender is likely to accept you application, contacting a mortgage broker for expert advice could be an option to consider.

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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 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 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 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 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 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.

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. 

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 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 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.

What happens when you default on your mortgage?

A mortgage default occurs when you are 90 days or more behind on your mortgage repayments. Late repayments will often incur a late fee on top of the amount owed which will continue to gather interest along with the remaining principal amount.

If you do default on a mortgage repayment you should try and catch up in next month’s payment. If this isn’t possible, and missing payments is going to become a regular issue, you need to contact your lender as soon as possible to organise an alternative payment schedule and discuss further options.

You may also want to talk to a financial counsellor. 

How personalised is my rating?

Real Time Ratings produces instant scores for loan products and updates them based what you tell us about what you’re looking for in a loan. In that sense, we believe the ratings are as close as you get to personalised; the more you tell us, the more we customise to ratings to your needs. Some borrowers value flexibility, while others want the lowest cost loan. Your preferences will be reflected in the rating. 

We also take a shorter term, more realistic view of how long borrowers hold onto their loan, which gives you a better idea about the true borrowing costs. We take your loan details and calculate how much each of the relevent loans would cost you on average each month over the next five years. We assess the overall flexibility of each loan and give you an easy indication of which ones are likely to adjust to your needs over time. 

How often is your data updated?

We work closely with lenders to get updates as quick as possible, with updates made the same day wherever possible.