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Making sense of the rate cuts, what does it all mean?

Making sense of the rate cuts, what does it all mean?

The two recent Reserve Bank (RBA) interest rate rate cuts and subsequent rate changes by lenders around Australia have dominated the media headlines in recent weeks. What does it mean for you?

If you haven’t studied finance, and are currently comparing home loans, you may not be able to make sense of everything. Between recent changes to cash rates, interest rates, serviceability and sensitivity buffers, does the news leave you up the creek without a paddle?

Not necessarily.

From everyday Australians to property developers and business owners, these possibly unfamiliar terms surrounding the rate cuts have sparked a nationwide conversation, and this warrants an explanation of these changes in layman’s terms.

What do the Reserve Bank rate cuts mean, and how will they affect your borrowing power?

It’s probably best to start this from the beginning, because this can get a little complicated. First, let’s talk about the Reserve Bank, also known as the RBA. 


What is the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA)?

The RBA is a government owned and operated agency that controls the monetary policy in Australia. The Reserve Bank Board meets eleven times a year, on the first Tuesday of every month, to set a ‘cash rate.’

What is the cash rate and why does the RBA change it?

The RBA is a body corporate with a duty to contribute to the stability of the currency, and economic prosperity of the Australian people. The cash rate is an interest rate that was created as a tool to manage inflation.

The Reserve Bank uses the cash rate to:

1. Determine the interest charged on overnight loans between banks
2. Set a financial benchmark for interest rates in the market, impacting both borrowers and savers
3. Stimulate or dampen consumer spending and inflation, to boost the Australian economy

What is inflation and how does that affect the cash rate?

Inflation is best explained as the percentage change in the price of goods and services that households buy over time. If you’re a visual learner, it may be best to look at the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to get an idea of how the inflation rate has changed in the past century.

The Reserve Bank’s target inflation rate is 2 to 3 per cent, and the current inflation rate as of 24th July 2019 is 1.3 per cent.

As such, the recent cuts have been made to encourage banks and lenders to reduce their current interest rates, so as to boost consumer spending, and increase the overall inflation rate.

What is serviceability, and how do banks calculate it?

You may have also read amongst the RBA rate cut headlines, that a new Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) ruling has meant banks are changing their home loan serviceability assessments and policies.

Serviceability is a banking term used by lenders to describe the ability of the borrower to meet loan repayments. This is calculated based on the borrower’s income, expenses, loan amount and other monetary commitments to generate an overall figure; the debt service ratio.

The maximum debt service ratio typically ranges between 70-90 per cent, but borrowers need to be aware that lenders can add a sensitivity buffer to the serviceability assessment rate, to ensure borrowers keep up with repayments.

Prior to 5th July 2019, APRA — the independent statutory authority that supervises institutions across banking — enforced a standard 7 per cent interest rate floor on home loan serviceability assessments. This meant that lenders would assess your ability to repay a home loan on an interest rate of 7 per cent, not based the advertised rate of the loan.

However, after the first RBA cash rate cut in June, APRA has removed the standard interest rate floor, and lenders are now able to set their own minimum interest rate floor for use in serviceability assessments, with revised sensitivity buffer of at least 2.5 per cent over the loan’s advertised interest rate.

What impact do interest rate floors andbuffers make on borrowers?

Business, finance, saving money, banking, property loan or mortgage concept :  Wood house model, coins, eyeglasses and saving account book or financial statement on office desk table

Let’s see this in action…

Say you’re applying for a $500,000 home loan. The advertised home loan rate is 4.72 per cent, the interest floor rate is 6 per cent and the sensitivity buffer as standard is 2.5 per cent.

The bank will determine your ability to make your loan repayments on either one of two rates:

1. The serviceability / interest rate floor (6 per cent)
2. The advertised loan’s interest rate plus the sensitivity buffer (4.72 + 2.5 = 7.22 per cent)

The key thing to remember here is, you will pay whichever rate is higher.

To make this easier to understand, here are five different examples of how lenders assess your ability to make repayments, determining the amount of money you will be able to borrow.

It’s rare that you will ever pay the interest floor rate advertised by lenders at present, as shown by the example above, and those we have included below.


Advertised Interest Rate

Sensitivity Buffer Rate

Advertised Rate + Buffer (a)

Interest Rate Floor (b)

The interest rate that will be used to calculate your repayment ability*































*Notes: There may be additional fees that apply to your home loan, such as establishment fees, Lenders Mortgage Insurance (LMI) and other charges.

Data accurate as of 24th July 2019

What to look out for…

If you’re currently looking to make the ‘Great Australian Dream’ of owning a house come true, you need to be aware of the complexities of home loans.


Interest rates, sensitivity buffers, fees, and charges can create an unexpected financial burden if not carefully reviewed.

As with all financial decisions, the “best” home loan for you will depend upon your specific situation, financial circumstances and spending habits. Looking only at interest rates, fees, and charges may not give you the entire picture, so you need to do your research by either speaking directly to the lender or engaging a mortgage broker to help you.

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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 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 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 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.

Does the Home Loan Rate Promise apply to discounted interest rate offers, such as honeymoon rates?

No. Temporary discounts to home loan interest rates will expire after a limited time, so they aren’t valid for comparing home loans as part of the Home Loan Rate Promise.

However, if your home loan has been discounted from the lender’s standard rate on a permanent basis, you can check if we can find an even lower rate that could apply to you.

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 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 are the different types of home loan interest rates?

A home loan interest rate is used to calculate how much you’ll pay the lender, usually annually, above the amount you borrow. It’s what the lenders charge you for them lending you money and will impact the total amount you’ll pay over the life of your home loan. 

Having understood what are home loan rates in general, here are the two types you usually have with a home loan:

Fixed rates

These interest rates remain constant for a specific period and are a good option if you’re a first-time buyer or if you’re looking for a fixed monthly repayment. One possible downside of a fixed rate is that it may be higher than a variable rate. Also, you don’t benefit from any lowering of interest rates in the market. On the flip side, if rates go up, your rate won’t change, possibly saving you money.

Variable rates

With variable interest rates, the lender can change them at any time. This change can be based on economic conditions or other reasons. Changes in interest rates could be beneficial if your monthly repayment decreases but can be a problem if it increases. Variable interest rates offer several other benefits often not available with fixed rate home loans like redraw and offset facilities and free extra repayments. 

What is the Home Loan Rate Promise?

The Home Loan Rate Promise is RateCity putting its money where its mouth is. We believe that too many Australians are paying too much for their home loans. We’re so confident we can help Aussies save money, if we can’t beat your current rate, we’ll give you a $100 gift card.*

There are two reasons it pays to check your rate with the Home Loan Rate Promise:

  • You can find out how much you could save on your home loan by switching to a loan with a lower interest rate
  • If we can’t beat your current rate, you can claim a $100 gift card with our Home Loan Rate Promise*

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.

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 is the average annual percentage rate?

Also known as the comparison rate, or sometimes the ‘true rate’ of a loan, the average annual percentage rate (AAPR) is used to indicate the overall cost of a loan after considering all the fees, charges and other factors, such as introductory offers and honeymoon rates.

The AAPR is calculated based on a standardised loan amount and loan term, and doesn’t include any extra non-standard charges.

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.

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.