Got a small mortgage balance owing? Why you'll likely get a lousy rate.
Special to The Globe and Mail -PublishedSunday, Nov. 22, 2015 5:45PM EST -Last updatedMonday, Nov. 23, 2015 8:12AM EST
Picture this: You spend 15 or 20 years slaving to pay down your mortgage. Youve built up 80 per cent equity in your home and you have just five years left until its free and clear.
After all that effort, after all that built-up equity, you deserve the lowest mortgage rate around, right?
Perhaps, but thats not how it works in our mortgage market. The people rewarded with the lowest rates are the ones with big, fat six-figure mortgages, and there are two main reasons for it. The first one wont surprise you, but the second one might.
The No. 1 reason that lenders covet monster loans is profit. If youve got a giant mortgage, banks and credit unions figure youll have more assets to invest with them, more savings to rot in their 1-per-cent savings accounts, more purchases to put on their credit cards and credit lines, more appetite for insurance and so on.
Thats why its easier to grind down a banks mortgage specialist on a $700,000 loan than one for $70,000. (One exception is when you have a small mortgage, plus a large amount of non-mortgage business with that lender, and you threaten to leave them.)
Brokers are the same way. They earn commissions just like bankers. And the bigger the mortgage, the bigger the commission.
Thats why some of the best deals on rate-comparison websites say things such as: For mortgages of $300,000 or more. Mortgage minimums are becoming more and more common.
For most brokers, one $300,000 mortgage is better than doing six for $50,000. Of course, six $50,000 clients means six potential referral sources instead of one. But it also means exerting six times the effort to close those mortgages, and time is a scarce resource for brokers.
The second reason small-time borrowers do worse in the rate department is risk. Its one of the most counterintuitive things in the mortgage industry, but someone with a puny 5-per-cent down payment often gets a better rate than someone whos been pounding down his or her mortgage for decades.
Thats crazy, you may say. Isnt my mortgage less risky if I have a huge amount of home equity?
Technically, yes. But if youre dealing with a lender who sells mortgages to investors, thats not always reality. Mortgage investors prefer the safety of insured mortgages. Those are mortgages where an insurer, backed by the Government of Canada, guarantees to pay off the balance if the borrower defaults.
Theres a cost for this insurance, and when the mortgage is less than 80 per cent of the property value, the lender must typically cough up this fee. By comparison, when the loan-to-value ratio is more than 80 per cent, it is the borrower who pays that insurance premium. For lenders who sell their mortgages to investors, avoiding the cost of insurance lets them offer slightly lower rates usually about one-tenth of a percentage point lower.
Quick tip: If youre renewing a mortgage that you paid to insure, youve built up 20 per cent equity or more and youre switching lenders, provide your insurance policy number to your new lender or broker. Keeping your default insurance in force costs you nothing and gives you a wider selection of lenders and rates when you renew the next time.
So, where can diligent borrowers go for a deal on a mini-mortgage? Most people just renew with their existing lender. Saving one-tenth of a per cent interest on a $50,000 mortgage with a five-year term and amortization is only about $130. Unless you need to refinance or add a secured line of credit, the trivial savings dont offset the hassle of reapplying elsewhere, collecting your documentation, getting your home appraised (which you must often pay for), meeting with a lawyer or closing agent, paying your lenders discharge fee and so on.
None of this should stop you from trying to better your rate. At the very least, use competitors rate quotes as a bargaining chip, either with your existing lender or with a broker who doesnt have a mortgage minimum. And if you have loads of other business with your bank or credit union, definitely use that as leverage. There are always other lenders who would welcome all of your banking business with open arms.
A good credit report and credit score are important factors in determining whether or not you will be approved for a mortgage. Here are some simple steps you can take to maintain a good credit history, and improve your chances of being approved.
What is a Credit Score
Your credit score is a number that illustrates your financial health at a specific point in time. It also serves as an indicator of your financial past, and how consistently you pay off your bills and debts. This is one of the factors mortgage professionals consider in qualifying you for a mortgage.
How to Check Your Credit Score
To find out your credit score, contact Canadas two credit-reporting agencies: Equifax Canada at www.equifax.ca and TransUnion Canada at www.transunion.ca. For a fee, these agencies will provide you with an online copy of your credit score as well as a credit report a detailed summary of your credit history, employment history and personal financial information on file. You can also obtain a free copy of your credit report by mail. If you find any errors in your report, notify the credit-reporting agency and the organization responsible for the inaccuracy immediately.
If You Do Not Have a Credit Score
Its important to begin building a credit history as early as possible. You can begin to build one by applying for and responsibly using a credit card. Your financial institution or mortgage professional can help.
How to Improve Your Credit Score
Demonstrating your ability to manage credit is key to maintaining a good credit score. There are a number of things you can do to improve your credit score. These include: Always pay your bills in full and on time. If you cannot pay the full amount, try to pay at least the required minimum shown on your monthly statement. Pay off your debts (such as loans, credit cards, lines of credit, etc.) as quickly as possible. Never go over the limit on your credit cards, and try to keep your balances well below the limits. Reduce the number of credit card or loan applications you make. Once your credit score has improved, work with your mortgage professional to obtain a mortgage that works for you.
Find Out More
To find out more about credit scores and reports, visit the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada website and download or request a free copy of their guide, Understanding Your Credit Report and Credit Score. This guide provides practical, straightforward information on how to obtain and understand your credit report and score, as well as how to build and maintain a good credit history.
CMHC’s 2017 Mortgage Consumer Survey
In March 2017, CMHC completed an online survey of 3,002 recent mortgage consumers, all prime household decision-makers who had undertaken a mortgage transaction in the past 12 months. Sixty-five percent had undergone a mortgage renewal, 15% had refinanced their mortgage, and 20% had purchased a home with mortgage financing (11% First-Time Buyers and 9% Repeat Buyers). CMHC has conducted this survey since 1999. It is the largest and most comprehensive survey of its kind in Canada.
The Home Buying Process
Sixty-four percent of First-Time Buyers indicated they were renting before purchasing, and 34% lived with family.
Wanting to buy their first home (37%) and feeling financially ready (31%) were the most important reasons First-Time Buyers gave for purchasing a home in the past year. Low interest rates was the most important reason noted by Repeat Buyers at 33%.
Fifty-three percent of buyers were aware of the latest mortgage qualification changes, and 19% noted that it impacted their purchase decision. For example, 11% of buyers said they increased their down payment, 6% purchased a smaller home, 5% purchased in a dfferent location, and 3% delayed their purchase.
Buyers interact with a wide variety of people, and are most likely to consult a real estate agent (72%), or look to a family member or mortgage lender for advice (both at 57%). Forty-one percent reported interacting with a mortgage broker. Of all interactions, real estate agents were noted as most valuable.
Seventy-one percent of First-Time Buyers accessed savings for their down payment, while 18% received a gift from a family member.
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