A row of houses in western sydney
The looming expiry of more than 800,000 fixed-rate mortgages could prompt a surge in housing stress. Image by Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS
  • personal finance

Rate hike cycle claims $25,000 toll, say researchers

John Kidman December 9, 2023

The number of stressed Australians opting to refinance their mortgage remains near record levels, but millions more are being urged to take the plunge with big savings still possible.

A borrower with a $500,000 debt who is yet to renegotiate the terms has shelled out more than $24,000 in extra interest during the past 20 months of cash rate rises, according to calculations by comparison site RateCity.

While the Reserve Bank held the rate steady at its last meeting for the year on Tuesday, mortgagees have been hammered by 13 hikes in 2022 and 2023.

Experts at three of the big four retail banks – CBA, Westpac and ANZ – believe interest has at last peaked at 4.35 per cent. But NAB economists reckon the central bank will hike one more time in February to 4.60 per cent.

Should another 0.25 percentage-point rise materialise, an average borrower will be stuck with an extra $76 in repayments each month, and a total increase across what would then be 14 hikes to $1287.

Australian Bureau of Statistics finance expert Mish Tan says the value of total refinancing between lenders is 12.6 per cent higher compared to a year ago, despite falling about 3 per cent in June to a touch over $20 billion.

The Reserve Bank of Australia in Martin Place, Sydney
 If the Reserve Bank lifts rates again in February, it will be the 14th rise in less than two years. Image by Peter Rae/AAP PHOTOS 

With borrowers facing the so-called fixed rate mortgage cliff bracing for impact, some 671,000 loans have been renegotiated since the start of the hikes.

However, millions of customers are still to do so.

Excluding introductory loans, there are still at least 26 lenders offering rates under 6.00 per cent, by RateCity’s count.

It says an average borrower yet to refinance to a new loan at 6.00 per cent could potentially save almost $10,000 over two years, even when factoring in estimated switch costs of $1150.

“Another cash rate pause does not mean people can let the budget go rogue over summer,” according to the site’s research director Sally Tindal.

“The RBA has made it clear another rate hike is not out of the question. A prolonged spell of elevated spending could ruffle inflation and push the board back into hiking territory.”

An auction director conducts an auction on a property in Melbourne
 Capital city auction activity is expected to jump 7.5 per cent this week. Image by Diego Fedele/AAP PHOTOS 

She urges borrowers to spend time over the holidays setting themselves up for 2024 by switching to a different lender.

“If you haggle with your bank, there’s a strong chance you’ll walk away with a decent rate cut in the space of one or two phone calls but know if you accept that offer, you could be selling your finances short by not refinancing,” Ms Tindal said.

“The lowest rates are often reserved for new customers.”

For Australians yet to enter the loan market, a survey by non-bank lender Pepper Money suggests overwhelmingly that most still think they can.

Almost nine in 10 of those polled in September said they believe owning a home is still part of the Australian dream, while 71 per cent think it will one day happen for them.

Even so, only one in five feel confident about knowing when they will have enough for a deposit.

Preliminary CoreLogic data indicates capital city auction activity around the country will rise 7.5 per cent this week, with 3186 homes to go under the hammer.

The property analyst says the increase would make it this year’s second busiest and represent a 14.7 jump on the same week in 2022.