Rising interest rates could cause cottage owners who took out a variable-rate mortgage in 2020-2021 to experience a 45 per cent jump in payments by 2025-2026, said the Bank of Canada in its Financial System Review. The bank did specify that this number is hypothetical and is based on further increases to Canada’s mortgage rate.
Considering the bank increased interest rates by 50-basis-points in both April and June, however, the chances of further increases are likely. The bank intends to reassess interest rates in July.
By increasing interest rates, the bank is attempting to cool market demand and combat the elevated inflation level, which reached a 31-year high of 6.8 per cent in May. While intended to lower the cost of living, the increased interest rates are causing a spike in mortgage payments.
“It’s like red flashing lights in our face. [Mortgage rates] have been climbing so aggressively, fixed and variable,” says Andrew Thake, a mortgage broker based in Ottawa. “Fixed rates were in the one to two per cent range a few months back, and now they’re almost at five per cent with the major banks.”
A five-year, fixed-rate mortgage tends to be the most popular mortgage package, Thake says. This means that the property owner is locked in at a certain rate for five years. Therefore, a property owner who took a mortgage out before the interest rates started to increase is currently unaffected. But once those five years are up and the property owner has to renew their mortgage, they’re likely to see a major jump in payments.
Similar to the 45 per cent increase in high loan-to-income variable-rate mortgages, the Bank of Canada hypothesized that a high loan-to-income fixed-rate mortgage taken out in 2020-2021 would also increase by 2025-2026, jumping 26 per cent. Mortgages obtained in 2020-2021 are expected to see the largest increase because they were taken out when rates were at record lows.
At the moment, Thake says the fixed-rate mortgages are rising much faster than variable-rate mortgages, which fluctuate and are based off the Bank of Canada’s overnight lending rate. This means that a variable-rate mortgage is giving people more purchasing power.
“If a household made $150,000, they had no debt, their current home was paid off with 20 per cent down, and they’re using a variable interest rate, they would qualify for a $940,000 loan,” Thake says. “But if that very same client used a fixed rate, they would qualify for about $820,000. That’s a massive difference.”
For Canadians who did take out large mortgages during the pandemic, the Bank of Canada says that these highly indebted households are a vulnerability to the financial system, especially if household incomes don’t increase along with interest rates.
But Thake says it’s unlikely we’ll see a major spike in defaulted mortgages in the near future. This is because anyone who took out a mortgage had to pass the mortgage stress test. This test shows lenders that you’ll still be able to make your monthly payments even if interest rates rise.
To pass the stress test, you have to show your lender that you can meet the Bank of Canada’s minimum qualifying rate, which was increased from 4.79 per cent to 5.25 per cent in June 2021, and is based on the mode average of fixed rates posted over the last five years by Canada’s big banks, or you must meet the mortgage rate offered by your lender plus two per cent, whichever’s higher.
The issue, Thake says, is that since fixed-rate mortgages have climbed so aggressively, they now sit around five per cent, which when you add the lender’s two per cent makes them closer to seven per cent. This means that potential buyers won’t be able to qualify for as large a mortgage as they could in previous years.
Additionally, since mortgage rates are rising so quickly, potential buyers might be pre-approved for a mortgage one week, but then no longer qualify for that mortgage a week later after the rate’s been raised. To make sure you’re on top of increasing rates, Thake suggests working with a mortgage broker.
“When’s the last time your bank called you and updated you on rates?” he says. “A broker manages a client like a financial planner does. We have a pool of 500 clients, and they get day-to-day devotion. We only really earn our living if we service that client and everything goes through smoothly.”