What you should know before refinancing your mortgage

What you should know before refinancing your mortgage

Refinancing your mortgage can be a great way to lower your interest rate, consolidate and pay off debts, or even access existing equity in your property. However, there are potential risks and costs associated with the switch.

This article has been updated from a previous version.

Did you know that as a homeowner, you can pay off your current mortgage with a new one that has more favourable terms and conditions?

Refinancing is a great way to lower your interest rate, consolidate and pay off debts, or even tap into some of your home’s equity.

If your mortgage lender agrees, you can refinance up to 80% of the appraised value of your home, minus what you have left to pay on your mortgage. Say, for example, your home’s market value is worth $300,000 but you still owe $175,000 on your mortgage. If your lender agrees to refinance your home to the $65,000 limit, you'd owe a total of $240,000 on your mortgage.

If you’ve built up extra equity in your home, you can apply for a mortgage that’s bigger than the one you want to discharge and use the difference for home renovations, to make a big purchase, or maximize your investments.

Calculate your available equity and find out how much you may qualify to borrow before you decide whether to refinance your current mortgage.

What’s required when refinancing a mortgage?

In order to qualify for a refinanced mortgage loan, the potential lender will look at your monthly income, current level of debt, and credit report. You may need to provide proof of employment, proof you can pay for the down payment and closing costs, information about your other assets, information about your debts or financial obligations, and notices of assessments from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) for the past two years if you're self-employed. 

While lenders require high credit scores for the best interest rates and terms, homeowners with bad credit can refinance their mortgage, too. The lender may suggest adding a co-signer, only consider your application if you have a large down payment, or decide to approve it for a lower amount or at a higher interest rate. 

How much does it cost to refinance your mortgage?

Can you afford the additional debt load and new payments? Don’t forget to factor in fees before you decide if refinancing works for you. 

The major disadvantage to refinancing is the large penalty you may have to pay your lender if you break your mortgage term early. If you are switching lenders, you’ll need to pay a fee to discharge your mortgage from your current lender.  

Additional administrative fees may include:

  • Legal fees. When you refinance your mortgage, you’ll need to consult with a real estate lawyer. 
  • Mortgage registration fee. Whether you leave or stay with your current lender, you will have to pay a mortgage registration fee. 
  • Insurance. You may also have to pay a new mortgage loan insurance premium if your existing mortgage amount is modified.
  • Closing costs. These can include title search and title insurance fees.
  • Appraisal and inspection fees to get a sense of the new loan-to-value ratio.

The risks of refinancing your mortgage

Interest rates on loans secured with home equity can be much lower than other types of loans, such as a personal loan or a credit card. However, there are extra fees when you use your home as collateral for a loan. For example, if you switch from a fixed-rate mortgage to a variable-rate mortgage, you may deal with rising interest rates and higher monthly payments in the future. 

There is also the risk that the market value of your home could change over time and fall below your outstanding mortgage amount.

Additionally, if you want to switch lenders and your new lender is a bank, you may need to re-qualify for the stress test.

Finally, since one lump sum is deposited to your bank account as a new loan to replace the existing one, there is the risk of falling into a debt trap and falling behind on your monthly mortgage payments. 

Make sure to find a refinancing plan that fits your unique financial needs before you receive the renewal letter from your lender or mortgage broker. Comparing refinance rates with multiple lenders long before the end of your mortgage term can help you make your decision with confidence.

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About the author

Zandile Chiwanza

Zandile is a freelance personal finance journalist. She previously worked as a personal finance writer at LowestRates.ca and before that, the content editor for Real Estate Management Industry News. As a self-proclaimed budget warrior, Zandile dedicates most of her time to advocating for financial wellness.

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