Affordability. It’s a word that gets tossed around a lot when people talk about homeownership, but what does it really mean? Affordability is a term that’s both quantifiable (lending institutions use a formula) and a little bit subjective (lifestyle considerations factor in, too). Here’s what you need to know about affordability, and what it means for you.
AFFORDABILITY, AS DETERMINED BY LENDERS
For lending institutions and mortgage insurers, affordability can be summed up by the debt service ratios, as indicated by your gross debt service ratio and total debt service ratio.
Gross debt service (GDS) ratio
Homeownership costs (mortgage payments, property taxes, heating and, if applicable, 50% of condo fees), relative to household income
Total debt service (TDS) ratio
Homeownership costs (as outlined above) plus debt payments (credit cards, lines of credit, student loans, car loans, etc.), relative to household income
To qualify for mortgage insurance (mandatory for any home purchase with a down payment of less than 20% of the cost of the home), the highest allowable GDS ratio is 39% and the highest allowable TDS ratio is 44%.
Expenses like groceries, child care, transportation, and mobile phone and Internet services, for instance, are not covered by TDS, but they’re more or less fixed costs for many households. While they don’t affect debt service ratios, they should be included in your own budget calculations, as they eat up a large chunk of income.
Discretionary expenses like clothing, entertainment, memberships and kids’ extracurricular activities should also be factored into affordability considerations. Are there any areas where you could cut back? Or will some expenses disappear, such as when a car is paid off or when a child leaves daycare for full-time school?
SET A BUDGET YOU CAN AFFORD
Between the numbers-driven debt service ratios used by banks, trust companies and mortgage insurers and the discretionary lifestyle expenses that also affect your bottom line, you will find what affordability means for you.
It’s never too early in your homeownership journey to speak with a mortgage professional or financial planner to determine how much mortgage you can comfortably carry. This will help you assess your financial fitness and also help you set realistic goals on an achievable timeline.
Back in the good old days – assuming you deem pre-Second World War the good old days – there was a time-honoured maxim. It went like this: “One week’s salary for one month’s mortgage payment.”
That was the measuring stick for how large of a mortgage you should get. It defined a comfortable life whereby your payment would never be big enough to cause ulcers, marriage breakups and other bad stuff.
Over the years, for reasons that follow, that measuring stick got bigger. But in 2016 and 2017, regulators put the smackdown on free-spending mortgagors, bringing us all the way back to the days when families gathered around the radio and ate dinner at the same table.
As the 1980s began, homeowners spent an average of 17 per cent of their income on mortgage payments, property taxes and heat. But as people demanded nicer homes closer to big cities, home prices climbed faster than incomes, and so did debt-servicing costs. By the fall of 2016, new home buyers were spending an average of 25.6 per cent of their income on basic housing outlays.
Most new buyers have never heard of the one-week pay rule because one week’s pay stopped buying what it used to. Today, it doesn’t get you to first base in our biggest cities. As of December, the average wage earner making $992.87 a week and putting down 20 per cent could get a $289,000 mortgage with a payment that’s 25 per cent above their weekly earnings.
As years went by, lenders and policy makers catered to home-buyer demand by allowing a bigger percentage of income to be consumed by housing costs. Whereas the old rule of thumb suggested no more than one-quarter of your income should go to housing, the industry let that number rise, up to 39 per cent (or even 50 per cent at pricey non-prime lenders).
The trouble is, not only did debt ratios and allowable amortizations go up, but interest rates went down. So people could take on more and more debt with the same payment size. That’s a concern when rates are falling. But it’s a macroeconomic danger when rates are climbing.
Until somewhat recently, the stats hadn’t been overly alarming. Most people were merely taking on the same amount of debt as they always have, relative to income. But a rising-rates environment changes everything. A significant minority of those same borrowers would find it much harder to make those payments if interest costs “normalized.”
Seemingly overnight, federal policy makers have taken us back to yesteryear.
By imposing new mortgage stress tests, they’ve required most lenders to use a two-percentage-point higher interest rate when assessing people’s debt-service capacity.
Effectively, that has pushed down the maximum mortgage payment that the average Canadian can be approved for to, you guessed it, about one week’s pay.
So, it seems what’s old is new again. Whether it was Ottawa’s intention or not, they’ve single-handedly brought us back to a quaint historic metric: “One week’s salary for one month’s mortgage payment.”
I’m very interested in buying a certain house, but the seller wants me to fork over a really big deposit. If I change my mind, can I get my deposit back?
The short answer to your question is that, in most cases, real estate transaction deposits are not refundable.
There’s no set amount for deposits, however. If the owner’s demand for a large deposit is a major sticking point, you could ask your real estate representative to try to negotiate a lower deposit amount with the seller.
A deposit is the money you put down to secure a property that you want to purchase. Providing a deposit is both a gesture of good faith and a serious commitment. Once the seller accepts your written offer, it becomes an Agreement of Purchase and Sale (APS), which is a legally binding contract.
Once the APS is signed and the deposit is provided to the seller’s rep, attempting to renege on the APS by saying, “Sorry, I’m no longer interested” is highly inadvisable. You will almost certainly lose your deposit. The seller also might sue you for damages for any difference between the amount of your offer and the amount they accept from another buyer, along with any additional legal fees and carrying costs. You don’t want to go down that road.
Deposits are sometimes returned to would-be buyers when conditions are placed on an offer and the conditions aren’t satisfied. For instance, if you make an offer on a house on the condition of financing, but your bank won’t approve it. Or your purchase depends upon the successful sale of your current home, but it doesn’t sell in time. Or you make your purchase conditional on a home inspection and the home inspector discovers a problem that stops you from moving forward.
If you can’t go through with the purchase because your conditions haven’t been met and you want your deposit back, you’ll have to sign a release form and get the seller’s signature, too. It’s a pretty straightforward procedure and sellers will usually go along with such requests. But if the seller suspects you didn’t act in good faith, they could refuse to hand over the money.
What happens next? Well, the deposit would stay in a trust account, usually with the seller’s brokerage, and the dispute between you and the seller would become a legal matter. If you and the seller are unable to arrive at a settlement, a judge could eventually release the funds through a court order. But I’ll warn you: that can take a long time.
It’s a myth that a seller can pocket a buyer’s deposit any time a deal falls through. Cases involving deposits of $25,000 or less can be decided in small claims court, which is relatively inexpensive and easy for ordinary Ontarians to use. Cases involving larger deposits, however, are decided in Ontario’s much more formal Superior Court of Justice. Court cases can quickly become expensive, so you should carefully consider all of your options before taking this route.
If you’re serious about buying this house, I strongly recommend working closely with both a lender — to get your financial ducks in a row — and a real estate salesperson before you commit yourself to a deal and hand over a deposit.
Source: By JOE RICHER Registrar, Real Estate Council of Ontario Sat., Jan. 27, 2018
When Karen Somerville and her husband Alan Greenberg showed up for the pre-delivery inspection of their brand new luxury home in Ottawa they were horrified. Electricians, drywallers, plumbers and a variety of other tradespeople were still busy constructing their home and, despite assurances from the builder, the couple seriously doubted their $443,000 new build would be ready for possession in 14 days. Electrical wires hung from ceilings and stuck out from unfinished walls, appliances and cabinets were stacked in the kitchen, and only a portion of the hardwood floors had been installed. They immediately hired an independent contractor to examine the home. The result was a deficiency report citing 130 problems, including an undersized furnace and ductwork, poor ventilation and improper roof installation.
At first, Karen, then a university professor, and her husband Alan, an account manager with Sun Microsystems, tried to negotiate with the builder to resolve the problems. When this proved futile, the couple turned to Tarion—the private corporation that regulates Ontario builders and provides warranties on new houses and condos. Tarion sent its own inspector who confirmed that there were 85 defects in the home—but only 39 were considered to be under warranty.
Karen and Alan would be on the hook to fix the other defects themselves, which would cost the 40-something couple $4,000 or more. “This is the largest purchase we, as consumers, make,” says Karen, “and Tarion is supposed to be there to help.” Instead, she found herself having to document and defend an appeal against the provincial warranty program’s decision—despite paying a $650 fee for her new home warranty.
Buying a new home directly from the builder, whether a condo, townhouse or detached, is a popular choice. Almost one third of all homes sold in Canada each year are brand new. In Ontario alone, more than 52,500 buyers opted for a new build last year, and a forecast by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) predicts that number will only climb. Despite the problems Karen and Alan encountered, it’s easy to see the appeal: Buying direct from the builder means you can customize your dream home to your exact tastes. It means higher energy efficiency ratings than older homes, and often higher quality building materials. New homes also have lower maintenance costs and are less likely to surprise you with a serious issues such as a cracking or tilting foundation, severe plumbing problems, asbestos or knob-and-tube wiring that needs replacing.
But as Karen and Alan discovered, there are some pitfalls specific to a new home purchase too—pitfalls that we don’t want you to run into. To help out, we’ve compiled the top 10 mistakes that new home buyers make, so you can be sure to avoid them. Read on to find out why you should be wary of the show home, what to do if your new place isn’t ready on time, how to save big money on upgrades, and most importantly, how to make sure that the dream home you’re expecting is the one you actually end up getting.
Mistake #1: They fall in love with the show home
When Jason Saxon and his wife Emily set out to find a builder in the quaint Edmonton suburb of Spruce Grove, they were surprised to find only two builders operating in the area. “Only one of them offered the separate dining room that we wanted,” says Jason, which made their choice easy. The deal was clinched when they toured the builder’s magnificent show home. “It had everything we needed,” gushed the systems analyst. The couple (whose names have been changed to protect their privacy) was so impressed by the show home they booked an appointment with a salesperson on the spot. Within days they had a signed purchase agreement and were busily designing their dream home.
That, of course, is the result every builder is aiming for, explains Stan Garrison, an industry insider with more than 20 years experience (we’ve changed his name to protect his privacy). “Most people fall in love with the show home, but you have to realize that everything you see in that model home is an upgrade,” he says. “And upgrades are a major portion of a builder’s 10% to 20% profit margin.”
Upgrades are so profitable for the builder because the industry standard is to charge double the sub-trade’s fee—a cost that is passed directly to the buyer, Garrison says. “That means the $8,000 granite countertops you ordered really cost your builder $4,000. Now multiply that by 25 buyers and you can see how builders make a profit.”
That doesn’t mean you should never order an upgrade, but you do need to be clear on what is an upgrade and what isn’t—and do a little bargaining so you don’t get taken for a ride. “With new builds there is no room for negotiation on the base sale price,” explains Max Wynter, a realtor with Re/Max Realtron Brokerage in Markham, Ont. “But there is room to negotiate the price of your upgrades.”
The rule of thumb is the more upgrades you spring for, the bigger the discount you should angle for. “If you purchase $5,000 in upgrades the builder may only give you a 10% discount,” says Garrison. “But purchase $50,000 in upgrades and you can start asking for $10,000 to $15,000 off the final price.”
Mistake #2: They trust the floor plan
Ken Grunber, who works at a video production house in Toronto, found out too late that the new condo unit he bought in 2007 wasn’t nearly as large as advertised. When he and his partner moved in and measured the area, they discovered it wasn’t 700 square feet after all. The condo was actually 560 square feet—if you don’t count the balcony and bathroom.
“That’s not unusual,” says Martin Rumack, a real estate lawyer with over three decades experience in new build construction. “Condo sales staff will often include balcony or terrace measurements as part of the total square footage. New home sales staff will provide square footage based on measurements of external walls. You can’t rely on their verbal assurances, on the floor models, or on the sale pitch or brochure.”
Unfortunately, many new home decisions are based solely on brochures or artist renditions. For instance, a sales brochure sold the Saxons on upgrading to French doors for the entrance to their walkout patio. “We’d originally seen the sliding doors in the show home, but a brochure highlighted the double French doors and we loved the look,” says Jason. They quickly paid the upgrade fee, but when they moved in they were surprised to find the doors didn’t have the little window panes with wooden slats between them that they had seen in the photo. Instead there was just one huge pane of glass in each door. “The price quoted by the builder’s sales rep didn’t include window slats, just clear glass. It would cost us more to get slats,” Jason says. “Now I know: get every detail in writing.”
In fact, the builder has the discretion to change an image, or floor plan, or layout and “you have no say,” says Rumack. He suggests asking for a breakdown of room sizes and plan details, and to “get it in writing.” Then, if there’s a substantial difference between what you’re sold and what you get you can either negotiate a price reduction or try and get out of the deal.
Mistake #3: They don’t get their contract lawyered
Whether you’re buying a new detached home or a condo, the purchase agreement is the legally binding document that spells out what you’re getting and the conditions of the sale. It’s full of fine print and legal-speak, and if you sign without legal representation, you risk being bound to terms you don’t understand or don’t want. More importantly, says Rumack, it destroys any chance of re-negotiating the terms of the sale.
“Skip legal advice and you could end up with an electrical utility box on your front lawn that you can’t do anything about, or no side door on your garage, regardless of what the plans looked like,” he says. “You could find yourself stuck with any manner of substitutions, exclusions or inclusions that could detract from your home’s future value.”
When you’re buying a condo, depending on the province you live in, you may have a cooling off period of up to 10 days. This gives you a chance to pay $800 to $1,600 and hire a lawyer to go through your contract after it’s signed. If you don’t like what they find, you can back out of the deal.
Unfortunately, there’s no such period for freehold homes, and many home builders demand that you sign a contract on the spot to secure your sale price or lot selection. Try to avoid this situation if possible, but if you must, at the very least insist on adding a clause that makes the deal conditional upon approval by your solicitor. “These days more and more builders are offering buyers a two-day period where they can seek legal advice before the contract becomes binding,” explains real estate lawyer Sheldon Silverman.
Mistake #4: They don’t bother with an inspection
During the home buying process there are two specific times when it’s important to have your house inspected. The first is the pre-delivery inspection, a mandatory walk-through for all new homes under warranty. This inspection takes place with your builder shortly before you officially take possession of your home. The second inspection should be scheduled for about one month before your home warranty expires. In Ontario the first and broadest portion of your warranty expires 12 months after your possession date, in B.C. it’s 24 months after possession.
During the pre-delivery inspection, you probably don’t need to pay for a professional inspector, but you might want to “take along a friend who’s wise about construction,” says Silverman, “because if you don’t write down the deficiency then the builder isn’t obligated to fix the problem.”
However, hiring a professional home inspector to do a second walkthrough before your warranty expires is a must. This will allow your home to go through all four seasons, which is enough time for major defects to start showing up, and you’ll still be able to get them fixed under the first stage of the standard provincial warranty, which covers against material and labour defects.
Mistake #5: They accept delays without a fight
Believe it or not, until quite recently, if your new house wasn’t ready on time, it was your problem. “Builders were not required to provide reasons or to limit their delays,” says Rumack. But that all changed when Toronto condo buyer Keith Markey challenged a Tarion decision five years ago.
In 2001, Markey bought a unit in a soon-to-be constructed condominium tower in downtown Toronto. His initial possession date was Nov. 30, 2002. But as the date approached, the builders kept sending letters announcing delays. Markey’s possession date was moved back six different times—he wasn’t able to move in until eight full months after the initial possession date.
He requested $5,000 from the builder to compensate him for the delays. The builder refused, the case went before a tribunal, and Markey won. Tarion appealed the case, but in 2006, Markey was vindicated: Not only did he receive almost $5,000 in compensation but close to $9,000 in damages. The case changed how Tarion and other provincial warranty programs handle builder delays.
“The law is now clear and critical dates are now included as part of the purchase agreement and contract,” says Silverman. “If a builder misses these critical dates and requires an extension, a buyer can either agree, and seek compensation, or simply get out of the deal.” Either way, Silverman suggests seeking legal advice whenever you’re presented with a request to delay a critical date.
Mistake #6: They forget they are moving into a construction zone
Anyone considering a new condo or home purchase should take into consideration the impact of ongoing developments. As one reader, who bought into the first phase of a three-phase condo development, recalls: “It’s noisy, everything is dusty and the air quality is just plain horrible—not even the best furnace filter could catch this dust. Combine that with the fact that the whole area is ugly for quite a long time and that access points can open and close, depending on the phase, and you have a recipe for long-term aggravation.”
Still, others, such as Jason Saxon, were mentally prepared for living in a construction site, and actually found it kind of fun—at times anyway. “You take the dust and dirt and noise with a grain of salt,” he says. “And it’s actually nice watching the homes go up.” In fact, there were only two days out of that first construction year when the Saxons and their neighbours felt truly inconvenienced. “When the builders put the final grading on our road no one could drive or park on our street,” Jason recalls. “For many of our neighbours that meant a hike through muddy and overgrown fields just to get home.”
Mistake #7: They think they have a warranty—but they don’t
Most buyers assume that all new-build lofts, condos and homes are covered by a provincial warranty, but this isn’t the case. Only three provinces—B.C., Quebec and Ontario—make warranty coverage mandatory. In fact, those are the only provinces that require new home builders to register with their respective provincial regulator at all.
“In Ontario, it’s illegal to build without being registered,” says Janice Mandel, vice president of corporate affairs at Tarion. But in other provinces, where the warranty program isn’t mandatory, builders can simply opt-out of coverage. Often they’ll try to convince home owners that they’re saving them the registration costs.
Buyers should be proactive and get their new home warranty in writing, says Mandel. They should also go online to determine if their builder is registered with a provincial regulator as a new home builder. This is particularly important for loft or condo conversions—residential units constructed inside an existing building shell. In such situations, new-build warranties often don’t apply.
Mistake #8: They’re not speedy with their warranty claims
When the Saxons first moved into their dream home near Edmonton, they were delighted. But they soon found themselves caught in a bureaucratic nightmare. During that first winter in their new home, they noticed a large crack in the cement-block floor of their garage. So they called the builder, who told them that when the ground thawed in the spring the problem would be fixed. A few months later, when the ground started to thaw, they noticed even more cracks stretching from their garage down their driveway. “We phoned, spoke to the site super, and even flagged down a builder’s representative, who promised us a new driveway.”
But weeks went by and nothing happened. “What was frustrating was coming home to see that our neighbour had a newly poured driveway and ours was still pock-marked and cracked.” That’s when Jason started sending emails. “You have to hound the builder, who seems willing to fix anything, but just needs a lot of motivation.” After weeks of sending emails and making calls the Saxons finally got a new driveway and garage floor.
The Saxons were able to get the problem fixed because they were proactive and understood that there are strict time limits on making claims. To ensure you understand how long you have, carefully read the package you get during the pre-inspection, as there are different deadlines for different types of warranty claims. “My advice: get a calendar and mark down those deadlines, and then make sure you get the claim in at least five days before the deadline,” says Peter Balasubramanian, vice president of claims for Tarion.
While you’re reading your new home package, you should also familiarize yourself with the maintenance you have to do to ensure your warranty remains valid. For instance, if you forget to change your furnace filters or fail to clean out your gutters you could find a claim regarding deficient heating or water penetration into your basement is deemed to be invalid.
Mistake #9: They’re ambushed by hidden closing costs
When you sign the purchase agreement for your new place, many of the closing costs are estimates. These costs often escalate as you approach your possession date, and both Rumack and Silverman have seen their fair share of “absurd” adjustments tacked on to a buyer’s purchase contract. For instance, you may find large charges that suddenly materialize for hooking up gas and electricity meters, plus mortgage discharge fees, development fees, deposit verification fees—Rumack has even seen a fee for “public art contributions” to cover the cost of a sculpture by a building’s entrance. “That’s why I pay close attention to the adjustments and try and get a cap on certain items and remove others,” Silverman says.
Mistake #10: They buy at the wrong time
If you’re buying a new condo or townhouse as an investment, the key is to get in as early as possible. In order to get the financing to start a new project, builders will often raise initial funding through pre-sales. These pre-sales often kick off with invitation-only VIP events, says Wynter. Usually, only high-volume realtors who specialize in the type of building on offer are invited. “If you see a line-up at a sales office, it’s often because a VIP event has been scheduled.” Once the VIP event is over, the builder will open sales up to all interested realtors, then finally they’ll open the project up to the public. “By the time a builder throws a grand opening for the general public, often 50% of the units have already been sold and the price has gone up three or four times,” explains Wynter.
It’s easy to get in on these VIP pre-sales, but you’ll need to work with a realtor who specializes in new developments and be ready to move quickly. For instance, the Paintbox development—the second phase of condos in the newly revitalized Regent Park area of Toronto—gave VIP realtors a week to register their clients for the pre-sale. Four days after registration closed clients were required to sign the paperwork.
Despite the potential savings on purchase price, this can be a risky way of buying real estate. When the Vancouver condo market turned in 2008 many pre-sale buyers found themselves with a contract price that was much higher than the current value of the unit. The builders refused to renegotiate the purchase contracts, and their banks refused to grant pre-arranged mortgages for the original purchase price. Many buyers were forced to either default—and lose their money—or find additional funding elsewhere, at significantly higher interest rates.
If you’re purchasing a freehold home, keep in mind that purchasing at the right time of year can also save you tens of thousands. For instance, in the Greater Toronto Area, the summer is the best time to shop for a new development, says Garrison. “People are on vacation in July and August and don’t have time to look for houses. When things slow down for a builder you have more bargaining power as a buyer.” Another good time to look is in December and January, but by mid-February activity starts to pick-up, says Garrison, and deals are taken off the table.
In Vancouver’s Lower Mainland the opposite is true: real estate and new home purchases are typically hot in the summer and slow down significantly over the rainy months of November and December. Each local market has its own cycle, so it’s best to talk to an experienced realtor.
Financial experts have some tips on how to handle the new mortgage “stress test” rules. The new mortgage rules mean buyers will be able to afford to borrow 20 per cent less than under the previous rules, according to some experts.
Starting Jan.1, home buyers faced a new challenge in addition to rising prices and a restricted supply of available homes — a mortgage stress test designed to cool the overheated housing markets.
The test, introduced by the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OFSI), requires the qualifying rate for an uninsured mortgage to be the greater of the Bank of Canada’s five-year benchmark rate (currently sitting at 4.99 per cent) or the rate homebuyers negotiate with the bank plus two percentage points.
That means even a buyer who negotiates a mortgage at 3 per cent will have to show they can cope with payments rising to 5 per cent.
A report by Mortgage Professionals Canada estimates the new rules mean buyers will be able to afford to borrow 20 per cent less than under the previous rules.
The Star asked financial experts for advice on how best to handle the new regime.
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Clear those debts
One of the best ways to avoid the stress test derailing your home-buying plans is to first pay off any other debts you might have, said Paul Taylor, the CEO and president of Mortgage Professionals Canada.
“Any debt you are carrying will affect the mortgage you can qualify for, so you really should be doing the best to eliminate any credit card or outstanding loan debt before going to try to arrange a mortgage,” said Taylor.
Check the fine print
Some experts had urged clients who were going to hunt for a new home early in 2018 to lock down a pre-approval for a mortgage before Jan.1. Some lenders offered an exemption to the new stress test if you bought a home within 120 days of being pre-approved.
If you were pre-approved at that time with the 120-day window, you should talk to your mortgage broker to get a clear understanding of the deadline and what it will take to meet it.
According to Integrated Mortgage Planners president Dave Larock, “repeat or move-up” buyers, looking to take on bigger or pricier homes than what they currently own, will be hardest hit by the new rules. Many first-time buyers have already been putting down less than 20 per cent, forcing them to undergo another stress test that has been in place for the last year.
But James Laird, the co-founder of financial comparison platform Ratehub, said he thinks all levels of buyers will have to make some adjustments to their plans.
If you can’t delay buying in order to build up a bigger downpayment, you may have to just accept that you can afford “a little bit less house” than previously. In some cases, you might even need to resort to the Bank of Mom and Dad for help qualifying for the same mortgage that you could have secured on your own earlier.
You might be further ahead saving longer to make a larger downpayment later, perhaps in time for a long-rumoured drop in house prices, Laird said.
Timing is key
Laird suggests doing your research and consulting with a mortgage broker, because there are some exceptions and a few groups of people using traditional lenders who will also not be subject to the new regulations.
For example, if you signed a contract to buy a pre-construction condo before Jan. 1 that you have yet to move into, you’ll still fall under the old rules.
And, says Larock, “If you bought prior to Jan. 1, even if you close after Jan. 1, you will be grandfathered (into the old mortgage policy), but you need a firm offer to purchase prior to Jan. 1.”
You’ll also be able to sidestep the test, says Taylor, if you nab a mortgage from an alternative lender, like a credit union that doesn’t have to apply the test because it falls outside the regulations covering banks and other traditional lenders.
But not everyone will be able to get off the hook.
If you scrambled to buy a home before the new regulations kicked in or even long before that, when your mortgage comes up for renewal, if you chose to switch lenders, you will have to qualify under the new policy, warns Taylor.
“I suspect that means a number of people’s mortgage renewals will probably be issued at slightly higher rates than they previously would have been because the bank is going to know you won’t have the ability to take your mortgage anywhere else,” he says. “That’s not going to be good news for everyone.”
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Source: TheStar.com – By Tara Deschamps Special to the Star Mon., Jan. 22, 2018
A credit score of 700 gets you the best lending rate from the banks. But if you’ve missed some bill payments—or worse, filed for bankruptcy—you’ll have to work strategically to build your score back up. These tips will help you do it as quickly as possible.
KNOW YOUR LIMITS Try to keep your credit-card balance well below the limit. If your cards are almost maxed out, it suggests you’re overextended and more likely to make late or missed payments. The higher your balance, the more impact it has on your credit score.
CHECK YOUR SCORES—BOTH OF THEM Anyone contemplating a bank loan should check their credit score six months to a year in advance to ensure there are no surprises or errors. Just keep in mind that Canada has two major credit-reporting agencies: Equifax and TransUnion. This can lead to significant differences in scores, as these firms only synchronize their scores every two months.
STEER CLEAR OF RETAIL CARDS The next time you’re tempted to sign up for a Brick or Sears card, remember that each separate credit card application inquiry results in a ‘hard check’ that lowers your credit score by seven points. If your score is around 700 and you’re house hunting, signing up for a couple of retail cards could mean the difference between getting the best mortgage lending rate or a much higher ‘B-lender’ rate.
JUST PAY IT Paying off your debts quickly is one of the most effective ways to raise your score. If you’ve missed some bills and your score hovers around 600, it will likely take a year to boost it up 100 points to an optimal 700—assuming you’ve made good on all arrears. A score of 500, indicating bankruptcy, will take two to three years to repair.
HISTORY COUNTS If you have no track record of borrowing money and paying it back, chances are you’ve got a low credit score because lenders have nothing to gauge your credit worthiness against. So if you have a credit card but never use it, you can increase your score by making occasional purchases and paying them off. And think twice about closing an old account you don’t use anymore, as having a 10-year-old account actually helps you demonstrate a credit history.
TORONTO — Many consumers will soon find their debt loads heavier now that Canada’s central bank and the country’s biggest commercial lenders have raised their benchmark rates by one-quarter percentage point.
The country’s biggest banks raised their prime rates after the Bank of Canad hiked its overnight lending rate Wednesday by a quarter of a percentage point to 1.25 per cent.
It’s a challenge for Canadians still struggling to cope with the record amounts of consumer debt they amassed after the 2008 financial crisis because lenders use their prime rate as a benchmark for setting some other short-term rates including variable-rate mortgages and lines of credit. A hike is good news for savers as the prime rate also affects interest rates for savings accounts.
If you’re contemplating how to best take advantage of the increased rates or avoid falling into further debt, personal finance expert and Ryerson University business professor Laleh Samarbakhsh shared her advice.
Q: Now that the rate has gone up, what financial choices should I be making?
A: With the interest rate increase, debt becomes more and more expensive. Before you do anything, you have to understand what kind of debt you have to start with.
We have good types of debt and bad types. Good types can include any investment that is made to contribute to progressing your future. For example, a student loan is a good type of loan because you are investing in your ability to make more money. At the same time, debt you have from real estate or your primary residence is considered a good type of debt because you’re accumulating equity.
Focus first on what is considered bad debt like credit card debt, lines of credit or any kind of debt with higher interest rates and no future investment. Pay off the debt with the higher interest rate first, but also consider what debt you have that is tax deductible.
Q: If I have some money in a Tax-Free Savings Account, but also some debt, should I pull out that money in the account and pay off the debt?
A: A lot of times people might consider borrowing from a lower debt to cover a higher debt or borrowing from a TFSA to make a payment. My recommendation is if you have some tax deductibility because of debt you have, keep it. As much as paying off debt is important, if you won’t be able to pay off all your debt, you can use the deductibility you have from some to save on taxes and create an income to pay off the high-interest or bad debt.
We have had a successful year on the investing market, so if an individual makes contributions to their TFSA and has a portfolio with a higher return of 20 per cent or 25 per cent, it makes sense to keep that because the advantage is no tax being paid in the TFSA.
Q: What should I do if I have been looking at buying a home or if I just bought a home and am dealing with a mortgage?
A: For individuals who care about their credit score and are applying for a mortgage shortly, consider your credit limit. The types of debt that have a credit limit should be paid off first to release your capacity.
The typical concerns after a hike are usually individuals with mortgages because those are the biggest debts people carry. My advice would be for individuals with variable mortgage rates to consider locking down a fixed mortgage rate.
Q: What should I do if I have no debt, but want to take advantage of the hike?
A: Saving is making even more sense now because savings accounts will have fairly higher interest rates, so if you have no debt, my recommendation is to start with capping your Registered Education Savings Plan contributions first because that brings you tax savings.
Once the RESPs are capped, I would also invest in a Tax-Free Savings Account. The interest you make is tax-free, so I recommend maximizing your TFSA contribution.
After that, there are lots of forums and markets for investment and you can consult with your financial adviser about what is best to invest in at the time.
Q: Some economists think we might see further interest rate hikes later this year. Should I act on those rumours now?
A: It’s hard to predict what is going to happen, but we know the decade of low interest rates are over. It’s important to be more careful with spending and what kind of debt we are taking on and how and what the plan for repaying it is.
If you’re concerned, take action sooner rather than later and don’t let it bring mental pressure to your daily life.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
Source: MoneySense.ca – by Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press