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Are American style mortgages coming to Canada?

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Are American style mortgages coming to Canada?

Are American style mortgages coming to Canada? Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz has encouraged financial institutions to start looking at new ways to offer mortgage products – including establishing longer term mortgages, much like those in the U.S.

Poloz recently spoke to a group of finance and mortgage professionals, impressing upon them that mortgage products need to innovate. Among other suggestions, he proposed the idea of longer mortgages. “One basic idea would be to encourage more diversity in mortgage durations. It is true that most financial institutions offer fixed-rate mortgages longer than five years.”

Few Canadians, he says, take advantage of longer mortgages, but that could change. “Forty-five per cent of all mortgage loans have a fixed interest rate and a five-year term. In comparison, just two per cent of all mortgages issued last year were fixed-rate loans with a term longer than five years.”

The U.S. has had 30-year mortgages for decades, but in Canada, most mortgages are still five-year terms that are renewed as we amortize our loan.

So, are these long-term products a good idea for Canadian consumers? There are pros and cons.

Pros

Longer mortgages are a great option for anyone who doesn’t like to spend time renegotiating the terms of their mortgage agreement every five years. Most of us take on a 25-year amortization, but are forced to talk to the bank every five years when the term is up.

Longer mortgages would be especially good for those who don’t shop their mortgage around and stay with the same financial institution until the end of the amortization.

Cons

But for anyone who likes to save money, it’s not a good deal. If you compare the data, in Canada we make smaller interest payments on our loan compared to homeowners in the U.S. The five-year fixed mortgage was created in Canada, albeit in the 1800s, so homeowners had the opportunity to pay more down at the end of the term, without penalty. As anyone who has a mortgage knows, there is a limited sum you can pay above and beyond your regular payment. Also, every five years you can renegotiate the rate – which during an environment of falling rates, is very advantageous.

Poloz also seems to like the idea that was announced in the spring federal budget – that the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., beginning this fall, will help first-time homebuyers by taking an equity share in their home, up to 10 per cent to help lower their payments. He calls this an example of how the mortgage industry is innovating.

Still, when it comes to longer term mortgages, don’t expect this change to happen anytime soon. It’s all just talk right now. But coming from the Bank of Canada governor, that is significant. He emphasizes that the system is not broken – it has served Canadians and financial institutions well. But he also says the mortgage industry is pretty much the same now as when he got his first mortgage in the 1980s. And that, he says, feels a little stagnant.

The mortgage experience across Canada is very different, he says. This means there has to be several products available that give homebuyers options, because no one homebuyer is like another.

Rubina Ahmed-Haq is a journalist and personal finance expert. She is HPG’s Finance Editor. She regularly appears on CBC Radio and TV. She is a contributor on CTV Your Morning and Global Toronto. She has a BA from York University, received her post graduate journalism diploma from Humber College and has completed the CSC. Follow her on Twitter @alwayssavemoney.

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