Tracker mortgages: What are they and how do they work?

With tracker mortgages, your interest rate will fluctuate based on economic conditions.

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In the United Kingdom, tracker mortgages are usually based on the Bank of England (BoE) base rate, although some might be based on the LIBOR rate.

Rather than a percentage, the interest rate will be displayed as the following: BoE base rate + X%. For example, if the Bank of England base rate is 0.75%, and your tracker mortgage rate is BoE + 2%, you’ll pay an interest rate of 2.75%.

These deals can be particularly appealing when the BoE rate is low, but there is a danger that your payments could become unaffordable if it increases.

Although some tracker mortgages are capped, many place no limit on how high your interest rate could skyrocket.

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What is the Bank of England base rate?

The BoE base rate is the interest rate that commercial banks pay when they borrow money from the Bank of England. The rate is based on economic conditions within the UK and is decided every month by the BoE’s Monetary Policy Committee. The committee’s goal is to stimulate the economy to keep the base rate as close to 2% as possible.

Banks tend to charge the BoE base rate when lending to each other. If the rate goes up, these extra costs are passed on to customers via rate rises across all products.

The interest rate on tracker products will rise automatically, but the banks tend to manually increase the rates on all other types of loans too.

The silver lining is that savings rates also tend to mirror the Bank of England base rate, helping those with plenty of money in the bank to cope with their additional mortgage interest.

Types of tracker mortgage

There are other types of variable-rate mortgages, but only tracker mortgages are based on economic conditions.

Some mortgages adopt a tracker rate for a fixed introductory period, before reverting to the lender’s standard variable rate. Others will let you keep the same tracker rate for the entirety of the mortgage term. These are called lifetime tracker mortgages. The longer your tracker rate is fixed for, the higher it tends to be.

Why would you choose a tracker mortgage?

When the BoE base rate is low, as it has been in recent times, your monthly mortgage repayments will be more affordable. If you believe it’s likely to drop in the near future, you could benefit from an extremely cheap mortgage.

Many of these mortgages allow you to overpay without a penalty charge. Doing so will allow you to clear your mortgage debt quicker, and this should be easier when your interest rate is low.

If you’re an individual whose income tends to be highly affected by interest rates, and you have the earning power to cope with potential interest rate rises, a deal like this could appeal.

Why would you avoid a tracker mortgage?

If you don’t have a lot of disposable income, and would struggle to cope financially if your mortgage payments went up, it’s best to avoid a tracker mortgage.

Indeed, many people prefer the certainty provided by a fixed-rate mortgage, as this makes it easier to stick to their household budget without falling into debt.

Pros and cons of tracker mortgages

Pros

  • Your interest rate drops when the Bank of England base rate does.
  • Overpayments are usually allowed.
  • Your interest rate is only based on economic conditions, rather than the commercial desires of your lender.

    Cons

    • Less certainty with your mortgage payments.
    • Your payments could become unaffordable if the Bank of England base rate rises.
    • These products can be harder to be approved for, due to the uncertainty surrounding the size of your monthly repayments.

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