Monday, May 30, 2016

9.5% Interest On Savings Account? Good Or Bad For Us Now?

POSB which was known as Post Office Savings Bank in the past has the highest interest ever recorded at 9.5% on 1 August, 1981. How many of us were there during that time to remember this historical high interest rate era? For me, I was not born yet but history shows me how interest rates have moved from the past to now. With such high interest, I can only imagine how fast my money would compound and grow over time. But, do you know that with this kind of high interest, it is actually not that good for us also?

Will Higher Interest Rates Be Good Or Bad For Us?

One thing we would be interested to know is if high interest rate is good or bad for us? If we were living in the 1970s-1980s, higher interest rates may not be that bad for us in Singapore as most people do not have huge loans back then. Fast forward to now, most people have huge housing loans coupled with car loans and also student loans.

In the past, we could get a decent 4 room HDB flat for a family of 4 at just ~$50,000. If we take a loan for this $50,000 at an interest of 3% for 25 years, the total interest we would have paid is about $21,000. Now, to get a 4 room HDB flat would cost about $350,000 and more if in a mature estate. Let's suppose we take a $350,000 loan at 3% for 25 years, how much would be the total interest paid? The answer: ~$147,000.

I do not know if you think that $147,000 is a significant sum of money? To me, it does sound quite significant. If interest rates increase, it will have a much bigger impact to us in Singapore where a large proportion of the population has at least one housing loan.

On the other hand, high interest is good for people who have a lot of savings in the bank. In the 1980s, this announcement by POSB was common:

Announcement * POSB Has Raised Its Interest Rates On Savings * 7% p.a. On Deposits Up To $100,000 * 5%p.a. On Deposits In Excess Of $100,000 * All Interest Earned Is Tax Exempt.
Post Office Savings Bank, 1980s
7% interest on the first $100,000 is quite a lot of interest. You get $7000 for $100,000 of savings per year. From 1974 to 1986, interest n deposits was mostly above 5%. If you had a lot of savings back then, these 12 years would have been very good for you. Your money would have doubled without any work.

How interest rates affect our investments and life?


A rise in interest rates is a cost to businesses that have a lot of debt. Having to pay more for their debt will result in lower profits. This is something we need to take into consideration when we invest. On the other hand, businesses that lend money out such as banks will benefit from the rise in interest rates.


A rise in interest rates will cause prices of bonds to drop. Bond prices and yield are inversely related. Those who have bond funds in their portfolio should watch this space carefully as it is expected that bond prices will drop as interest rates goes up.

Bank Deposits

How about those of us who have savings in the bank? Yes increase in interest rates may mean that we will get higher interest in our savings with the bank but do take note it may be a slow progress as banks will not increase deposit rates fast. It is a cost to them and with banks in Singapore still cash rich, there is no apparent reason for them to increase it fast to attract more customers.

I have plotted out the comparison between SIBOR and the average bank's fixed deposit rate from the data by MAS. The SIBOR is a good benchmark for housing loan rates as most housing loans are on the SIBOR rate. The bank's fixed deposit rate is the interest we get if we put into the 12 month's fixed deposit. Recently, there are also housing loan package based on the fixed deposit rate which I will explain more in this post.

Click Image to Enlarge

Interest rates have fallen over the decade from 1987. It is still near zero currently. Some countries even have negative interest rates where they charge a fee if we put our money in the bank. This doesn't sound right does it?

I do not have the data of the SIBOR from 2013 to 2016 plotted on the chart but from records, the 3M SIBOR is at the 1% range now. Most banks have a spread of about 1% on the loan package so this means those who are on SIBOR loan packages are paying about 2% or more interest now.

The rise in SIBOR will affect most people in Singapore. Then the question is, how much can the SIBOR move? Let's take a look back in 2004.

Sibor started moving up in 2004, rising to above 1 per cent. It rose to a peak of 3.5625 per cent in the middle of 2006. There were 17 Fed fund hike increases by the Fed from June 2004 to June 2006, hitting 5.25 per cent in June 2006. The Sibor is closely correlated to the US Fed funds rate, so any expectations of a hike there would move interest rates here higher.

From 2007 to 2014, the Sibor begun its 7 year fall. It rose again recently in 2015 and is expected to rise further on expectations the Fed fund rates will rise again. The federal reserve in the US raised interest rates just recently and is expected to raise interest at least another 2 times this year. The next rate hike may be as early as June in a few weeks time.

Watch Out For Your Home Loan Instalments

Over the past few months, many people have emailed me and said that they receive letters from the bank informing them that their home loan instalment has increased. What can they do about it?

The easiest way is to refinance and find a lower interest rate package. The best is we should go for fixed rates at least for the next 2-3 years. The last interest rate spike was from 2004 to 2006 which lasted for 2 years only. If we see from historical trends from the previous chart I plotted out, most of the spikes in interest rates lasted only about 2-3 years.

However, the problem with fixed rates is that it is higher than variable rates which may not be as attractive. The alternative to fixed rates is to go for a variable rate package pegged to the fixed deposit rate. Not all banks offer this option though. It is interesting to note that when SIBOR spiked from 2004 to 2006, fixed deposit rates remained mostly unchanged.

We cannot guarantee that fixed deposit rates will be unchanged in the next round of interest rates rise so if you are considering to go for a fixed deposit mortgage loan, it is better to go for a no lock in package. This means you can still switch out anytime in the event if the rate really increases.

Now, the issue is with so many banks in Singapore to choose from, which is the one that offers the best loan package and if you go to the bank, the staff from the bank will definitely say his or her's is the best one.

I've come out a solution for all readers of my blog. I will personally advise you if you are interested to get the best loan package regardless if its for a new property you're going to purchase or for your existing property which you want to refinance. I have the rates of all the banks in Singapore and will help you compare for the best housing loan package for your individual needs. Select one of your enquires below to fill in a contact form and I'll get back to you shortly:

Is the increase in interest rate affecting you in a good or bad way? We can be prepared for this and even take advantage of it. Rates are near zero now and the only way for it to go is up. 

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