Advice and Opinion

How to beat the interest rate blues

With the rand tanking and inflation rising as a result, most economists are agreed that the Reserve Bank will have to start raising rates sooner rather than later – and probably by more than would otherwise have been expected this year.

However, this does not necessarily mean that this is a good time to run to your bank and try to fix the interest rate on your home loan, says Shaun Rademeyer, CEO of BetterLife Home Loans, SA’s biggest mortgage originator.

Banks in South Africa, he says, don’t often quote blanket figures for fixed interest rates – they usually look at already approved loans on a case-by-case basis.

“However, most fixed rates are set at 1% to 3% above the current rate, resulting in the borrower paying more than is essential at that time. And most banks won’t fix rates for less than two years.”

For example, Rademeyer says, on an R800 000 bond taken out over a 20-year period at 9,75% (the current variable home loan rate), the repayment would be R7588 per month. But if you then managed to fix your rate for two years, say, you might well have to pay 2% more than the current rate, which would add just over R1000 to your monthly repayment.

“And unless you believe that an increase of 2% or more in the variable rate is absolutely imminent, we believe you would be better advised to immediately start paying that R1000 a month off the capital portion of your loan instead – even if it involves making some lifestyle sacrifices.”

The reason is that this will give you much greater leeway to afford whatever interest rates rises do occur, he says.

“For example, if you are able to pay an extra R1000 a month even for a year, you will have reduced the outstanding balance of your R800 000 home loan by more than R25 000, thanks to the power of amortization, and cut your minimum monthly repayment by more than R250″.

“What this means is that even if interest rates did then rise by a total of 2%, the effect on your budget would be much smaller. Your minimum monthly payment would only rise by around R750 and you could still carry on paying R250 a month off the capital.”

Alternatively, says Rademeyer, since interest rates are set to start rising soon, you should aim to split the additional R1000 a month between the monthly repayment increase and continued capital reduction.

“This will give you the additional satisfaction of seeing your bond repayment term significantly reduced – and saving many thousands of rands in interest. Even at an interest rate of 11,75%, for example, an additional payment of just R250 a month will cut two years off your bond term and save you about R154 000 worth of interest.”