To fix or not to fix

To fix or not to fix

The variable versus fixed mortgage rate decision will affect a homeowner for years to come and could be the difference in thousands of dollars of accrued interest. 

At its May meeting, the Reserve Bank of Australia acted to curb soaring inflation by raising the official cash rate by 0.25%. With Governor Lowe warning that this is expected to be the first of many rate hikes over the next 12-18 months, many are wondering if they should fix their home loan to safeguard against rising rates. The right answer depends on your unique situation and tolerance for risk. 

Let’s start by looking at the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Variable rate loans

Advantages
  • The main advantage is flexibility.
  • Unlimited extra repayments which will help you pay your loan off sooner.
  • It takes advantage when interest rates are decreasing by lowering interest repayments.
  • Allows you to refinance or restructure your loan at any time, for example, by accessing excess equity for renovations.
  • Variable home loans generally come with more features such as a redraw facility or offset account.
Disadvantages
  • When interest rates rise, so too do your repayments.
  • As interest rates can change at any stage you lack a level of certainty over what your repayments will be in the future. This can make detailed budgeting quite challenging.

Fixed rate loans

Advantages
  • The main advantage is payment certainty, allowing you to budget your repayments for the foreseeable future. This leads to a greater sense of financial security.
  • Your interest repayments will be lower if, during the term, the variable rises above the fixed rate.
Disadvantages
  • Most fixed rates limit extra repayments to around $5,000 per year therefore if you benefit from a lump sum of cash, like an inheritance or bonus, you cannot place this directly onto the loan without penalty.
  • You do not benefit when interest rates go down during the term of the fixed loan.
  • There are penalties for breaking a fixed rate before maturity which makes restructuring or refinancing to another lender much more expensive. These penalties also apply if you sell your property within the fixed rate term.
  • Fixed rates generally do not come with additional features such as a redraw facility or an offset account.

As you can see, there is a lot more to consider than simply a bet on where interest rates are heading.

After considering these characteristics, if the certainty of fixed rate repayments is still appealing you should then consider whether you will likely be better off with the fixed rates on offer.

A common misconception is that if the variable interest rate rises higher than the fixed rate over the term of the loan then you will pay less interest. Of course, there are periods during the term when the variable rate will be lower so you must instead consider the average rate over the term. Take an example where a rate was fixed 1% above the current variable rate for a period of 2 years. After 1 year the variable rate had steadily risen to meet the fixed. To break even, the variable would need to continue to rise another 1% (approx.) over the final year of the term. When calculating the exact breakeven point, you must also consider the timing of the rate rises and that the loan balance may steadily decrease over the term.

The calculations in the table above are based on a 30 year $800,000 loan with monthly principal and interest repayments.

Hedge your bets

Often borrowers are drawn towards the certainty of fixed repayments but do not want the additional payment restrictions that come with it. By splitting the loan, you can essentially enjoy the benefits of both. To calculate the variable split, you should consider how many extra repayments you are likely to make over the term of the fixed rate as well as how much your balance will reduce by your regular payments. A good mortgage broker can help you with this calculation. You may also consider an even split if you are undecided which rate will work best for you.

 

If you’d like to discuss your specific circumstances, or simply interested in what fixed rates are available, please do get in touch.

Open banking: What this means for you and your data

Open banking: What this means for you and your data

Open banking is widely regarded as the most significant change in the retail banking landscape for decades but many of us have never heard of it. So what is it and how does it affect me?

Whilst the term originated from Europe, Australia passed the Consumer Data Right (CDR) legislation in August 2019 which gave consumers exclusive right to their own data and enabled them to choose whether to share it with third parties. In the following years the banks and other lenders were forced to securely share some of their banking data with other accredited data recipients (ADR). The types of data include details of home loans, investment loans, personal loans, transaction accounts, closed accounts, direct debits and scheduled payments, as well as payee data. It’s important to reiterate that this data cannot be shared without the consent of the customer.

So how does this change things?

By ensuring that consumers have exclusive right to their own data, according to the Australian Banking Association (ABA), benefits to customers will include;

  • Streamlining the application process for certain financial products
  • Saving significant time and administration when switching from one bank to another
  • The availability of more products tailored to your particular financial circumstances

The changes are aimed to promote more competition within the financial services industry providing smaller tech based emerging companies the data to efficiently design products that better suit their customers. Imagine applying for a loan or credit card where, in a few clicks, your savings and credit data is used to immediately approve your application and determine the rate you are offered. There is no need to provide any supporting documents and the lengthy processing delays which have hampered the industry for years are a thing of the past.

How secure is my data?

To receive and share your data an ADR must become accredited by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to ensure they have the required level of security and data privacy settings. This process can take as long as 4-6 months and involves significant upfront and ongoing legal and labor costs. For a long time the cost of accreditation, and ongoing regulatory maintenance, was seen as a barrier for smaller companies to access the data. To overcome this, last year the Australian government approved a representative model which will come into effect this month.

As mentioned earlier consumers will need to provide consent for ADRs to access their data and the information will be deleted or de-identified after a maximum of 12 months unless permission is once again granted. You can also withdraw your consent at any time and your data must be deleted immediately. Each company that you grant permission should always provide you with the following information:

  • What information you’re sharing and how it will be used
  • Who will have access to your data
  • How long they’ll have access to your data for
  • How you can manage and withdraw consents

When will I see the benefits of this?

The type of data available has been rolled out in phases since July 2020 but open banking is still considered to be in it’s infancy.

An important milestone will occur this month when joint accounts are brought under the scope of CDR. As you can imagine this represents a huge change for the mortgage industry where a significant proportion of loans are held in joint names.

From November 2022 energy companies will also need to provide customers with access to their usage and connection data. This will kickstart a future where comparing energy providers based specifically on your usage can be performed at the click of a button. It also gives future providers the opportunity to tailor your energy charges specifically for you.

As the number of data sources increase the consumer will progressively see the benefit but until then, with many data sources such as superannuation and investment accounts still unavailable, companies utilising the data will typically operate under a hybrid model combining open banking and traditional sources of information.