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.

An offset account, do I really need one?

An offset account, do I really need one?

When searching for a property loan the first thing people tend to look for is a low interest rate but getting the right features with your loan can be just as important. Most people have heard of an offset account, but do you really need one and, if so, are you getting the most out of it?

How does an offset account work?

An offset account is an everyday transaction account that you can deposit all your spare money into and is linked to your mortgage. When interest on your loan is calculated, the balance of this account is combined with your loan to ‘offset’ the amount charged. For instance, if your mortgage was $500,000 and you had a balance of $100,000 in your offset account, interest would be calculated based on a balance of $400,000. Over the life of your home loan, placing any additional savings into your offset account can significantly reduce the time taken to pay off your loan.

There are generally two types of offset account, partial and 100%, which, as the names imply, offset different proportions of the mortgage balance. Also, the majority of offset accounts are linked to variable home loans with only a small number of lenders offering this feature with a fixed rate.

Offset account vs redraw facility?

While each lender tends to label them differently, most lenders offer you the choice of loans. A ‘basic loan with a redraw facility’ allows you to make extra repayments towards your loan which you are then able to withdraw at any time. It is important to read the fine print as some redraw facilities limit the amount or frequency you are able to access these funds and some even charge a fee for the privilege.

‘Packaged loans’ generally include an offset account together with other features such as a credit card and provide more flexibility around making changes to your loan without additional cost, for example fixing your rate at a future date. This usually attracts a flat annual fee of between $200-$400 and some lenders even offer a reduced interest rate compared to their basic product.

If both an offset account and unlimited redraw facility allow you to make extra repayments, whilst maintaining access to the funds, then which one do you need?

Home loan offset accounts

If you are purchasing the property to live in, or a holiday house that you do not intend to rent out, then applying for a ‘basic’ loan with a redraw facility may be appropriate for you. It will save you any ongoing fees associated with a packaged loan and in some cases you may even receive a better rate.

An offset account becomes attractive if you prefer instant transaction access to the funds, including BPAY and EFT, rather than being limited to the terms of the redraw. This works well for people who receive higher levels of income who can pay their salary, and any commissions or bonuses, directly to the account offsetting interest whilst expenses are then periodically paid from the facility.

Remember that you generally receive a credit card with the packaged loan so cancelling your current one, and the annual fee often associated with it, could net the extra cost. A common strategy is to select a credit card that provides an interest free period on your purchases and use this to pay your everyday expenses. The credit card is then paid down in one monthly payment thus maximizing the balance of the offset account whilst not accumulating any interest on your expenses. This approach requires discipline to ensure credit card repayments are made on time and may not be for everyone.

Several lenders also offer the ability to have more than one, often up to 8-10, offset accounts linked to the same home loan. The cumulative balance of all offset accounts then acts to reduce the interest accrued. This can be a useful budgeting tool where you separate your income into different categories or ‘buckets’, helping you to save while still reducing interest and paying off your loan more quickly.

 Investment loan offset accounts

 Offset accounts attached to Investment loans are where the real benefits become apparent. Investment loans are lending for properties, or other investments, from which you draw an income usually in the form of rent. Due to the transaction capabilities of an offset account, it provides a great way to keep all your investment property-related income and expenses together in the same account.

The interest on the loan, and other related expenses, are generally tax deductible, which is one of the significant benefits of owning an investment property. If you access the extra repayments from a redraw facility, the redrawn amount is treated as a separate loan to you and would prevent you from claiming this as a tax deduction, unless you can demonstrate that you are using those funds for investment purposes. Issues can arise, for example, when you withdraw money to take the family on a holiday or buy a new car. If your extra repayments are accessed directly through an offset account, the ‘fund purpose’ test would not apply, and all interest accrued on the loan would continue to be deductible.

This benefit can be significant when you purchase a second property to move into and convert your current one to an investment. In most cases you would benefit from reducing the loan on the new owner-occupied property and maximise the investment loan for tax purposes. If you transferred extra repayments to the new loan from a redraw facility, those repayments would fail the ‘fund purpose’ test and would not be deductible. By accessing the funds from an offset account, you can therefore maximise your deductions. Its important to note that these examples can significantly vary depending on your personal circumstances and you should always consult an accountant for personal tax advice.

Finding the best rate combined with the most appropriate loan features can be a complex, time consuming task that Steward Wealth can help you with. Feel free to get in touch.

Forgot to make that super contribution? Don’t despair, you may ‘catch-up’

Forgot to make that super contribution? Don’t despair, you may ‘catch-up’

It’s not uncommon to meet prospective clients who either forgot to make a concessional super contribution the previous year, or didn’t feel it was necessary.

However, all is not lost, with a little understood strategy which, in some circumstances, allows you to make ‘catch-up’ contributions.

So what are ‘catch-up’ contributions?

The rules around catch-up, or more accurately known as ‘Carry-forward’ contributions, simply allow super fund members to use any of their unused concessional contributions cap (or limit) on a rolling basis for five years.

So, if you didn’t make the maximum concessional contributions ($25,000 in 2019/2020), you can carry forward the unused amount for up to 5 years. After 5 years, any unused concessional contributions will expire.

The first year these rules came into force and concessional contributions could be accrued from was the 2018/2019 financial year.

Why were they introduced?

The Federal Government introduced carried-forward contributions to help those who have had interrupted working lives to get more money into superannuation. Those who had time off work to have children, care for children or loved ones, or even those who previously didn’t have the financial capacity to contribute to superannuation all benefit from these rules.

Who is eligible to make carry-forward contributions?

Anyone who has a total superannuation balance under $500,000 as at 30th June in the previous financial year is eligible to make catch up contributions.

What are concessional contributions again?

Concessional contributions are those made from pre-tax dollars. It includes:

  • employer contributions of 9.5% pa of your salary
  • Salary sacrifice contributions.
  • Lump sum contributions to superannuation which you notify your superfund provided that you intend to claim a personal tax deduction.

There is an annual $25,000 limit for concessional contributions.

How does it work?

This can best be illustrated with an example.

Tina has a total superannuation balance of $300,000. After taking a couple of years leave, she returned to work in July 2019.

During the 2019/2020 financial year, Tina was eligible to carry forward her concessional contributions she didn’t make in 2018/2019, however, she chose to not make an additional contribution above her employer contributions of $10,000.

So, for the 2020/2021 year, Tina has a total of $65,000 of eligible concessional contributions. She has done particularly well from her holding in Afterpay shares and decides to sell them giving rise to a significant capital gains tax liability. Tina has a meeting with her adviser at Steward Wealth about how she may reduce this tax liability. Her adviser recommends making full use of the carry-forward provisions and advises her to make concessional contributions totaling $65,000 (including her employer contributions). Not only will she receive a tax deduction for the contribution, but she will also grow her superannuation balance.

Forgot to make that super contribution Dont despair you may catch-up

In summary

Carry-forward provisions are a real opportunity for those who haven’t been in a position to make contributions to superannuation, or who have simply forgotten to do so.

While it can assist in building up your retirement benefit, as you can see from our case study above, careful planning can also make it a very effective tax planning tool.

Superannuation can be very complex and advice really needs to be tailored to each individual. If you would like to discuss further, the Steward Wealth team are more than happy to assist you.

Want an assessment as to how this strategy could work to maximise your financial well-being?

Call Steward Wealth today on (03) 9975 7070.