FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQ)

Here are some of the frequently asked questions on mortgages and their answers by our mortgage specialists in Alberta.

How much can I afford to pay for a home ?

To determine 'affordability' you will first need to know your taxable income along with the amount of any debt outstanding and the monthly payments. Assuming it is your principal residence you are purchasing, calculate 32% of your income for use toward a mortgage payment, property taxes and heating costs. If applicable, half of the estimated monthly condominium maintenance fees will also be included in this calculation.

Second, calculate 40% of your taxable income and deduct all of your monthly debt payments, including car loans, credit cards, lines of credit payments. The lesser of the first or second calculation will be used to help determine how much of your income may be used towards housing related payments, including your mortgage payment. These calculations are based on lenders' usual guidelines.

In addition to considering what the ratios say you can afford, make sure you calculate how much you think you can afford. If the payment amount you are comfortable with is less than 32% of your income you may want to settle for the lower amount rather than stretch yourself financially. Make sure you don't leave yourself house poor. Structure your payments so that you can still afford simple luxuries.

What is a home inspection and should I have one done ?

A home inspection is a visual examination of the property to determine the overall condition of the home. In the process, the inspector should be checking all major components (roofs, ceilings, walls, floors, foundations, crawl spaces, attics, retaining walls, etc.) and systems (electrical, heating, plumbing, drainage, exterior weather proofing, etc.). The results of the inspection should be provided to the purchaser in written form, in detail, generally within 24 hours of the inspection. 

A pre-purchase home inspection can add peace of mind and make a difficult decision much easier. It may indicate that the home needs major structural repairs which can be factored into your buying decision. A home inspection helps remove a number of unknowns and increases the likelihood of a successful purchase.

What is the minimum downpayment needed ?

A minimum down payment of 5% is required to purchase a home, subject to certain maximum price restrictions. In addition to the down payment, you must also be able to show that you can cover the applicable closing costs (i.e. legal fees and disbursements, appraisal fees and a survey certificate, where applicable). 

Regardless of the amount of your down payment, at least 5% of it must be from your own cash resources or a gift from a family member. It cannot be borrowed. 

Lenders will generally accept a gift from a family member as an acceptable down payment provided a letter stating it is a true gift, not a loan, is signed by the donor. Where the mortgage loan insurance is provided by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), the gift money must be in the your possession before the application is sent in to CMHC for approval. 

Mortgages with less than 20% down must have mortgage loan insurance provided by either CMHC or GE.

What is mortgage loan insurance ?

Mortgage loan insurance is insurance provided by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), a crown corporation, and GE Capital Mortgage Insurance Company, an approved private corporation. This insurance is required by law to insure lenders against default on mortgages with a loan to value ratio greater than 80%. The insurance premiums, ranging from .50% to 4.25%, are paid by the borrower and can be added directly onto the mortgage amount. This is not the same as mortgage life insurance.

What is a conventional mortgage ?

A conventional mortgage is usually one where the down payment is equal to 80% or more of the purchase price, a loan to value of or less than 80%, and does not normally require mortgage loan insurance.

How will child support affect my mortgage qualification ?

Where child support and alimony are paid by you to another person, generally the amount paid out is deducted from your total income before determining the size of mortgage you will qualify for. 

Where child support and alimony are received by you from another person, generally the amount paid may be added to your total income before determining the size of mortgage you will qualify for, provided proof of regular receipt is available for a period of time determined by the lender.

Can I use gifted funds as a downpayment ?

Most lenders will accept down payment funds that are a gift from family as an acceptable down payment. A gift letter signed by the donor is usually required to confirm that the funds are a true gift and not a loan. where the mortgage requires mortgage loan insurance, Canada mortgage and housing corporation requires the gift money to be in the purchaser's possession before the application is sent in to them for approval. where mortgage loan insurance is provided by GE Capital this is not a requirement. See 'what is mortgage loan insurance?' for further information.

How can you pay off a mortgage sooner ?

There are ways to reduce the number of years to pay down your mortgage. You'll enjoy significant savings by: 

  • Selecting a non-monthly or accelerated payment schedule 
  • Increasing your payment frequency schedule 
  • Making principal prepayments 
  • Making Double-Up Payments 
  • Selecting a shorter amortization at renewal

How can your RRSP help buy your first home ?

Today, about 50% of first-time home buyers use their RRSP savings to help finance a down payment. If you are a first-time home buyer, the Home Buyers Plan (HBP) allows you to withdraw money from your Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) tax-free to make your down payment. The HBP is administered by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).
There are certain conditions you must meet to be eligible for the HBP. For more information, contact CRA at www.cra.gc.ca.

How much can you withdraw?
  • You can withdraw up to $25,000 from your RRSP
  • If you buy the home together with your spouse, partner, or someone else, each of you can withdraw up to $25,000, for a total of up to $50,000.
  • The withdrawal from your RRSP does not need to be included in your income on your annual income tax return, and no tax is taken off the money you withdraw.
    What is the payback period?
  • You don't have to start paying back the money to your RRSP until two years after the purchase of the home.
  • You must pay back all withdrawals from your RRSP within 15 years by making RRSP deposits each year, starting the second year following your withdrawal. CRA will determine what your minimum yearly repayment will be and will notify you once you need to start repaying the amount.
  • If you do not repay the amount due in a given year, it is included in your taxable income for that year and you'll have to pay income tax on this amount.

Source: Financial Consumer Agency of Canada

What is a fixed rate mortgage ?

The interest rate on a fixed-rate mortgage is set for a pre-determined term - usually between 6 months to 25 years. This offers the security of knowing what you will be paying for the term selected.

What is a variable rate mortgage ?

A mortgage in which payments are fixed for a period of one to two years although interest rates may fluctuate from month to month depending on market conditions. If interest rates go down, more of the payment goes towards reducing the principal; if rates go up, a larger portion of the monthly payment goes towards covering the interest. Open variable rate mortgages allow prepayment of any amount (with certain minimums) on any payment date.