The past five years have been a tough financial slog for most Canadian families, as they struggled to cope with the pandemic, followed by inflation which tripled from under 2% in mid2020 to over 6% by the end of 2022, and, finally, interest rate increases which saw the Bank Rate go from less than 1% in April of 2020 to over 5% in April of 2024.
While the relentless upward climb in both the rate of inflation and interest rates are finally showing signs of slowing, it’s nonetheless a fact that the cost of two truly nondiscretionary components of a family budget – food and shelter – are still much more expensive than they were five years ago, and nearly all Canadian families are feeling the pinch.
While there’s plenty of financial pain to go around, one group of Canadians that is especially likely to be dealing with bad financial news in the near future is those who are renewing a mortgage. Home buyers who purchased a home five years ago and took out a fiveyear mortgage (as the majority do) likely got that mortgage at an interest rate of around 4% – or even less. Those seeking to renew that mortgage this year are likely facing renewal at a rate of at least 6%. That’s about a 50% increase in the mortgage interest rate, which can be enough to make the difference between a mortgage payment that is affordable, and one that is not.
To see why that’s the case, it helps to understand how mortgage payments are calculated. All mortgage payments are determined by three figures. The first is the size of the mortgage – the “principal amount”, which is the cost of the property purchased minus any downpayment made. The second is the interest rate which is charged on that principal amount. And the third is the length of time over which the principal amount of the mortgage is to be repaid – known as the “amortization period”.
Under Canadian law, anyone purchasing a home must make a down payment, and the amount of that downpayment depends on the purchase price of the property, as follows:
$500,000 or less


$500,000 to $999,999

 5% of the first $500,000 of the purchase price, plus
 10% of the portion of the purchase price above $500,000

$1 million or more

 20% of the purchase price

Where any home purchaser makes a down payment of less than 20% of the purchase price of the property, they must obtain mortgage default insurance through the Canada Housing and Mortgage Corporation (CHMC) and must, as well, repay that mortgage within 25 years. In other words, the maximum amortization period on a mortgage principal amount which represents more than 80% of the purchase of the property is 25 years. (Finance Canada recently announced that a 30year amortization period would be allowed on some insured mortgages; however, that measure applies only as of August 1, 2024 and only to a relatively small group – firsttime home buyers purchasing a newlybuilt property.)
Where the home purchaser makes a down payment of more than 20% (which would likely be the case for those who are already homeowners and are purchasing as part of a move up the “property ladder”), the length of the amortization period – the time frame in which the mortgage must be repaid – is not subject to that 25year restriction. Rather, the length of that amortization period is something which is determined by agreement between the borrower and the financial institution which provides the mortgage financing.
The impact on monthly mortgage payments of a 2% change in a mortgage interest rate can be seen in the following example.
Assume that in 2019 a property owner sold their first home and, using the proceeds of that sale, is able to put down a $200,000 deposit on a home costing $650,000. The remainder of $450,000 of the purchase price is financed through a fiveyear mortgage at 4.0%, amortized over 25 years. The monthly mortgage payments are $2,367.
In 2024 that mortgage comes up for renewal, but the interest rate is now 6.0%, and the amortization period is now down to 20 years. Payments made over the previous five years have reduced the mortgage principal amount from $450,000 to $392,000, but the increased interest rate means that monthly payments will now be $2,800 – an increase of almost $450 per month, or $5,400 per year.
It's important to remember, as well, that mortgage payments are made out of aftertax income. In other words, in order to come up with the $5,400 per year needed to meet the increased mortgage payment obligations, a homeowner will either have to reallocate that $5,400 from the payment of other household expenditures, or will have to generate additional pretax income of almost $8,000 annually, which is $5,600 in aftertax income, assuming a marginal tax rate of 30%. Neither is a realistic scenario for most Canadian households right now.
Homeowners facing a mortgage renewal which will result in monthly mortgage payment obligations which cannot be met out of current household resources are between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Realistically, the only component of a mortgage over which a homeowner who is renewing that mortgage has any element of choice is the amortization period. The principal amount of the mortgage is the amount which was originally borrowed, less any principal repayments made, and can only be reduced by making additional payments. The interest rates in effect at the time of renewal are set by the lender and, while subject to negotiation, are not likely to be significantly less than the lender’s posted rates. Where a homeowner is facing an increase in monthly mortgage payments which simply aren’t manageable, the options are limited. The first is a sale of the home and the purchase of a smaller, less expensive property, but that’s rarely a situation which any homeowner wants to be forced into. The second option (with the agreement of the lender) is to extend the amortization period of the mortgage, in order to reduce monthly mortgage payments.
Extending the amortization period of a mortgage can have a dramatic effect on the amount of monthly mortgage payments, but it’s a choice that also comes with a cost, in the form of increased total interest payments over the life of the mortgage.
Continuing with the above example, assume that the homeowner who is renewing the mortgage at 6.0% for a fiveyear term chooses to extend the amortization period on that mortgage from the current 20 years to 30 years. (Although there is no legal limit on an amortization period for an uninsured mortgage, most major Canadian lending institutions do not provide amortizations of more than 30 years.)
The change in the amortization period from 20 years to 30 years will result in a monthly mortgage payment of $2,332 on a principal amount of $392,000 at 6% interest, meaning that the new mortgage payment amount will be slightly less than it was over the previous five years since the home was purchased, making it a manageable amount for the homeowner.
The cost of making this choice lies in the amount of interest which is paid on the mortgage over that amortization period, and that cost can be very substantial. If the homeowner had renewed their mortgage based on a 20year amortization and a monthly mortgage payment of $2,800, the amount of interest which would be paid over that 20year period would be $278,000. If the amortization period is changed to 30 years, reducing the monthly mortgage payment to $2,332, the amount of interest that would be paid over that 30year period will be $447,000. Choosing to extend an amortization is a very consequential financial decision.
As is almost always the case in financial planning, there isn’t a “right” answer – the right course of action depends almost entirely on the individual circumstances involved. For homeowners who are faced with a choice between extending an amortization period or being forced into either defaulting on the mortgage or selling the house, the decision to extend an amortization period may well be justified in the circumstances. However, where the choice made is to extend an amortization period, it’s important to treat that decision as a shortterm measure taken solely to gain some temporary financial relief. A homeowner who extends the amortization period on a mortgage for the upcoming mortgage term can (and should, if at all possible) plan to reduce that mortgage amortization period at the next mortgage renewal date. As well, if and when household finances improve over the next five years, any available funds should be used to make additional payments on the mortgage or, where such additional payments aren’t allowed, to set such funds aside to make a lumpsum payment at the time of the next renewal. Both measures will work to reduce the amount of interest which must be paid over the life of the mortgage.
Being unable to afford one’s mortgage payments and facing the prospect of going into default on the mortgage is a situation that most homeowners would do almost anything to avoid. Those are undeniably stressful circumstances, but in most cases solutions are possible. The federal government, through the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, provides an extremely useful webpage (at https://www.canada.ca/en/financialconsumeragency/services/mortgages.html) which contains a wealth of information on mortgages and mortgage financing. That webpage includes a Mortgage Calculator (found at https://itoolsioutils.fcacacfc.gc.ca/MCCH/MCCHeng.aspx) which can be used to calculate the effect that different interest rates and amortization periods will have on both the amount of monthly mortgage payments and total interest costs which will be paid over the life of the mortgage. Taking the time to do so will enable a homeowner facing a mortgage renewal to make the most informed choice in their particular circumstances.