Fixed vs Variable Rate Debate
I have received a lot of questions regarding the difference between fixed and variable rates. What are they based on? Do they both move at the same time? Why is it harder to qualify for a variable? All great questions, and all questions that you need to be clear on before signing into a mortgage contract. Fixed mortgage rates follow the pattern of Canada Bond Yields, plus a spread, where bond yields are driven by economic factors such as unemployment, export and inflation. Variable mortgage rates are driven by the same economic factors, except variable rates fluctuate with movements in the prime lending rate, the rate at which banks lend to their most credit-worthy customers. Variable mortgage rates are typically stated as prime plus/minus a percentage discount/premium. For example, a variable rate could be quoted as prime - 0.8%. So, when the prime rate is, say, 5%, you will pay 4.2% (5%-0.8%) interest.The Bank of Canada adjusts the prime rate depending on the state of the economy, as determined by the economic factors introduced above. Together, combinations of unemployment, export, and manufacturing values shape the inflation rate. Generally speaking, when inflation is high, the Bank of Canada will increase the prime rate to make the act of borrowing money more expensive. Conversely, when inflation is low, the Bank of Canada will decrease the prime rate to stimulate the economy and improve the attractiveness of borrowing.In terms of the discount/premium on the prime rate applied to variable rates, mortgage lenders set this based on their desired market share, competition, marketing strategy and general credit market conditions. These are the same factors that drive the spread between lenders' fixed mortgage rates and bond yields.Qualifying for fixed and variable rates has changed over the last couple of years. Before I break down the differences in qualifying, let's talk about the Benchmark rate in Canada. The benchmark rate is a rate that lenders are required to use to qualify mortgage borrowers in Canada who want a variable rate mortgage or a fixed mortgage term of less than 5 years.The purpose of using a qualifying benchmark rate is to ensure that those who qualify for a mortgage in Canada can qualify with breathing room. In the event of a downturn in the economy or increase in rates down the road, this prevents Canadians from becoming orphaned homeowners without a lender willing to assist them. We are in an era of all-time low interest rates, so the sad reality is they have nowhere to go but up. Purchasing a home at a rate of 2.99% looks amazing today, but the payments can be substantially higher when you renew in five years at 5.5%. This is something referred to as 'Payment Shock'. (To be discussed in an upcoming newsletter... hint hint, watch for it!) Our Minister of Finance, Jim Flaherty, deemed it necessary that all fixed 1, 2, 3, and 4 year, and all variable mortgages qualify at the benchmark rate. The benchmark rate in Canada is currently set at 5.34%. This translates to buyers affording less because of inflated interest rates that act as a safety net.The only way to avoid qualifying at the Benchmark rate is to opt into 5 to 10 year fixed terms. These terms allow you to qualify at the contract rate (the rate being offered by your Mortgage Advisor). The difference in the contract rate and the benchmark rate can be very significant. Here is an example:Suzie and Charlie want to purchase their first home. After speaking with their Mortgage Advisor, they are given two options:1. $400 000 with the 5 year fixed at 3.59%, or2. $335 000 with the 5 year Variable at Prime-0.4% (2.6%)Even though option 2 has a lower interest rate, it needs to be qualified using the Benchmark rate (5.34%), so their purchase becomes noticeably less.To sum this up, fixed rates and variable rates are two completely different products and are actually very independent of one another. I understand this can be a very confusing topic, so don't hesitate to contact me with your questions!
OSFI tightens mortgage rules Edit
The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions Canada (OSFI) published the final version of Guideline B-20 Residential Mortgage Underwriting Practices and Procedures. The revised Guideline, which comes into effect on January 1, 2018, applies to all federally regulated financial institutions.
The changes to Guideline B-20 reinforce OSFIs expectation that federally regulated mortgage lenders remain vigilant in their mortgage underwriting practices. The final Guideline focuses on the minimum qualifying rate for uninsured mortgages, expectations around loan-to-value (LTV) frameworks and limits, and restrictions to transactions designed to circumvent those LTV limits.
OSFI is setting a new minimum qualifying rate, or stress test, for uninsured mortgages.
Guideline B-20 now requires the minimum qualifying rate for uninsured mortgages to be the greater of the five-year benchmark rate published by the Bank of Canada or the contractual mortgage rate +2%.
OSFI is requiring lenders to enhance their loan-to-value (LTV) measurement and limits so they will be dynamic and responsive to risk.
Under the final Guideline, federally regulated financial institutions must establish and adhere to appropriate LTV ratio limits that are reflective of risk and are updated as housing markets and the economic environment evolve.
OSFI is placing restrictions on certain lending arrangements that are designed, or appear designed to circumvent LTV limits.
A federally regulated financial institution is prohibited from arranging with another lender a mortgage, or a combination of a mortgage and other lending products, in any form that circumvents the institutions maximum LTV ratio or other limits in its residential mortgage underwriting policy, or any requirements established by law.
To find out how this will affect you, please contact me at anytime.
Easy ways to keep more money in your pocket
It goes without saying that most of us would appreciate a little more money in our pockets. Believe it or not, its actually an achievable goal. In fact, a few simple tips can help you uncover meaningful savings each and every month. Need some ideas? Heres a little inspiration to get you started:
1. Pack food from home for lunches and snacks. Skip sandwich bags and opt for reusable containers, cutlery and drink bottle.
2. Switch light bulbs to CFLs. On average, it costs $250 a year in energy costs to light your home with incandescents. Save $150 by going with CFLs. Theyre more expensive initially, but will last 10 times longer.
3. Review and negotiate your service plansphone, internet, cable and television content.
4. Invest in topping up your insulation. Attic insulation can settle and compact over time, diminishing its original R-value and increasing heating/cooling costs. Topping it up with a quality batt insulation, like Roxul Comfortbatt, will immediately help improve the comfort of your home and reduce your monthly energy bills.
5. Pay off credit card debt and swap cards for lower interest rate options.
6. Install low-flow water fixtures to cut down on excess water consumption.
7. Lower your thermostat by two degrees in cold weather and increase it by two degrees in warmer weather.
8. Launder your clothes in cold water and at off-peak times.
9. Avoid impulse shopping. Stick to your list and avoid window shopping, which tends to draw buyers in.
10. Save money on entertainment by looking for free activities. For options in your area, try a simple internet search. You might be pleasantly surprised at the wide variety of activities and entertainment available for no or low cost.
Collectively employing the tips above could potentially add up to thousands in annual savings, proving that sometimes change can be a good thing.