Maybe Your Mortgage Needs a Check-Up

General Vivian Pritchard 26 Jun

Andy Holloway, Financial Post · Friday, Jun. 11, 2010

While about 80% of Canadians visit a doctor at least once a year to help ensure they remain physically healthy, the number of people who check their financial health by regularly reviewing their mortgage is far less.

Plenty can change in someone’s life in a year, never mind during the standard five-year mortgage a lot of Canadians sign up for. A career change, kids, retirement or newfound money or it could be that such a major event is on the horizon. All can affect the type of mortgage that fits just right.

People often just wait for a renewal letter before they look at their mortgage, and even then they’ll likely send the contract back without considering if it is meeting their current needs because they feel changing providers or the terms is futile. But they should put just as much thought into a renewal or a review as they did when they signed the initial deal.

Home owners should annually review three main things: their current and expected future risk profile and net income as well as rates.

For example, the more adverse you become to risk, the less likely a variable mortgage will be right for you. Aside from comparing rates, Ratesupermarket.ca has a few other online tools that can help consumers figure if a change is a good thing, such as a mortgage calculator and a mortgage penalty calculator that will show how much you can expect to pay to break your existing mortgage. You can also sign up for e-mail alerts that tell you when rates change.

Even something simple such as making renovations could affect the type of mortgage desired. For example, topping up or refinancing an existing mortgage can pay for renovations, providing you’re comfortable with a blended interest rate. If you’re buying a new home, you may be able to port your current mortgage. Or maybe you just want to consolidate higher-interest unsecured debt into your mortgage. “Rolling that into your mortgage can significantly save on interest costs and that will help you get out of debt soone.

A mortgage can also help you become more tax efficient if you’re thinking of investing in a business, buying a rental property or putting some money into mutual funds or the stock market. That’s because the interest paid on money borrowed on a principal property can be written off against revenue from those investments.

But the biggest reason for making changes to your mortgage mid-stream may be because it could be a lot easier to do something before your situation changes. “Making changes to your mortgage before you go into a new venture or before you retire would allow you to qualify much easier rather than waiting for your mortgage to come up for renewal.

For the complete article:

Best Time to Buy a Home is When you Can Afford It

General Vivian Pritchard 14 Jun

‘You know, you’re making the biggest mistake of your life. The housing market is going to fall.”

I got this great piece of advice from another journalist at the Financial Post, who has since left the newspaper, after buying my first home. Not exactly the type of thing you want to hear after taking on huge debt and making the biggest financial decision of your life.

Lucky for me, I didn’t heed that advice about Toronto’s red-hot real estate market — in 1998. I’m not going to say I made a shrewd business decision 12 years ago, or even six years later when I bought a larger house.

For me, it wasn’t a case of not following what turned out to be bad advice from a fellow business journalist. Nor was it about trying to time the market.

I was simply following the same pattern as most Canadians: I got married and decided to stop renting and buy something. Later came the need for a bigger home when the second kid was on the way.

Which brings us to today. The supply of housing is rising fast as people try to list their homes for sale before the market “crashes.” This is happening at the same time that demand is starting to wane. Economists and even the real estate industry, are all predicting a correction — the only argument being how severe it will be.

So, the question for anyone buying is: should you wait?

Don Lawby, chief executive of Century 21 Canada, thinks the strategy of waiting for a crash is not going to work during this economic cycle. “For a market to crash, you have to have people who are desperate to sell,” says Mr. Lawby. “People will [only sell] if they can’t afford their mortgage or they don’t have a job.” He doesn’t see a decline in prices, “unless you are predicting that mortgages will renew at a hefty premium — which is not the case — or a whole bunch of people are going to lose their jobs.” Mr. Lawby believes neither will happen.

And, he adds, you are really into a risky game if you are timing the market. “A house is a home. If all you are doing is looking at it as an investment — that’s what happened the last 15 years — it’s not just that. It’s a place to live and a place to raise a family,” says Mr. Lawby. Even Benjamin Tal, a senior economist with CIBC World Markets, who, last month, said in a report that Canadian housing is 14% overvalued, has doubts about playing the market. But he suspects that’s exactly what some Canadians will do.

“Is there a sense that prices will go down and people will wait? I think it might be an issue,” says Mr. Tal. “It won’t be the main reason [people don’t buy], but it will happen at the margins. The fact that people sell at the peak and wait to buy is a normally functioning market.”

But even if you do make the right call on housing prices, it could end up backfiring on you in other ways. For example, if interest rates rise fast enough, any gains you make on price could be erased by interest charges, says Mr. Tal. Edmonton certified financial planner Al Nagy says you need to think of your house the way you think about any long-term investment. “Whether it’s an investment for use in your retirement or a house to live in, it’s a long-term thing. The timing becomes less critical than it would be if it is a speculative [investment].”

And he says making a call on the housing market is as tricky as any other investment call. “It’s very rare you catch the bottom. You can’t let the market dictate when it’s time to buy. The time to buy is when you can afford it,” says Mr. Nagy.

I’m not sure that philosophy would fly with my former colleague, but the problem with timing the market is: what if your timing is off ?

gmarr@nationalpost.com

 

 

Managing Debt While Rates Rise

General Vivian Pritchard 11 Jun

Managing debt while rates grow

Terry McBride , For Canwest News Service  SASKATOON — Canadians have taken advantage of extremely low interest rates to overextend themselves. The Bank of Canada wants to try to prevent inflation by raising interest rates to slow the economy down. How will debtors manage?

Inflation vs. deflation

Actually, debtors generally prefer inflation (when prices go up) because that can make it easier to repay a debt, which is a fixed dollar amount owing. Loan payments become more affordable when wages keep up with inflation.

Debtors usually fear deflation (when prices go down) because it becomes more difficult to repay an obligation when the fixed number of dollars can buy more. Deflation is already a major concern these days in Europe where some governments are raising taxes and cutting back on spending to tackle mushrooming public debts. Businesses there may be forced to cut prices and workers’ wages to cope with the economic slowdown.

Debtors fear deflation. How can they handle debt payments after their wages are cut or they lose their jobs? Serious household debt management issues arise.

Mortgage term

If your mortgage is coming up for renewal, how do you choose the best mortgage term? If you have had a variable or floating rate of interest tied to the prime rate, should you take the safe route and lock in a fixed, usually considerably higher, interest rate for five years?

If your mortgage payments rise, then you will have to look at various ways to manage other debts.

Consolidate

One popular debt management strategy is to combine various loans into your mortgage or a line of credit. Consolidation can eliminate high-interest credit card debt. Free up some cash flow by reducing your interest costs.

Talk to a professional debt counsellor. Can you have a single monthly payment? You could continue to make the same level of payments on your consolidated loan as you did before consolidation. Aim to reduce your principal owing and cut interest costs.

Amortization

Knowing how amortization works will help you to understand how to properly manage your debts. Amortization is how long you are scheduled to repay an instalment loan.

If interest rates rise, consider stretching the repayment period on an instalment loan to reduce the size of your monthly payments. Making your payments smaller seems very attractive at first. However, by making payments over a longer time period you will eventually pay much more interest in the long run.

Debt snowball

Here is a strategy for cutting down your overall debt level:

Make a list of your debts. Add up how much you pay on each loan.

Pick the smallest debt to tackle first. Pay the minimum on all debts except for your target debt. Pay whatever is left on your target debt until it is paid off. Then, continue with the debt snowball strategy by choosing the next debt on the list as your target debt. Pay it off.

Borrow wisely

The next time you have to borrow, avoid buying something that drops in value. The only time you should buy something using debt is if it is something that will appreciate in value or generate additional cash flow for you.

As a general rule, if you are buying something with borrowed money, make sure that what you buy lasts longer than the debt. Don’t add to your debt burden by going on a vacation financed by credit cards.

Emergency fund

Do you have to borrow when you have an emergency? Instead you should build an emergency fund with cash held in reserve. You could use a Tax-Free Savings Account, the cash surrender value of a whole life policy or a Canada Savings Bond payroll savings plan, for example. Having cash available to pay for an emergency will give you greater financial security than an untapped line of credit.

Terry McBride is a member of Advocis (The Financial Advisors Association of Canada)
Read more: http://www.financialpost.com/personal-finance/mortgage-centre/Managing+debt+while+rates+grow/3136091/story.html#ixzz0qXodyQrw
 

 Have a great weekend!

Rising Interest Rates in Perspective

General Vivian Pritchard 10 Jun

When the Bank of Canada raised its Bank Rate by 25 basis points to .75 per cent last Tuesday, there were already a few grumblings from Canadians in the housing sector and elsewhere who thought interest rates should remain at an effective rate of almost zero for time immemorial so they could continue to borrow cheaply. That would be unwise and short-sighted for reasons to be explained.

Of immediate concern is that there are perhaps too many Canadians, at least those under the age of 40, with no historical recollection of how unique the current low-interest rate environment has been and still is.

A bank rate of half a percentage point (and an overnight rate of .75 per cent) is unheard of in Canadian history, at least as far back as Bank of Canada records go which is to 1935. In the depths of the Great Depression, the central bank rate never dipped below 2.5 per cent. In the late 1940s and until 1950, the rate did decline to 1.5 per cent, but never lower.

In the later 1950s and 1960s, generally seen as the golden age of Canadian prosperity, the bank rate starting moving up from two per cent, and then to a higher range, including six per cent in 1962, and as high as eight per cent by the year of Woodstock in 1969.

While central bank rates dropped a bit in the early 1970s, the lowest they ever sunk to was 4.75 per cent between late 1971 and early 1973. After that, Bank of Canada rates spiralled upwards to 14 per cent by the end of 1979 and hit a high of 21.03 per cent in August 1981. While rates dipped marginally in the 1980s, relatively speaking, they never fell below seven per cent (in 1987) and were as high as 14.05 per cent as recently as 1990.

Over the last 20 years, consumers and home buyers have become accustomed to ever-decreasing interest rates, the extreme low occurring this past year.

But that anomaly only exists because the world was almost plunged into another Great Depression in the fall of 2008 with the collapse of Lehman Brothers, scores of bank bankruptcies, a U.S. housing crash, a stock market crash, and a credit seize-up even between financial institutions. The present Bank of Canada rate is thus an emergency rate, still, and nothing more. It cannot be expected to last unless economic conditions again worsen.

It’s worth remembering that the reason interest rates became so high in the 1970s and 1980s is because inflation was allowed to spiral out of control. That necessitated high interest rates to kill inflation, and it’s why a five-year mortgage went for 21.46 per cent in September 1981.

The Bank of Canada was correct to raise interest rates this past week; it was right to get ahead of the recovery and prevent inflation from again rearing its destructive head. It may be that continued economic weakness around the world forestalls another rise in the central bank rate, but such conditions are not then a cause for cheer.

Regardless of what occurs in the short-term, the long-term prognosis is for higher inflation around the world because of soaring sovereign debt levels around the world and thus higher lending rates. That means Canadians should act prudently, and be careful about excessive debt taken on in a low interest-rate environment. It cannot and will not last forever.

Investment Report Ranks Calgary #1 in Canadian Real Estate Markets

General Vivian Pritchard 8 Jun

CALGARY – Calgary is the best place in Canada to invest in the residential real estate market, according to a new report released today.

The Real Estate Investment Network’s report said that Calgary experienced one of its best economic and real estate periods in Canadian history a couple of years ago but then entered a strong, and needed correction.

“During the economic downturn, Calgary’s market is making a predictable correction resulting in slightly more affordable housing compared to recent years passed,” said the report. “It was economically impossible for the market to continue at the pace at which it was heading and now finds itself adjusting to market realities.

“This adjustment period, as the market searches for its new foundation from which to build, should continue in 2010 as the provincial economy is poised for another growth spurt.”

The REIN report said the in-migration pace in the city continuing to lead the country combined with the “renewed affordability” will help propel the local market over the coming years.

“We, fortunately, should not see the massive over-boom situation we previously witnessed as the market remains more in line with the fundamentals,” said the report.

Following Calgary as the top Canadian real estate investment cities are Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge, Edmonton, Surrey, Maple Ridge, Hamilton, St. Albert, Simcoe Shores (Barrie-Orillia), Red Deer, Winnipeg and Saskatoon.

“Successful real estate investing is all about identifying a town or neighbourhood that has a future, not a past,” said the report. “Sadly, many investors like to invest based on past performance; thus, they are constantly chasing the market. This is called speculating – not investing.”

MTONEGUZZI@THEHERALD.CANWEST.COM

What Your Credit Score Tells Lenders

General Vivian Pritchard 4 Jun

Credit Score Secrets

by Gail Vaz-Oxlade, for Yahoo! Canada Finance
Thursday, May 27, 2010

Ever wonder how that magical number – The Credit Score – is computed? 

Whether you’re obsessing over your FICO score or your Beacon score, you’re likely shopping for credit. The FICO score was developed by Fair Isaac & Co., which began credit scoring in the late 1950s. The point of the score is consolidate your credit profile into a single number. The Beacon score is a brand name used by Equifax, the largest credit-reporting agency in Canada. While Fair, Isaac & Co. and the credit bureaus do not reveal how these scores are computed, whether you get a loan or not is a numbers game: The more points you score on your credit app, the better you do. 

There’s a reason you have to fill out so much information when you’re applying for credit. Everything counts. Your age, your address, and even your telephone number all have a role to play in whether or not you’ll get credit.

Young ‘uns and old folk are at a disadvantage since under 21 and over 65 likely means you aren’t working; no points for you. If you’re married, you’ll get a point for being “stable.” And while you might think that being divorced would work against you (all that spousal and child support), most creditors don’t give a whit.

No dependents? Zero points. You’re probably still gallivanting like a teenager since you haven’t yet “settled down.” One to three dependents? Score one point. You’re a solid citizen. More than three dependents? Score zero. Have you no self control! And don’t you know you that with all those mouths to feed you could get in debt over your head?

Your home address counts too. Live in a trailer park or with your parents? Bad risk, score zero points. You could skip town with nary a look over your shoulder. Rent an apartment? Give yourself one point. Own a home with a big fat mortgage and you’ll score major points since someone has already done some checking and you qualified for a mortgage. Own your home free and clear? Even better. You’ve proven you can pay off a sizable debt and now you have a pile of equity that the card company would love to help you spend.

Previous Residence? Zero to five years (some applications only go to three years), score zero points since you move around too much. No land-line: zero points. How the Dickens are they gonna find you when you fall behind in payments. Since they can’t use your cell phone to actually locate you physically, it doesn’t count.
Less then one year at your present employer earns you no points. Again, it’s a stability and earning continuity thing. The longer you’re on the job, the more likely you are to be bored out of your mind but you’ll score more points. And, not to overstate the obvious, the more you make the better.

The more willing you are to make your lender rich, the higher your score will be. Since the FICO score was originally designed to measure customer profitability, if you pay off your balance in full every month, you’re going to score lower than the guy who only makes the minimum payment and pays huge amounts of interest.

Scores range from 300 to 900 and if you manage to hit 750 or above you’ll qualify for the best rates and terms. Score 620 or lower and you’ll pay premium interest if you even qualify; 620 is the absolute minimum credit score for insured mortgages.

Your credit score can change quickly. Payment history accounts for about 35% of your credit score and just one negative report can drop your pristine score into the doldrums. Since scores are updated monthly, your bad behaviour won’t go unpunished for long.

The type of credit you have counts for about 10% of your score. And your current level of indebtedness accounts for about 30% so going too close to your credit limit is another way to deflate your score. One rule of thumb is to keep your balances below the 65% mark. So if you have a limit of $1,000, you won’t ever carry a balance that’s more than $650.

Having too much credit available can also hurt your ability to borrow since the more credit you have, the more trouble you can get yourself into. If you’ve got a walletful of cards, canceling credit you’re not using can be a good thing – for both you and your credit score – over the long haul. Careful though. If the card you’re eliminating is one with a long, positive history, you’ll eliminate what could be a very good record of your repayment when you cancel the card. You’d be better off cutting up the card so you aren’t tempted to use it, while you establish a track record (six months or more) before you actually cancel the account.
Credit shopping can also cost you points. Since about 10% of your credit score relates to the number and frequency of new credit enquiries, applying willy nilly for new credit will end up costing you.  However, it’s only when a lender checks your score that this registers on your score. Checking your own credit report/score is considered a “soft” inquiry and does not go against your score.

http://ca.finance.yahoo.com/personal-finance/article/yfinance/1623/credit-score-secrets