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What is an offset account? How it can save you $1,000s

Article by Sean Callery for money.com.au

 

What is an offset account?

 

An offset account is a home loan feature that allows you to use your cash savings to reduce the amount of interest you pay on your loan. It can mean big savings on your mortgage and shave years off your loan.

 

It’s basically a transaction account linked to your home loan. The balance of the account reduces or ‘offsets’ the balance of your home loan that interest is charged on.

 

“If you have more than $20,000 in savings and/or you are willing to have your income paid into your offset account, there is usually a net financial benefit,” explains Money.com.au’s home loans expert, Mansour Soltani.

 

How does an offset account work?

 

If your home loan has an offset account, you can deposit money into it and make withdrawals as you would with a standard transaction account.

 

This could be your cash savings, salary payments and any lump sums you happen to receive – your end-of-year tax refund, for example.

 

Your offset account will also generally come with a debit card, meaning you can use it for day-to-day spending and to pay bills.

 

The key difference with a mortgage offset account is how it works alongside your home loan. When your lender calculates the interest charged on your home loan, it deducts the balance of your offset account from your home loan balance.

 

This means you’re charged interest on a lower amount, which saves you money.

 

Some home loans with offset allow you to have multiple offset accounts, meaning you can split your money across different accounts. The combined balance of the accounts will offset your home loan balance.

 

Types of offset account compared

 

Full vs partial mortgage offset

 

100% offset

 

This means every dollar in the offset account contributes towards reducing your home loan balance for calculating interest. A home loan with 100% offset offers the biggest potential interest savings. Full offset is more commonly offered on variable rate loans.

 

Partial offset

 

A home loan with partial offset means only a portion (e.g. 50%) of the offset account balance reduces your interest costs. Alternatively, a reduced interest rate could be applied to the full offset balance. Partial offset is less common but is a feature of some fixed-rate loans.

 

How my offset account saves me $2,800 per year

 

View real-life case study

 

From Sean Callery, Money.com.au's Editor

 

When my wife and I refinanced our home loan last year, we went with a split loan that’s made up of a 1-year fixed portion (the bulk of the loan), plus a variable portion offering 100% offset.

 

We now keep all our cash savings (our ‘emergency fund’) in the offset account and our salary payments are deposited there too.

 

The offset balance fluctuates, but is generally around $40,000. Our total loan balance is $620,000, meaning our offset account:

 

currently reduces our annual interest bill by around $2,800;

 

is set to save us more than $160,000 in interest over the life of our loan;

 

will reduce our loan term by around 3 years and 8 months.

 

To maximise our offset balance, we do most of our spending on our credit card and pay that off in full every month using money from the offset account. That strategy is not for everyone and requires a bit of discipline but it works well for us.

 

It’s worth discussing your options with your mortgage broker or financial adviser.

 

 

3 ways to use your offset account (tips from a broker)

 

We asked mortgage broker Rebecca Jarrett-Dalton of Two Red Shoes for her take on some of the common strategies borrowers with a mortgage offset account may use.

 

While there are a few ways of setting it up, she said in her experience fitting the offset account around existing ‘“good baking habits” that are serving you well can work best.

 

“It's much easier to do that than to try and teach someone new banking habits to fit around their home loan.”

 

1. Use the offset account as your main money hub

 

Rebecca says for people who primarily bank from a single account, an offset account could fulfil that role.

 

“Maybe they have one account with a chunk of money in there, all their bills come in and out of it and it’s also their wages account. They could be the perfect candidate for an offset account”.

 

Rebecca says this is the approach she takes herself.

 

“All my bills can come in and out of my offset account without me having to pay attention to that.”

 

2. Combine your offset account with a credit card

 

With this method, as much of your spending as possible goes on a low-cost credit card, which is paid off in full every month to avoid interest charges. The idea is to keep your offset balance as high as possible for as much of the month by using the credit card for spending.

 

Rebecca says this is a strategy many of her clients want to discuss but the outcome can be mixed.

 

“Depending on how much you're spending, this can save considerable amounts of interest. The challenge is if you're not using your own cash, you can overspend. You'll get tap happy.”

 

If you are exploring this strategy, choosing the right credit card is also key.

 

“Your credit card has to have little or no fees, you absolutely have to pay it off on time and you have to have a good interest-free period. So, for example, a 55 days interest-free period. Then set up your card so it’s paid off automatically.”

 

3. Use your offset account to save for your next property

 

According to Rebecca, some first-home buyers who eventually plan to purchase a second property (i.e. an investment property) use their offset account to save a deposit for property number two.

 

“We will set them up from the beginning to put the minimum repayments into the loan and keep building their future deposit for the next home in the offset. This can give you a nice chunky deposit to go into your second property.”

 

It’s important to get professional advice from a broker or financial adviser if you are considering any of these strategies.

 

How much does an offset account cost?

 

Home loans with an offset account tend to be more expensive than loans that don’t. The extra cost can come as a direct offset fee (e.g. $10 per month), as part of a home loan package fee (these can be up to $400 per year) or a higher interest rate.

 

Analysis by Money.com.au found that among the 40 loans with the lowest interest rates for owner occupiers, only 6 (or 15%) of them offer an offset account.

 




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