Understanding different types of mortgages

When choosing a mortgage, don’t just focus on the interest rate and fees you’ll be charged. You also need to consider what type of mortgage you want. Read our guide to find out the pros and cons of various mortgage types.

The two main types

Mortgages fall into two main categories:

  • Fixed rate – the interest you’re charged stays the same for a number of years, typically between two to five years
  • Variable rate – the interest you pay can change

Fixed rate mortgages

The interest rate you pay will stay the same throughout the length of the deal no matter what happens to interest rates. You’ll see them advertised as ‘two-year fix’ or ‘five-year fix’, for example, along with the interest rate charged for that period.

Advantages

  • Peace of mind that your monthly payments will stay the same, helping you to budget

Disadvantages

  • Fixed rate deals are usually slightly higher than variable rate mortgages
  • If interest rates fall, you won’t benefit

Watch out for

  • Charges if you want to leave the deal early – you are tied in for the length of the fix
  • The end of the fixed period – you should look for a new mortgage deal two to three months before it ends or you’ll be moved automatically onto your lender’s standard variable rate which is usually higher

Variable rate mortgages

With variable rate mortgages, the interest rate can change at any time. Make sure you have some savings set aside so that you can afford an increase in your payments if rates do rise.

Variable rate mortgages come in various forms:

Standard variable rate (SVR)

This is the normal interest rate your mortgage lender charges homebuyers and it will last as long as your mortgage or until you take out another mortgage deal. Changes in the interest rate may occur after a rise or fall in the base rate set by the Bank of England.

Advantages

  • Freedom – you can overpay or leave at any time

Disadvantages

  • Your rate can be changed at any time during the loan

Discount mortgages

This is a discount off the lender’s standard variable rate (SVR) and only applies for a certain length of time, typically two or three years. But it pays to shop around. SVRs differ across lenders, so don’t assume that the bigger the discount, the lower the interest rate.

Example

Two banks have discount rates.

Bank A has a 2% discount off a SVR of 6% (so you’ll pay 4%)

Bank B has a 1.5% discount off a SVR of 5% (so you’ll pay 3.5%)

Though the discount is larger for Bank A, Bank B will be the cheaper option.

Advantages

  • Cost – the rate starts off cheaper which will keep monthly repayments lower
  • If the lender cuts its SVR, you’ll pay less each month

Disadvantages

  • Budgeting – the lender is free to raise its SVR at any time
  • If Bank of England base rates rise, you’ll probably see the discount rate increase too

Watch out for

  • Charges if you want to leave before the end of the discount period

Tracker mortgages

Tracker mortgages move directly in line with another interest rate – normally the Bank of England’s base rate plus a few percent. So if the base rate goes up by 0.5%, your rate will go up by the same amount.

Usually they have a short life, typically two to five years, though some lenders offer trackers which last for the life of your mortgage or until you switch to another deal.

Advantages

  • If the rate it is tracking falls, so will your mortgage payments

Disadvantages

  • If the rate it is tracking increases, so will your mortgage payments
  • You may have to pay an early repayment charge if you want to switch before the deal ends

Watch out for

  • The small print – check your lender can’t increase rates even when the rate your mortgage is linked to hasn’t moved. It’s rare, but it has happened in the past

Capped rate mortgages

Your rate moves in line normally with the lender’s SVR. But the cap means the rate can’t rise above a certain level.

Advantages

  • Certainty - your rate won’t rise above a certain level. But make sure you could afford repayments if it rises to the level of the cap
  • Your rate will fall if the SVR comes down

Disadvantages

  • The rate is generally higher than other variable and fixed rates
  • The cap tends to be set quite high
  • Your lender can change the rate at any time up to the level of the cap

Offset mortgages

These work by linking your savings and current account to your mortgage so that you only pay interest on the difference. You still repay your mortgage every month as usual, but your savings act as an overpayment which helps to clear your mortgage early.

Mortgage special features

One last thing

When comparing these deals, don’t forget to look at the fees for taking them out, as well as the exit penalties.

A guide to mortgage fees and costs

Mortgage affordability calculator

Mortgage payments calculator

Your next step

Choosing a mortgage and getting the right deal for you

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