Is it time to lock in some or all of your loans into fixed rates?
Interest rates are at historic lows and clearly the only way is up now.
The Reserve Bank has made it clear they're not going to increase the official cash rate for some time yet, however, the banks are slowly increasing their fixed interest loan rates.
This has led many investors and homeowners to reconsider the cost of one of their biggest expenses - their mortgage and many are looking to secure a rock-bottom deal.
So how do you decide what’s right for you?
And what do you need to consider to ensure you make an informed decision?
Now I don't think "official" interest rates are going to rise any time soon.
Yet the money market is factoring them rising sooner rather than later.
Of course "locking into" a fixed rate home or investment loan gives you the advantage of knowing what your commitments will be for a predetermined period - the fixed term.
This could be a suitable strategy if you want certainty for your cash flow commitments - especially if you're worried about your cash flow when interest rates eventually increase again.
However, there are also disadvantages that you need to be aware of before you make a decision.
With this in mind…
Here are 7 questions you should ask yourself when considering whether to fix your loans
1. Will I want to sell my property during the fixed loan period?
If so there could be a penalty for breaking your loan commitment.
2. Will I want to access the equity in my property to invest further during the fixed period?
Often this will come at a cost that may be prohibitive.
3. Do I need an offset account?
An offset account is a transaction account linked to your loan.
Many borrowers put their savings into this account and the credit balance here is offset against your outstanding loan balance reducing the interest payable on that loan. Most fixed-rate loans do not allow an offset facility.
4. Can I make extra repayments off my loan?
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As some lenders will restrict how much extra you can repay each year when you fix your loan if you are able to save significant amounts you may consider leaving some of your mortgage variables and maximising the use of your offset account.
5. What balance of fixed and variable rates do I need for my portfolio?
Even if you only have one loan, you can usually split the facility with a portion being fixed and the rest being a variable loan, giving you the flexibility you need.
Often beginning investors choose to have a bet each way and lock in 50% of their loans, while investors with larger portfolios protect themselves by fixing a larger percentage of their loans.
6. How long should I fix my loan?
Now, this is a difficult question, but if you believe that interest rates won’t increase for a few years and after that, they will remain high for a number of years, then fixing for a short period such as one or two years may not make sense.
That’s because your loan facility will mature and revert to the prevailing interest rate at a time when they could be a few percentage points higher.
This is an area where you should take specialist advice.
7. If interest rates fall further, what will lock in today have cost me?
How would you feel if you'd locked into a five-year loan facility and interest rates dropped further?
I know when I've been in that situation I took comfort in the fact that I was not trying to beat the banks; instead, I had secured my cash flow position.
Yet I know others who have become stressed when rates turned against them.
Now a disclaimer...
I'm clearly no expert in this field (over the years I often got the fixed vs variable decision wrong) so please get expert advice regarding your own circumstances.
There are many other issues to consider - things like your job security –and speculating on rate movements is fraught with danger and making a fixed versus variable decision for the wrong reasons can be costly.
While fixing your rate has the benefit of achieving “certainty” with your mortgage repayments, breaking a fixed-rate loan can be costly as well as removing flexibility and control.
Choose wisely because you’ll only know if you’ve made the right decision in 3 or 4 years.
But remember rates will rise again one day and as fixed rates tend to rise well ahead of variable rates, it’s worthwhile keeping an eye on the leading indicators of our economy.