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Rate hike could leave mortgage holders stretched, survey finds

Many mortgage holders in Canada have very little financial cushion and could be in trouble if rates rose or they lost a job, according to a new survey.

Losing a job would see most homeowners in trouble inside of 3 months

Will Dunning of the Canadian Association of Accredited Mortgage Professionals debates whether many homeowners are overstretched 7:24

Many mortgage holders in Canada have very little financial cushion and could be in trouble if rates rose or they lost a job, according to a new survey.

About 15 per cent of respondents to a survey done for Manulife Bank of Canada said they would have difficulty making payments if their mortgage payments went up. That means they might face tightened circumstances if rates have risen by the next time they renegotiate their mortgage, a likely circumstance as most analysts believe interest rates will rise this year.

Nearly half said they couldn't manage a 10 per cent increase in their mortgage payment.

"Having your payments go up 10 per cent sounds like a lot, but if you have a $200,000 mortgage and interest rates go up one per cent, that's a 10 per cent increase in your mortgage payments," said Manulife Bank CEO Rick Lunny said. "So there's not much room here for those people."

It is likely the Fed will raise rates by one quarter of a point only this fall and the Bank of Canada may not follow immediately, but mortgage rates also could be affected by movements in the bond markets.

Faced with loss of employment by the major breadwinner, most respondents to the survey said they had a very limited financial cushion.

About 16 per cent said they'd be in trouble within a month and a total of 43 per cent said they'd have difficulty within three months if someone in the household lost a job.

The online survey was done for Manulife by Research House between Feb. 10 and 27. The survey polled 2,372 Canadians in every province, all of them homeowners between the ages of 20 and 59 with a minimum household income of $50,000.

The rate of mortgage default in Canada is very low, but as housing costs rise, many observers have warned about the amount of debt Canadians have taken on. 

Manulife found the average amount these homeowners had outstanding on a mortgage was $190,000.

Albertans were carrying the heaviest debt load — an average of $242,400 on the mortgage. That's followed by $217,600 in British Columbia, $197,100 in Manitoba and Saskatchewan and $193,000 in Ontario.

But 78 per cent of respondents to a survey said paying down debt was a priority for their household and 40 per cent had either increased the amount they pay towards the mortgage or made a lump sum payment within the past year.

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