Why have CommBank, Suncorp, and Macquarie slashed their fixed interest rate home loans?

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Variable interest rates have surged thanks to months of aggressive decisions from the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA). But in a surprising twist, CommBank, Suncorp, and Macquarie have all announced cuts to their fixed interest offers this week, some by up to 1.60%. 

Major banks haven’t made significant cuts to their fixed rates home loans in months – in fact, the reverse has been true, with lenders scrambling to price future RBA rate expectations into their products. Now, average fixed term rates sit between 5% - 6% in the Mozo database for owner-occupied mortgages, while back in March they were closer to 3%. 

These fixed cuts may come as welcome news to borrowers. After all, with no end in sight to runaway inflation, variable home loans are likely to push even higher into the new year. Avoiding them by fixing your mortgage now seems like an increasingly tempting option. 

However, fixed terms are only cheaper if they ride out the full run of variable hikes, and with rumours of a recession looming, variable cuts may be on the cards within the next year. 

So let’s break it down with the future in mind. Should you fix, or stick with a variable rate? And what’s the true meaning behind these cuts?

Fixed rate cuts from major banks

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Macquarie dashed all terms on its standard fixed loans by up to 0.75% yesterday, placing them well below Mozo database averages. Meanwhile, CommBank and Suncorp released special reduced single-term offers for owner-occupiers making principal & interest repayments (as well as bumps to savings account rates). 

CommBank (from 5 August)

  • 4-year term.
  • 4.99% p.a. (comparison rate 5.46% p.a.).
  • Over 2.00% lower than Mozo database average for similar loans, represents a -1.60% cut from previous rates. 

Suncorp (from 12 August)

  • 3-year term.
  • Reduced rate of 5.79% p.a., no comparison rate given (current rate is 6.54% p.a. with a 6.50% p.a. comparison rate*).
  • Exactly average for similar loans in the Mozo database. 

Words like “certainty”, “security”, and “future” recur in both statements from CommBank and Suncorp, suggesting these offers were made to entice customers put off by monthly rate hikes.

In fact, it’s become a common bit of marketing spin for banks to make reassurances in their rate change announcements about ‘dedicated support teams’ for struggling customers and new term deposit offers, to soften the blow.

But fixed rates haven’t been a point of contention for a while now, so what gives?

Banks are playing the long game – so should you

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Rates have been rising because the RBA is trying to curtail inflation by lifting the cash rate. But supply chain issues have been driving inflation more so than consumer demand, which means there’s a very real risk the RBA could overdo it and plunge Australia into a recession

“Everyone’s anticipating variable rates will go as high as 6% to 7% right now, and it’s certainly not out of the question,” explains Mozo banking expert Peter Marshall. 

“Someone with savings and no loan might be cheering that idea, but there’s plenty of risk in the world economy at the moment, so I don’t think the Reserve Bank’s path is as clear as they think or say it is. If they hike rates too fast, they may well just cause everyone to close their wallets, stop spending, crush the housing market, and we could be in a recession next year.”

RELATED: Why understanding monetary policy could save you money

If this happens, the RBA will cut the cash rate to encourage spending, which will cause variable interest rates to drop again. So while fixing now may avoid hikes in the short term, it may actually lock you out of savings long-term if the cash rate dips within the next two years. 

“What we can see right now says everything’s going up for a couple of years on the variable rate front,” says Marshall, “but I don’t think it’s a done deal.”

Westpac and NAB predict a cash rate peak of over 3% by 2023, which would certainly push variable rates up to those eye-watering 7% heights. But this is short-term thinking. Variable home loans come with greater flexibility and some interest-saving features, such as offset accounts, that fixed home loans don’t. By fixing now, you could also be guaranteeing high interest returns for the bank – and hefty repayments for you – through a looming recession.

Therefore, when comparing home loans, it’s vital to calculate and stress test your repayments so you can see realistically what you can afford, rain or shine. If you have some wiggle room, variable interest home loans like CommBank’s Unloan may still be the ticket, since while they’re rising for now, there’s a very real possibility they’ll drop within the time span of a 3-year fixed term. 

If not, prepare to miss out on potentially significant savings down the track.

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