Is now the time to fix interest rates?

Eighteen months ago when I first wrote about fixing interest rates there had been just two RBA rate rises and fixed rates were much higher than the variable interest rates. It was also still early in the recovery and for many it may have been too early to call. So a decision not to fix interest rates may have been easier to stomach.

Now fixed interest rates are similar, even lower than the variable rate as shown in the table below. And while the RBA has recently softened its talk future rate rises seem probably to many – especially those living in boom regions. So fixing rates may be starting to look attractive to some.

Source: Cannex (accessed 20th April 2011)

History

The real problem with fixing anything for a time period is that you need to be very confident in the accuracy of your crystal ball. The last boom seemed to last long enough to affect people’s memory and lull them into thinking it would go on for much longer.

Inflation was getting uncomfortable for the RBA so rates had been up going up. That lead many of the boom-believers to fix their interest rates in the hope of beating the rises – sometimes for 3 and 5 years.

What transpired was much gnashing of teeth when interest rates plummeted, as summarised in the graph below of the RBA cash rate.

The consequence of an error-prone crystal ball can be very costly.

So should you?

For a detailed examination of the considerations in fixing rates read my earlier article. There are some circumstances when you would fix interest rates.

Right now include the following when contemplating your decision:

  • The recovery is not certain. Rates may not move for some time. So if you fix your rate you may trade off flexibility for no benefit.
  • Another sharp down-turn is possible. How will you feel if you’re paying a higher rate than the variable rate?
  • The future gets increasingly uncertain the further out you project. Exercise greater caution when considering longer terms for fixing rates.

A personal observation

In my role as a financial planner I have seen how rapidly people’s life and goals change in just a few short years. For those who fixed their interest rates (before becoming clients) I’ve noted how the lack of flexibility has inhibited their money management and wealth creation.

Don’t underestimate how quickly life evolves.

If you’ve had some big changes in the last 3 years then maybe you also will in the next 3 years – it may just be the way you roll. So,  perhaps a 3 year fixed rate is not the best thing for you right now.

To Fix Interest Rates or Not?

With two interest rate rises already under our belts more people are asking me if they should be fixing their rates. Read on to discover the pros and cons and if fixing your interest rates may be right for you.

With two interest rate rises already under our belts more people are asking me if they should be fixing their rates.

You give up flexibility for certainty plus you often pay more.

 The initial attraction to fix rates is often primal – we hate to miss an opportunity to save money. With more rate rises forecast that’s precisely what people think they’ll be doing if they fix rates.

Most get it wrong

The reality is somewhat different for most. Research has shown that over half of people who fix their rates end up worse off financially. They pay more interest and repayments than if they’d left their loans variable.

For a personal illustration of that just ask anyone who fixed their rates two years ago when there was still talk of rates going higher. That crystal ball was clearly broken.

The Rate You’ll Be Paying

One belief is that you can fix your rate at the current variable rate, so as soon as rates go up you’re in front. That is not the case. Fixed rates are set taking into consideration the lender’s forecast of rates during the fixed period.

The following table summarises rates as at 7th November 2009 from the four biggest lenders:


 


Std

Var


Basic Var

1
Year Fixed

2
Year Fixed

3
Year Fixed

5
Year Fixed


ANZ

6.31

5.61

6.50

7.34

7.69

8.04



CommonwealthBank

6.24

5.48

6.64

7.34

7.74

8.04


nab

6.24

5.74

6.59

7.29

7.59

7.89

Westpac

6.31

5.61

6.54

7.19

7.59

7.94

Source: Cannex

Ponder This: If you fix your rates now how high do variable rates need to go before you break even overall?

For and Against

Why Fix

  • You can’t keep food on the table if your repayments go much higher
  • Your mindset is that certainty is a very high priority. (Any control freaks reading this article?)

Downside Trade-offs:

  • You immediately pay a higher interest rate and higher repayments, which impacts your cash flow
  • You are very restricted on the amount of additional repayments you can make, meaning you can’t ahead as quickly as you may like.
  • There can be a break fee if you need to refinance during the fixed term (usually when your fixed rate is higher than the variable rate, like now.)

Things To Consider

What are your life plans over the next three or five years?

Your financial decisions today impact on the options you will have available to you tomorrow, next year and five years from now. If you’re not well informed some decisions you make can shut out important life choices you would like to make in coming years.

For example, let’s say you plan to upgrade your home in the next few years. If you have a fixed rate you may be liable for a large break cost. At the time the cost may be so high that you can’t afford it and end up not being able to move as desired.

Maybe you don’t plan to for certain, but maybe it’s an above fifty percent possibility. If so, wouldn’t you like to keep the option flexibly open to you?

Before fixing your rates write down all the things you think you may like to do in the coming years. Project out as far ahead as the period for which you are planning to fix your rates.

Pay rises

Right now you may not have the cash flow to make high additional repayments but keep in mind the pay rises and bonuses you may receive over the next two to three years. Wouldn’t you love to be able to use them to nail your mortgage?

Cash flow control

Remember that if your cash flow is hyper-sensitive to increased repayments then fixing rates will immediately increase your pressure. Instead, over the next few months redirect that same amount into getting some cash flow coaching. You’ll discover ways to save money that’ll actually decrease your sensitivity to rate rises.

Call or e-mail me now to enquire about my Cash Flow Coaching program.

Still Unsure?

On thing you can do is hedge your bets by splitting your loan into a variable and a fixed portion. It doesn’t need to be an even split.

If you’d like some assistance in making the decision then book a meeting with me. I’m confident you’ll have a clear decision in under an hour.

Please Share This

If you found this article to be useful please forward it to your friends who have mortgages.

First Home Buyers: Don’t Rush In

Many in the media are saying that the latest interest rate cut makes property more affordable for first home buyers. I disagree.

Let us remember this is the lowest interest rate in over 30 years. Rates are artificially low to stimulate the economy short term. This is not normal or even an average.

So it is fair to assume that over the 25 to 30 year loan term that interest rates will go up again. If you can’t afford the repayments when interest rates go back up (as they will) then buying a house now is a recipe for future financial stress.

The current interest rate only makes a home more affordable if you can fix your rate at current levels for 30 years.

If you still buy even though you can only just afford the repayments now then you are betting that your income will increase quicker than interest rates. Start praying that it does.

The only thing that makes the house more affordable is free cash in the form of the First Home Owners Grant.

House prices will perhaps stop decreasing so rapidly. Lower interest rates reduce the pressure on would be sellers so they will be less inclined to drop the price of their house. It is suddenly more affordable for them to hold on.

Of course you could be really creative and just buy a less expensive house that you could afford.

TIP: calculate your affordability based on the repayments if interest rates are 3% higher than they are at the time of purchase. Then make repayments at that level right from the start.