Answering Your Mortgage Questions

Two weeks ago we talked about the risk of variable rate mortgages, in an environment where you have to know rates will start to jump up, vs. a fixed rate mortgage. Weren’t we smart, since five days later, the banks raised their five-year rates by 0.6%. And that’s just the start – stay tuned for more increases.

The story had a number of people ask some questions. So here are some of the notes of what you should keep in mind:

On a current fixed mortgage, the bank has guaranteed the rate, but you have signed for a penalty to get out of it. That is normally three months of interest, or something called an interest differential. That is the today rate vs. your rate right now, and takes the difference of what the bank would now be out if you just kept going.

The longer you have left on your current term, the higher that amount. Rough rule of thumb is that two years left or more, it probably won’t make sense to re-mortgage to today’s lower rate. If you have a year or so left, it’d be the three months of interest as a penalty.

But will paying this penalty and getting the chance to do a new mortgage save you money? That depends on what the saving in the rate is from your current mortgage to what you can negotiate today. It also depends on how long you intend to stay in your home. If you’re moving in the next year, there’s no way you’ll save money, you’ll just pay the penalty and won’t be around long enough to get the benefit of the lower rate. If you intend to stay in your home for a number of years, the savings will start to add up quickly.

What you need to do is:

-Get the amount of the penalty. There’s no cost to get it, but at least you’ll know.
-Your bank will offer you a blended rate. They’ll take the penalty and include it in your new mortgage payment. That may be what you can do, but don’t start there. Blending it in is not the same as shopping around for what may be a much better rate in the first place!
-Always get three quotes, and make one of them from the credit union. Their rates are the same or better, AND you will get money back at the end of the year through profit sharing, since you will be a member, not just a customer! For me, that’s like getting a quarter of a percent refunded each year.
-Lenders will guarantee a rate in writing for 60 days. That will let you shop around while you are protected on today’s rates, should they jump again! It does not mean you’re committed, or on the hook. It’s just a guarantee if you want to take advantage of it.
-Negotiate! You will always be able to get around ¾ to one full percent off their posted rates. Remember that posted rates are like the sticker price of a car – and who pays that?
-If you have a variable rate and want to fix it, or want to re-do your mortgage to a lower rate, you have to get the quotes and be prepared to take your business elsewhere.
-Yes, you can negotiate the penalty amount if they get to keep your business. I had a rental property with Scotiabank a decade ago. They wouldn’t budge on the three month penalty when I sold. But that meant they lost my principal residence mortgage. They made $1100 in penalty fees and have lost out on over $40,000 of interest income, because I walked. That didn’t make sense to me, but I got a great deal at the credit union for an hour of work.
-Last, but not least: When your lender says they “can’t” negotiate on the penalty, or the rate on a new mortgage, that’s just not true at all. Can’t means won’t! Remember that or it will cost you a lot of money. Yes they can, with approval of a manager, or even a regional manager. No does not mean no!

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