Buying a house means spending hours days looking for a suitable property, doing background checks and finally scouting for the best deal on a home loan (unless you have loads of money to pay for the house without taking a mortgage).
Comparing home loan interest rates of various lenders is not enough. How do you ensure that your home loan does not turn out to be too expensive over the duration of the loan?
Interest rates depend on various factors, including availability of money in the market (liquidity), inflation and monetary policies. If you opt for a floating rate loan, your home loan instalments will keep changing with fluctuations in interest rates.
In contrast, a fixed-rate loan might mean that your monthly outgo is calculated at a higher interest rate even when the market is flush with liquidity and funding is cheap. To keep your total interest outgo at the minimum, you need to know whether it is time to opt for a fixed or a floating rate loan.
THE RIGHT OPTION
Interest rate for most loans is linked to the lender's base rate, which is decided by the banks based on the Reserve Bank of India guidelines. As banks review their base rates at least once in a quarter, your interest rates may go up (or down) based on the call taken by the bank.
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In contrast to floating rates, fixed rates are expected to remain the same for the entire term of the loan. Fixed rates are generally 0.5-1.5 percentage points higher than the prevailing floating rates.
Though fixed rate loans are disbursed at a higher rate to compensate for the risk of rate fluctuations, several banks offer a fixed interest rates only for a specified duration, after which the loan rate is realigned with the prevailing market rate. For example, fixed housing loans offered by Punjab National Bank is disbursed at rates higher by a fixed margin as compared with floating rate of similar duration and remains the same for five years. The interest rate is revised every five years and the reset rate always remains higher than the prevalent floating rate by the fixed margin.
"Most banks reserve the right to change even the fixed rate at their discretion under various conditions and it may not be possible for the clients to verify this," says Vipul Patel, director, Home Loan Advisors, a mortgage advisory firm.
Advantages, Disadvantages: Fixed rate v/s Floating rate
Fixed rates provide you protection from rate fluctuations and give you a sense of security and certainty in terms of your cash flow even when market rates are rising. Generally, fixed loans have higher exit charges and pre-payment penalties. These may also have more restrictions on partial pre-payment.
"Floating loans offer more flexibility in terms of pre-payment, but these also require regular monitoring for changing interest rate scenario and its impact on your cash flow," adds Patel.MAKING A CHOICE
The decision to choose floating rate or fixed rate should depend on their difference, various economic factors and outlook. One important factor that can be easily known is the difference between floating and fixed rates and the level of interest rates at the time.
"If a person feels that interest rates are high currently and likely to come down, he should opt for a floating rate," says Renu Sud Karnad, managing director, HDFC.
You should go for a fixed interest rate if the current rates are low. "Interest rates had corrected sharply from around 14% in 2000 to 7% in 2004 and the difference between fixed and floating rates was just about 0.5 percentage points at that time. I reckon that was a very good opportunity to take fixed-rate loans. But not everyone opted for fixed rate as the greed of rates going down further made a lot of borrowers opt for floating rates," Karnad points out.
You should also factor in your risk appetite while choosing between fixed and floating rates. If you want stability in terms of cash flow, a fixed loan that remains the same during the entire term might be a good option. However, you need to ensure that the interest rate is low enough to enter into a long-term loan contract.
"Depending on your ability to take risks, you should choose between floating and fixed loans or take a part of the loan on floating rate and the rest on fixed rate," Karnad suggests.
If you are planning to take a loan right now, what should you choose? "In the current scenario, it is advisable to go in for a floating rate as the upward scope of the rates increasing is about 1 percentage point while the downward scope is estimated at 3-5 percentage points' reduction over the next couple of years," says Patel. (For the best home loan deals, see Best Loan Buys, Pg 96.)
HDFC's Karnad is also in favour of floating rates. "We may be very close to the high point on interest rates," she says.
Though fixed rate offers stability and you might be able to lock-in at low rates, it might not always be the suitable option. "Over a 7-10 years' horizon, generally, the variable rate works well. Hence, it is advisable to go for a floating rate loan," Patel adds.
Before taking a loan, it might be good idea to consult an expert so that you get the best loan for your dream home. If interest rates are low and you need a loan for a short term, a fixed rate loan might be a good choice. For all other scenarios, you better do some quick maths.