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Canadian mortgages just got a little less stressful

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Canadian mortgages just got a little less stressful

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The mortgages landscape just got a little friendlier toward homebuyers – particularly first-timers – and could get even more favourable in the coming months. The Bank of Canada recently announced a decrease of the five-year benchmark mortgage rate 15 basis points, from 5.34 to 5.19 per cent, as a result of the big banks dropping their five-year posted rates.

The move is significant because BoC’s five-year benchmark is the rate against which Canadian borrowers are stress-tested when applying for a mortgage. Borrowers with a down payment of less than 20 per cent must qualify for a mortgage at the Bank’s posted rate, now 5.19 per cent. Borrowers with a down payment that’s greater than 20 per cent are stress-tested against the higher of either their mortgage rate plus two per cent, or the BoC’s posted rate.

“The change in the Bank of Canada five-year benchmark rate now means Canadians can qualify for more home today compared to earlier this year and 2018,” says James Laird, co-founder of Ratehub Inc. and president of CanWise Financial mortgage brokerage. “This decrease alleviates some of the pressure on first-time homebuyers, who are the most financially strained Canadians entering the housing market.”

Improving affordability

According to ratehub.ca, a borrower with an annual household income of $100,000 with a 20-per-cent down payment and a five-year fixed mortgage of 2.70 per cent amortized over 25 years, would have qualified for a home valued at $589,000 at the previous benchmark rate of 5.34 per cent.

With the new qualifying rate of 5.19 per cent, they can now afford home valued at $597,000 – a difference of $8,000, or 1.4 per cent more home.

More rate cuts on the horizon?

When the Bank of Canada held its influential overnight lending rate at 1.75 per cent on July 10 – where it has been since October 2018 – few economists were surprised. After all, the Bank cites, Canada is still dealing with economic weakness from late 2018 and early 2019.

Hardly time for a rate hike.

“The Bank continues to monitor the Canadian energy sector, as well as the impact of international trade conflicts on the global economic outlook,” says Laird. “On a positive note, the Bank is pleased by indications of strong economic growth including a healthy labour market and stabilizing housing market. The Bank recognizes the positive impact that low long-term mortgage rates have had on housing activity.”

There are other factors besides BoC’s overnight rate that influence mortgage rates, but generally speaking, Canada’s major lenders typically follow the Bank’s lead in raising or lowering rates.

The announcement was welcome news for Canadians considering a variable rate mortgage, as BoC has signaled the current interest rate remains appropriate. In the absence of major economic changes, the Bank seems intent to maintain this policy in the near future.

Expecting a decrease

But should there have been a decrease on July 10? And since there wasn’t, is one on the horizon for the next rate announcement on Sept. 4?

According to a report from financial advice organization Finder, assessing BoC’s July 10 decision, two Canadian economists thought there should have been a rate cut. The majority (62 per cent) of panelists predict the next rate change will be a decrease. Stephen Brown, senior economist at Capital Economics, who is among those who says the Bank should have cut the rate in July, foresees a decrease as early as Oct. 30 – and possibly a second reduction on Dec. 4.

For those looking to secure or renew a mortgage, this is all good news. You now have the peace of mind that rates likely won’t rise until next year, and might even decline in the next few months.

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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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Paying down debt a top priority in 2019

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Paying down debt a top priority in 2019

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It may be a new year, but not necessarily a happy one for everyone. A new CIBC poll finds paying down debt is the top financial priority for Canadians in 2019. Almost a third (29 per cent) say they’ve taken on more debt in the past 12 months, citing day-to-day expenses as the key reason for piling up debt.

“Debt weighs heavily on Canadians, so it’s no surprise that Canadians continue to put debt concerns at the top of their list of priorities each year,” says Jamie Golombek, managing director, CIBC Financial Planning and Advice. “Debt can be a useful tool for achieving long term goals such as home ownership or funding education, but if you’re turning to debt to make ends meet, it may be time for cash-flow planning instead.”

Key poll findings:

  • Canadians say their top sources of debt are: credit card (45 per cent), mortgage (31 per cent), car loan (23 per cent), line of credit (22 per cent), personal loan (11 per cent)
  • 28 per cent say they have no debt
  • Top concerns are rising inflation (64 per cent), low Canadian dollar (34 per cent), and rising interest rates (31 per cent)

While two-in-five (39 per cent) Canadians worry that they’re forsaking their savings by focusing too much on their debt, the vast majority still (84 per cent) believe that it’s better to pay down debt than build savings. This poll finding comes as Statistics Canada recently reported that the average Canadian household owes $1.78 for every dollar of disposable income, even as the pace of borrowing continues to slow.

“There’s rarely enough money to do everything, so it’s critical to make the most of the money you earn by prioritizing both sides of your balance sheet – not debt or savings, but both,” says Golombek. “It boils down to trade-offs, and balancing your priorities both now and down the road. The idea of being debt-free may help you sleep better at night now, but it may cost you more in the long run when you consider the missed savings and tax-sheltered growth.”

Tips to make your money go further in 2019 

  • Write down your income and expenses for a three-month period to determine if your cash flow is positive, neutral or negative
  • Make a plan. If you’re cash-flow positive, use the extra cash to pay off high-interest debt – not your mortgage – first. Use the surplus to build long term savings in an RRSP or TFSA, and if you have kids, put away a little extra in an RESP. If your long-term savings are on track, consider increasing your mortgage payments. If you’re cash-flow neutral or negative, look for ways to cut expenses or lower interest by consolidating debt at a lower rate
  • Automate your plan. Time your savings or debt-repayment plan with your payroll. Putting money directly to your goals right off the top can help you both achieve your goals and get by with less
  • Review and prioritize your goals. You likely have many goals competing for your wallet. Meet with an advisor to build a financial plan that gets you on track to achieving what’s important to you today and the many years ahead

Source: CIBC

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