Why offset accounts are hitting new highs

Spare cash can be tight right now (cost of living crunch, anyone?). But if you’ve still got some savings plus a home loan, there’s a way you could make your surplus funds work harder.

13th March 2024 | Russell Briggs

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Spare cash can be tight right now (cost of living crunch, anyone?). But if you’ve still got some savings plus a home loan, there’s a way you could make your surplus funds work harder.

Ever heard of an offset account?

They’re becoming an increasingly popular add-on feature to home loans, with new data showing that homeowners are stashing money in their offset accounts at a record pace.

In fact, balances in offset accounts have increased to 11% of credit limits, the highest share since APRA started collecting data on this particular stat in March 2019.

This essentially means that, on average, people with offset accounts are only paying interest on 89% of their mortgage each month.

So how do home loan offset accounts work?

An offset account is a cash account linked to your home loan.

The bank doesn’t pay you interest on the offset account. Instead, the balance of the account is deducted from (or ‘offset’ against) the balance of your home loan when loan interest is calculated.

For example, say you have $20,000 in an offset account and a home loan worth $615,000, which is about the size of the average new mortgage Australia-wide.

Instead of monthly interest being based on the full $615,000, the lender will only charge interest on $595,000 – that’s the $615,000 loan minus the $20,000 in the offset account.

This means you pay less loan interest each month.

And there’s an added bonus: because your loan repayment amount stays the same, more of each payment goes towards paying down the loan principal, which in turn helps to reduce next month’s interest cost.

And so on and so forth.

In this way, offset accounts are a way for borrowers to swing the mortgage pendulum more in their favour, with savings on interest plus the potential to pay off their home loan sooner.

Why are offsets so popular right now?

Long story short, offsets are increasingly popular right now in no small part due to high interest rates.

And because no interest is paid on the balance of the offset account, there is no tax impact.

That’s quite different from having a separate savings account, where a high income earner can lose a sizeable chunk of their interest earnings to tax.

The icing on the cake is that the home loan interest rates that lenders charge are typically higher than the interest returns they pay on savings accounts.

This means offset accounts can let borrowers make their spare cash work harder by saving more on loan interest than they could earn with a regular savings account.

Last but not least, some lenders allow you to have multiple offset accounts (with debit cards attached!) linked to the one home loan, which can allow you to put all your money to work each month – as opposed to having it in different buckets across a number of low-interest transaction accounts.

What to consider with offset accounts

First and foremost, the money you put into your offset account is potentially money you could be investing elsewhere.

So you’ll have to weigh up whether that money is better served by helping you pay off your home loan sooner, or investing towards your future in other assets.

Secondly, it’s important to be confident you are paying a competitive home loan interest rate.

That’s because offset home loans may come with loan fees and/or higher interest rates than more traditional loans. Not always, but sometimes.

Last but not least, offset accounts don’t tend to work with fixed-rate home loans. But … there are ways you could split your home loan so that it’s part fixed and part variable (with your offset account attached to the variable side).

That’s why talking to us about your home loan needs is important.

We can compare across our wide panel of lenders to help line you up with a loan that matches your needs – and discuss whether an offset account might be a suitable option for you.

Disclaimer: The content of this article is general in nature and is presented for informative purposes. It is not intended to constitute tax or financial advice, whether general or personal nor is it intended to imply any recommendation or opinion about a financial product. It does not take into consideration your personal situation and may not be relevant to circumstances. Before taking any action, consider your own particular circumstances and seek professional advice. This content is protected by copyright laws and various other intellectual property laws. It is not to be modified, reproduced or republished without prior written consent.

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