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Learn about variable home loans

What is a variable rate home loan?

Variable home loans in Australia are a mortgage repayment type, in which a lender charges interest based on the official cash rate set by the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA). These popular home loans offer plenty of financial flexibility compared to fixed rate loans.

Whether you're buying a new home, making a property investment, or refinancing your existing home loan, armed with all the information you need in one place, you can make an informed decision about which variable home loan is right for you. 

Variable home loan features

Mortgages with variable interest rates often offer flexible repayment terms, which can include features that provide further financial flexibility.

These include:

  • Offset account – a savings or transaction bank account that is linked to your mortgage. As well as serving as a typical bank account of its kind, any money paid into an offset account is included when your lender calculates the interest owing on your mortgage.
  • Redraw facility - this feature can help encourage you to minimise your home loan’s interest. A redraw facility allows you to withdraw any surplus balance you’ve paid onto your loan, subject to your lender’s terms and conditions.
  • Extra repayments - Some home loans may not allow you to make additional repayments on your mortgage without charge. By making extra repayments onto your mortgage, you may be ahead of schedule and come closer to making an early exit from the home loan, reducing the total interest repayments you’d make.
  • Packages - Some lenders will package its home loans with other financial products, like credit cards, transaction accounts or a line of credit. 

Keep in mind that choosing a home loan with features like the above may result in higher ongoing fees and costs, as well as potentially higher interest rates.  No-frills, basic home loans typically come with low rates, as these features are costly to lenders.

Benefits of a variable rate mortgage

Home loans with variable interest rates can often prove to be quite affordable. Because most lenders base their variable interest rates on the RBA’s official cash rate, if the cash rate falls, your lender may pass this rate discount on to you, potentially lowering your home loan repayments.

Variable rate mortgages also tend to be more flexible than their fixed interest rate counterparts, which are more likely to lock you into set repayment plans with restrictions on making additional repayments. Plus, with a variable rate home loan, you’re more likely to enjoy access to optional bonus features.

Risks of a variable rate mortgage

There are financial risks with every home loan, including variable rate mortgages. If the RBA increases Australia’s official cash rate, your lender will likely pass this rate rise on to you, increasing the cost of your repayments. It’s possible that an extended period of regular interest rate rises could leave you in financial stress, struggling to repay a loan that was once easily affordable.

Split rate loans

If you’d like to limit the impact of rate changes on your home loan, while still enjoying some flexibility, you can consider a loan type that blends the best of both worlds, and split the interest rate on your mortgage between fixed and variable. 

If rates rise, the fixed percentage will help to keep your repayments stable and affordable. And if rates fall, you’ll still enjoy some savings on repayments for the variable loan percentage.

Introductory variable home loans

Another thing to keep in mind is that lenders will often offer lower, introductory variable home loan rates, or honeymoon rates, as special offers to entice new borrowers onto their books. The introductory period may even include perks like fee waivers, cashback offers and more. 

After a set period of time, these introductory rates will then revert to a generally higher standard variable rate. If you choose a home loan offering a low introductory rate, ensure you know not only the exact period of time of this honeymoon period, but also what the lender's standard variable rate is. This way you can consider refinancing to a new, low rate loan once this period has ended if you find the ongoing rate is too high.

How to compare variable rate home loans

To get a better idea of the potential impact that different home loans may have on your finances, look at a home loan's comparison rate. This rate combines each a home loan's advertised interest rate with its standard fees and charges, so you can estimate its average total cost. 

These fees may include upfront fees like application fees, as well as ongoing fees like annual fees, and late payment fees. Check the lender's website for the Product Disclosure Statement, which will outline any potential ongoing fees and costs.

Comparison tables, like the one on this page, can help you compare different comparison rates, as well as view any features. Borrowers can enter their personal details, like the loan amount, ideal loan term and more. This can also be a helpful way for borrowers to compare apples with apples and see not only the potential monthly cost of the loan, but how different home loans compare to one another. 

It's also crucial that you look not only at the rates, but also the potential fees and eligibility criteria set by the lender before you apply. Each lender will have different terms and requirements for approval. You want to ensure you can not only afford a home loan, but that your personal financial situation suits the lender's criteria, so you reduce your risk of loan rejection. 

Loan term length

Most home loans have terms of 25 or 30 years, though shorter and longer home loans are also available.

It’s important to consider how long you want to take to pay off your mortgage, partially because the longer your loan term, the greater the likelihood that your variable interest rate will rise, and bring up your home loan’s repayments with it.

What’s more, the longer your home loan, the more repayments you’ll need to make, each one for a smaller percentage of your loan’s principal. This can help to keep your loan’s monthly cost more affordable, however the increased number of repayments could lead to you paying more interest in total over the lifetime of the loan. 

Further, if you choose an interest-only home loan, you follow a similar path, in that choosing to only pay interest for a set period of time will mean you're not reducing your principal at all in that period. For that reason, many borrowers opt for principal & interest loans to chip away at their loan amount. 

Shorter home loans allow you to get your property fully paid off more quickly by paying a greater percentage of the principal each month. While this can make your repayments more expensive, you’ll likely pay less in total interest over the lifetime of your loan.

Deposit options

You’re often more likely to enjoy lower variable interest rates on your mortgage if you can afford a full deposit on your property. This added security helps to reduce the lender’s risk. The deposit size required for a mortgage varies by lender, though 20 percent of the property value is common.

If you can’t afford a full deposit on the property you want, there may still be home loan options available to you. Some lenders offer mortgages with a high Loan to Value Ratio (LVR), where you pay a smaller deposit and borrow a greater percentage of the property’s value. However, your lender may require you to pay Lender’s Mortgage Insurance (LMI) to keep them protected in case you default on your loan.

Alternatively, you may be able to have a parent or other close relative serve as your guarantor, using the equity in their property to guarantee your home loan in lieu of a deposit. This option can allow you to sidestep LMI, though it may also put the guarantor’s finances at risk if you were to default.

Keep in mind that, depending on your state or territory and whether you're a first home buyer or not, you may have to pay stamp duty on your property. This can range in the tens of thousands of dollars, so factor this potential cost into your deposit budget.

Are variable rates right for you?

While variable rate mortgages may be accessible to first home buyers, the added security offered by fixed rate home loans can often prove appealing to borrowers who are first getting into the property market and want to keep their finances under control while they build up their equity.

Variable rate mortgages often appeal to property investors, because if interest rates stay low, their repayments can remain relatively affordable, allowing buyers to maximise the return on their investment. Plus, access to offset accounts, redraw facilities and the like can help to further minimise interest repayments.

Similarly, when refinancing a property, whether you’re an investor or an owner occupier, you may wish to consider a variable rate mortgage to help keep your repayments on the low side, and to potentially gain access to other cost-saving features.

Compare variable rate home loans

At RateCity, there are several options available to help you find the ideal variable rate home loan to suit your financial situation when buying your new home. You can look at the current RBA cash rate and compare it to the other interest rates on the market with the RateCity RBA Rate Tracker. You can also use our calculators to estimate how much you could borrow, or the affordability of different loans.

And of course, you can also compare the interest and comparison rates of a wide variety of variable rate home loans all in the one place, and quickly narrow down your shortlist of lenders to consider when selecting your variable rate home loan.

If you're looking for more help finding a variable rate loan that best suits your financial situation, it may be worth reaching out to a mortgage broker for additional help and information.

Frequently asked questions

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 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 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.

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.

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.

How do you determine which home loan rates/products I’m shown?

When you check your home loan rate, you’ll supply some basic information about your current loan, including the amount owing on your mortgage and your current interest rate.

We’ll compare this information to the home loan options in the RateCity database and show you which home loan products you may be eligible to apply for.

 

How do I apply for a home improvement loan?

When you want to renovate your home, you may need to take out a loan to cover the costs. You could apply for a home improvement loan, which is a personal loan that you use to cover the costs of your home renovations. There is no difference between applying for this type of home improvement loan and applying for a standard personal loan. It would be best to check and compare the features, fees and details of the loan before applying. 

Besides taking out a home improvement loan, you could also:

  1. Use the equity in your house: Equity is the difference between your property’s value and the amount you still owe on your home loan. You may be able to access this equity by refinancing your home loan and then using it to finance your home improvement.  Speak with your lender or a mortgage broker about accessing your equity.
  2. Utilise the redraw facility of your home loan: Check whether the existing home loan has a redraw facility. A redraw facility allows you to access additional funds you’ve repaid into your home loan. Some lenders offer this on variable rate home loans but not on fixed. If this option is available to you, contact your lender to discuss how to access it.
  3. Apply for a construction loan: A construction loan is typically used when constructing a new property but can also be used as a home renovation loan. You may find that a construction loan is a suitable option as it enables you to draw funds as your renovation project progresses. You can compare construction home loans online or speak to a mortgage broker about taking out such a loan.
  4. Look into government grants: Check whether there are any government grants offered when you need the funds and whether you qualify. Initiatives like the HomeBuilder Grant were offered by the Federal Government for a limited period until April 2021. They could help fund your renovations either in full or just partially.  

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.

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 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*

Can I take a personal loan after a home loan?

Are you struggling to pay the deposit for your dream home? A personal loan can help you pay the deposit. The question that may arise in your mind is can I take a home loan after a personal loan, or can you take a personal loan at the same time as a home loan, as it is. The answer is that, yes, provided you can meet the general eligibility criteria for both a personal loan and a home loan, your application should be approved. Those eligibility criteria may include:

  • Higher-income to show repayment capability for both the loans
  • Clear credit history with no delays in bill payments or defaults on debts
  • Zero or minimal current outstanding debt
  • Some amount of savings
  • Proven rent history will be positively perceived by the lenders

A personal loan after or during a home loan may impact serviceability, however, as the numbers can seriously add up. Every loan you avail of increases your monthly installments and the amount you use to repay the personal loan will be considered to lower the money available for the repayment of your home loan.

As to whether you can get a personal loan after your home loan, the answer is a very likely "yes", though it does come with a caveat: as long as you can show sufficient income to repay both the loans on time, you should be able to get that personal loan approved. A personal loan can also help to improve your credit score showing financial discipline and responsibility, which may benefit you with more favorable terms for your home 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.

How does ANZ calculate early repayment costs?

If you have a fixed interest home loan, you’ll pay ANZ home loan early exit fees for partial or full repayment of the loan amount before the end of the fixed interest rate duration. These fees are also payable if you switch to another variable or fixed-rate loan.

The ANZ mortgage early exit fees can vary and you can get an estimate from the lender before you decide to prepay the loan. However, the exact early repayment cost can be determined when you prepay the loan.

The early exit fees are calculated after considering factors like the prepayment amount, the period left before the fixed-rate duration ends, and the change in the market rates since the beginning of the fixed-rate period. The early exit fees may not be charged if you’re paying off a smaller amount. You can check with ANZ to see how much you’ll have to pay.

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.

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.

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 do mortgage payments start after settlement?

Generally speaking, your first mortgage payment falls due one month after the settlement date. However, this may vary based on your mortgage terms. You can check the exact date by contacting your lender.

Usually your settlement agent will meet the seller’s representatives to exchange documents at an agreed place and time. The balance purchase price is paid to the seller. The lender will register a mortgage against your title and give you the funds to purchase the new home.

Once the settlement process is complete, the lender allows you to draw down the loan. The loan amount is debited from your loan account. As soon as the settlement paperwork is sorted, you can collect the keys to your new home and work your way through the moving-in checklist.

How to use the ME Bank reverse mortgage calculator?

You can access the equity in your home to help you fund your needs during your senior years. A ME Bank reverse mortgage allows you to tap into the equity you’ve built up in your home while you continue living in your house. You can also use the funds to pay for your move to a retirement home and repay the loan when you sell the property.

Generally, if you’re 60 years old, you can borrow up to 15 per cent of the property value. If you are older than 75 years, the amount you can access increases to up to 30 per cent. You can use a reverse mortgage calculator to know how much you can borrow.

To take out a ME Bank reverse mortgage, you’ll need to provide information like your age, type of property – house or an apartment, postcode, and the estimated market value of the property. The loan to value ratio (LVR) is calculated based on your age and the property’s value.