Like many of you, I received a call last week, from my mortgage provider, asking whether I wanted to “lock in” a new 5 year fixed rate. The rate was a special offer and would only last for the week, so I would need to make a decision quickly, with little time to think about the consequences to my own mortgage strategy.
While it may appear that your financial institution is acting entirely in your best interests, this is only partially the case. While it is true that locking in or switching to a new fixed rate can help you control your costs, they are doing it to manage their own costs, not yours. It’s important to remember that each time a financial institution lends you money, it’s not their own money. Their strategy is to borrow the money from investors, depositors and other corporations in order to lend you the money. The five year fixed rate renewal they sign with you is backed up with a five year investment contract with someone else. Always.
When I started as a broker, the best piece of advice I got was from a former boss who said; “Before you sign up with someone, its always important to have an exit strategy, because things will change, often for the better, and you may need to get out of the agreement. Make sure you make it easy to do so. “
Having an exit strategy is just as important when signing a renewal or early renewal contract. The strategy is not so much about exiting the mortgage entirely, but ensuring you know and can use the existing features to your advantage. There are three specific features (termed ‘privileges’ and ‘penalties’ in the offer) that you should know and understand before signing that new contract;
A) Pre-Payment Privilege
For most of us, there is some time in our lives where a sum of money lands in our laps, perhaps a large bonus, severance, cash settlement or even a small inheritance. Knowing how much you can pay down, should you choose to, is vital. Depending on the lender, you may be limited to a 10 percent prepayment or as much as 20 percent. Some lenders specify the exact day you can make the prepayment, some merely say ‘anytime’.
B) Increased Payment Privilege
Again, at some time in our lives, most of us will leave one job for another that pays significantly more. In those situations we can certainly afford to increase our mortgage payments and should do. Do you know how much you can increase your payment and when? Again, it varies widely from lender to lender, for 10% on a specific day, yearly, to 20% anytime.
C) Early Payout Penalty
This is perhaps the most ignored potential cost in mortgage financing. As with the privileges, no two lenders calculate the penalty the same way. Its important to understand the differences. It can save you thousands.
Most people’s reaction, when we talk about penalties is ‘well I’m never going to pay out early, so it doesn’t matter. ‘ I don’t blame you for thinking that way, because that’s always my reaction too! But let’s walk through a “what if” and I’ll show you why its important to consider.
So… You have an existing mortgage in the amount of $480,000. Your lender’s representative calls you to say that because rates are going up, he’s calling all his clients to let them know that if you wish to early renew, they’re offering a fixed rate that’s actually a minuscule amount lower than you are paying now. Rates are going up and the offer is only guaranteed until the end of the week!
Because it’s actually well before the renewal date, there is a penalty, but they’ll add that on to the mortgage balance, no need to worry. After a couple of moments hesitation, you agree and you go in to sign at the branch. Overall, your experience with the lender has been very good.
Spool forward three years and your life is changing. You’ve become an expert in your field, people are noticing and suddenly, you are offered a dream job in another part of the country.
Its sad and exciting to have to sell up and move but you’re startled when you realize the payout penalty is $21,000. That’s a LOT of your hard earned equity to lose but you realize that you’ve already actually paid another $3700 in penalties when you renewed early. Now its $25,000! GULP!
I know you realize that this is a worst case scenario but it can potentially happen to any one of us. The key is not avoiding these costs, but by making informed choices, avoid paying any more than you have to. By being aware and making one simple change, your penalties in our previous scenario could be about $7500 – a savings of $17,500.
You can read more about how some lenders (not all ) calculate their penalties here.
As always, please feel free give me a call if you have any questions.
Oh, one more thing, if there is a voice in your ear whispering, ‘don’t worry, they’ll never charge the penalty’ or anything like that, don’t listen. Remember, the lender actually borrowed the money to lend to you and signed a contract….