Anyone with a mortgage wants the lowest possible rate. But there's an array of requirements for snagging the best all-around deal, and some of them are counter-intuitive.
Once people have chosen the term and rate type for their mortgage, they often find that rates for that same term can vary by a percentage point or more. Countless factors can keep borrowers from getting a rock-star deal. Here are 10 of them:
1. Rates vary by province
Ontario usually has the most competitive rates in Canada, partly because it has the greatest number of competitors. People living in the Prairies or the East Coast, for example, often pay one-tenth to two-tenths of a percentage point more than folks in Ontario. Other examples: Home owners in Alberta sometimes have to put down more equity to get the lowest available rates (thanks to larger default risks in that province); borrowers in Manitoba have the cheapest six-month rates; borrowers in Quebec have some of the best 10-year rates.
2. A long rate hold
The further into the future your closing date, the longer the rate guarantee you'll need. In turn, the higher a lender's rate hedging costs and the higher your interest rate. The cheapest rates in the market are generally for "quick closes." That typically means you must complete the mortgage in 30 to 45 days from applying. Applying one month from closing can shave off one-tenth to two-tenths of a percentage point from your rate, but the risk is that rates jump even more while you're waiting.
3. You're refinancing
Lenders love to finance purchases. So mortgages for new buyers sometimes have lower rates than mortgages for refinances. What's more, refinances, which essentially require a whole new mortgage, often have lower rates than mortgage transfers, where you're switching lenders but the key mortgage terms stay the same.
4. You've got an apartment condo or atypical property
Some lenders charge more for high-rise condos, especially in cities where condo markets are arguably overextended. The same goes for cottages, co-ops, hotel condos, former grow-ops, larger multiunit residences and other non-standard structures, which lenders view as higher risk.
5. The property isn't your full-time dwelling
The cheapest rates in the country rarely apply to income-generating properties that the owner doesn't live in. These deals are statistically a higher risk for lenders and investors, so expect a higher interest rate.
6. Your credit score isn't high enough
The magic number is 680. That's the most common minimum credit score to qualify for the best rates, especially if you have a higher debt ratio or a smaller down payment. But one number isn't everything. To qualify for the best pricing you also need a two-year track record of managing your credit with no serious delinquencies.
7. You want flexibility
Some of the nation's lowest rates come with strings attached, such as below-average prepayment privileges. This limits your ability to save interest by making lump-sum extra payments. Instead of prepaying 15 per cent to 30 per cent annually (which few people do anyway) a "no frills" rate might limit you to prepaying 5 per cent or 10 per cent. Restricted mortgages can also impose painful penalties, prohibit you from refinancing elsewhere before your term is up and prevent you from increasing your mortgage without penalty – useful if you buy a new house.
8. Your mortgage is not insured
In many cases, people with smaller down payments – less than 20 per cent – get better rates. That's because their mortgage must generally be insured. Lenders like insured mortgages because someone else shares the risk of the borrower defaulting.
9. Your mortgage is too big
For lenders, bigger mortgages mean potentially bigger losses on default. This added risk results in rate premiums and stricter lending limits, especially on million-dollar mortgages without at least 25-per-cent to 35-per-cent down payments.
10. Your income is too low
If you've just become self-employed, are on probation or you can't prove one to two years' worth of stable salaried income, it can cost you. You may also need a bigger down payment. Lenders want less than 40 per cent to 44 per cent of your provable income to go toward debt.
In looking at this list, you may surmise you'll get the best deal if you have pristine credit, don't care about mortgage restrictions and are buying a detached urban home in Ontario that's closing in 30 days.
That all helps, but there's plenty more that governs mortgage pricing. Step one is knowing how well qualified you are. The stronger you are as a borrower, the more likely you'll find exceptions to the rate "rules" above.