What is a Mortgage?

By: Cynthia Legault


When a person purchases a property in Canada they will most often take out a mortgage. This means that a purchaser will borrow money, a mortgage loan, and use the property as collateral. The purchaser will contact a Mortgage Broker or Agent who is employed by a Mortgage Brokerage. A Mortgage Broker or Agent will find a lender willing to lend the mortgage loan to the purchaser.

The lender of the mortgage loan is often an institution such as a bank, credit union, trust company, caisse populaire, finance company, insurance company or pension fund. Private individuals occasionally lend money to borrowers for mortgages. The lender of a mortgage will receive monthly interest payments and will keep a lien on the property as security that the loan will be repaid. The borrower will receive the mortgage loan and use the money to purchase the property and receive ownership rights to the property. When the mortgage is paid in full, the lien is removed. If the borrower fails to repay the mortgage the lender may take possession of the property.

Mortgage payments are blended to include the amount borrowed (the principal) and the charge for borrowing the money (the interest). How much interest a borrower pays depends on three things: how much is being borrowed; the interest rate on the mortgage; and the amortization period or the length of time the borrower takes to pay back the mortgage.

The length of an amortization period depends on how much the borrower can afford to pay each month. The borrower will pay less in interest if the amortization rate is shorter. A typical amortization period lasts 25 years and can be changed when the mortgage is renewed. Most borrowers choose to renew their mortgage every five years.

Mortgages are repaid on a regular schedule and are usually “level”, or identical, with each payment. Most borrowers choose to make monthly payments, however some choose to make weekly or bimonthly payments. Sometimes mortgage payments include property taxes which are forwarded to the municipality on the borrower’s behalf by the company collecting payments. This can be arranged during initial mortgage negotiations.

In conventional mortgage situations, the down payment on a home is at least 20% of the purchase price, with the mortgage not exceeding 80% of the home’s appraised value.

A high-ratio mortgage is when the borrower’s down-payment on a home is less than 20%.

Canadian law requires lenders to purchase mortgage loan insurance from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). This is to protect the lender if the borrower defaults on the mortgage. The cost of this insurance is usually passed on to the borrower and can be paid in a single lump sum when the home is purchased or added to the mortgage’s principal amount. Mortgage loan insurance is not the same as mortgage life insurance which pays off a mortgage in full if the borrower or the borrower’s spouse dies.

First-time home buyers will often seek a mortgage pre-approval from a potential lender for a pre-determined mortgage amount. Pre-approval assures the lender that the borrower can pay back the mortgage without defaulting. To receive pre-approval the lender will perform a credit-check on the borrower; request a list of the borrower’s assets and liabilities; and request personal information such as current employment, salary, marital status, and number of dependents. A pre-approval agreement may lock-in a specific interest rate throughout the mortgage pre-approval’s 60-to-90 day term.

There are some other ways for a borrower to obtain a mortgage. Sometimes a home-buyer chooses to take over the seller’s mortgage which is called “assuming an existing mortgage”. By assuming an existing mortgage a borrower benefits by saving money on lawyer and appraisal fees, will not have to arrange new financing and may obtain an interest rate much lower than the interest rates available in the current market. Another option is for the home-seller to lend money or provide some of the mortgage financing to the buyer to purchase the home. This is called a Vendor Take- Back mortgage. A Vendor Take-Back Mortgage is sometimes offered at less than bank rates.

After a borrower has obtained a mortgage they have the option of taking on a second mortgage if more money is needed. A second mortgage is usually from a different lender and is often perceived by the lender to be higher risk. Because of this, a second mortgage usually has a shorter amortization period and a much higher interest rate.

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Cynthia Legault works as an Executive Assistant at Canadian Association of Accredited Mortgage Professionals (CAAMP). CAAMP is Canada's national mortgage industry association and the leading provider of value, service and advocacy for mortgage professionals. Feel free to visit their website at caamp.org/ to learn more about mortgages.

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