Sept 18: Best from the blogosphereSeptember 18, 2017
In early September the Bank of Canada raised its key interest rate by another .25% up to one percent from .75%. This decision followed the first hike in July and could be just the second in a string of increases, some economists have predicted in light of the announcement.
In this issue of Best from the Blogosphere, we sample several interesting media articles and blogs that will help you understand how rising interest rates will impact your both ability to manage debt and carry a mortgage.
Robert McLister, mortgage columnist at the Globe and Mail offers 10 things to ponder now that the Bank of Canada has put every mortgage lender on alert. He says adjustable-rate borrowers (whose mortgage payments float with prime rate) will see their payments jump about $12 a month for every $100,000 of mortgage balance.
He also notes that variable rates can still make sense for strong borrowers with a financial cushion or those who might need to break their mortgage early (since variable-rate penalties are usually lower).
But to justify the risk of a variable mortgage, McLister suggests that you look for a rate that’s at least two-thirds of a percentage point less than your best five-year fixed option. That buys you insurance against three more rate hikes.
Kerry K. Taylor aka Squawkfox discusses 6 ways an interest rate hike affects your finances. For example, variable-rate mortgages, or adjustable-rate mortgages, will see an increase as financial institutions increase their lending rates. Home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) and lines of credit will cost more. Student loan interest rates can be either fixed or variable (floating). As with mortgages, Taylor says those repaying a variable-rate student loan will see their interest rate go up immediately, while those on fixed rates won’t see a jump until it is time for renewal.
In MoneySense, Martin MacMahon and Denise Wong consider What the latest rate hike means for you. Economist Bryan Yu with Central 1 Credit Union told the authors that people carrying a lot of debt on their credit card will probably start to notice higher interest charges. “They’re going to be facing the quarter-point increase on terms of that debt for their servicing… That’s a quarter point on an annual basis. So, it is going to be a bit of a pinch going forward, ” he says. “In these circumstances people should be looking at paring back some of that debt over time.”
The Globe and Mail’s David Berman explores why even though interest rates are rising, your savings account isn’t growing. Many financial institutions have already passed along this week’s central bank quarter-percentage-point hike to borrowers, raising their prime lending rates to 3.2% on Thursday – but you may need a powerful microscope to see any increase in your savings rates. “Why? The simple reason is because lenders can get away with it,” Berman says.
James Laird, co-founder of Ratehub.ca and president of CanWise Financial mortgage brokerage believes at some point, as rates in Canada continue to rise, there will be an adjustment to all deposit and savings products. “But it just seems to be that [financial institutions] just don’t look at it as closely as they do on their lending side,” he concludes.
The bank’s decision to raise its key lending rate to one per cent on September 6th, from 0.75 per cent, apparently surprised the markets, which sent the loonie soaring. The Canadian dollar, which had been trading around 80.5 cents U.S. in the morning, spiked by more than a cent to around the 82-cent mark immediately after the Bank of Canada’s announcement. It’s the highest level the currency has seen since June 2015.
So If you have invested in U.S. stocks or have American dollars socked away in a bank account for your next vacation south of the border, the spike in the value of the loonie as a result of the interest hike is bad news. But the soaring loonie as a result of the Bank of Canada’s interest rate announcement is great news if you are planning a U.S. vacation that is priced in American dollars. However, a higher loonie could also slow Canada’s economic momentum, as it will make exports more expensive.
Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.
|Written by Sheryl Smolkin|
|Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.|
How seniors can unlock home equityMay 19, 2016
By Sheryl Smolkin
Results of Manulife Bank of Canada’s Debt Survey revealed that nearly one in five homeowners expect to access home equity to supplement their retirement income with 10% of respondents planning to downsize and use the excess equity to provide retirement income.
That got me thinking about what options are available to retirees who want to unlock the value of their home to live on when they stop working.
- Sell high, buy low
Of course, the most obvious alternative is to sell your home in a metropolitan area where real estate prices are high and retire to a smaller, less expensive community. For example, it will cost you a lot more to purchase or rent a house in Saskatoon or Regina than if you retire to Rosetown or Wadena.
If you own a large suburban property with the traditional three or four bedrooms and multiple bathrooms, you may want to downsize and simplify. Again, the amount of equity you can unlock will depend on where you are currently living, where you want to move and how much smaller you are prepared to go.
- Rent instead
Even if you have always owned your own home, you may be ready to let someone else worry about escalating taxes, furnace repairs, mowing the lawn and shoveling snow. Investing the proceeds of sale of your home and renting an apartment or a house can give you freedom from those responsibilities, particularly if you want to be able to just lock the door and take off on short notice for parts unknown.The downside is that you get what you pay for. Quality rental stock is in short supply in many areas and the nicer the apartment or house, the higher the rent. Furthermore, rents will increase over time and you may have to move again when your lease is up. You also will not be able to do structural renovations or decorate a rented property in the same way as your own home.
- Become a landlord
Can your single family home be converted into a multi-unit dwelling? If you live in a desirable area and you do a tasteful renovation, the rental income will quickly pay for itself and leave you with a stream of income to supplement your retirement savings.The HGTV show Income Property typically focuses on young couples trying to get into their first home, but there is no reason why a similar strategy cannot work equally-well for seniors who want to age in place. An extra bonus is that if you need live-in care later in life, the apartment can be reclaimed for the use of a caregiver.
- Home equity line of credit
A home equity line of credit, or HELOC, is a revolving line of credit secured by your home at a much lower interest rate than a traditional line of credit. The operation of a HELOC is discussed on ratehub.ca. In Canada, your HELOC cannot exceed 65% of your home’s value. However, it’s also important to remember that your outstanding mortgage loan balance + your HELOC cannot equal more than 80% of the value of your home.You must pay at least the interest owing every month and you can also make extra payments of principle at your discretion. We have a HELOC which came in very handy several times when family members bought and sold property and needed funds to finance a purchase before the sale of their previous homes had closed.
- Reverse mortgage
A reverse mortgage is a home loan that provides cash payments based on home equity. Homeowners normally defer payment of the loan until they die, sell, or move out of the home. CHIP is the only Canadian financial institution that currently offers reverse mortgages. The Pros and Cons of a Reverse Mortgage are discussed in detail in an excellent guest blog by Tricia French on Retire Happy. Reverse mortgages allow clients over 55 to access up to 50% of their home’s value. Payments from a reverse mortgage are tax-free income, so your income-tested benefits such as OAS and GIS will not be affected.You can repay the loan at any time and the amount you owe can never exceed the value of your property. You and your beneficiaries also will not be responsible for any shortfall if interest rates increase and housing values drop.Nevertheless, interest will quickly grow on the amount you have borrowed and start up fees can be thousands of dollars. A reverse mortgage can quickly erode the money you have available when you eventually sell and therefore the size of the estate you can eventually leave to your children.
- Sell ‘n Stay
I recently learned about a new concept called Sell ‘n Stay where seniors can sell their home to an investor and lease it back for 10 years or even for life. Unlike a reverse mortgage, the homeowner can access 100% of the equity in their home. The concept, developed by Real Estate Agent Saskia Wyngaard, is currently only available in Ontario.Market value of the house is determined by comparing sales of similar homes that have sold recently in the same neighborhood. The house is offered for sale through an exclusive listing without open houses or staging. Exposure is limited to buyers who are interested in purchasing an investment property with an in-place A+ tenant.The new owner pays for taxes, insurance and repairs. The previous owner pays market rent of about 5% of the value of the house, renter’s insurance and utilities. Since 2013 Wyngaard has been involved in 15 such arrangements with lease backs of 10 years.
Whatever method you choose to unlock equity in your home to supplement your retirement, the optimum situation is to pay off your mortgage before you retire. This will give you the most flexibility to plan for life after work without the burden of paying off debt.
To Rent or to Buy: That is the QuestionOctober 29, 2015
By Sheryl Smolkin
The Canadian dream for many is to find a partner, get married, buy a house and have kids –- not necessarily in that order. With the average house price in June 2015 climbing to $639,000 in Toronto and $922,000 in Vancouver, many young people have been shut out of the housing market.
However, Saskatchewan residents are more fortunate, with the average provincial house price sitting at $303,000 province-wide and $316,000 in Regina. But if you or a family member are thinking about leaving the world of rentals behind and buying your first home, it’s still important to factor in all of the costs you will incur, and the impact possible interest rate increases will have on your monthly payments.
Here are 5 questions you should answer before you decide to leap into the housing market:
- How big is your down payment? While it is possible to buy a home with as little as 5% down, if your deposit is less than 20% of the purchase price your mortgage must be insured by a third party such as the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), Genworth Financial Canada or Canada Guaranty. The insurance premium will range from 0.5% and 2.75% of your total mortgage amount and add significantly to the cost of your home over time.
- How much house can you afford? Mortgage experts suggest no more than 32% of household income be spent on housing costs. The Mortgage Payment Calculator on ratehub.ca will allow you to model how much your monthly payments will be depending on the amount of your deposit, the term of the mortgage, interest rate and any mortgage insurance. So if you buy a house for $350,000 with 5% down, a 5-year mortgage amortized over 25 years at a fixed rate of 2.69%, your payments will be $1,576/month. In addition, you must factor in municipal taxes, utilities and annual maintenance costs. In contrast, over the past year, rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Regina ranged from $884 to $1,395.
- Is your job secure? Taking on a mortgage is a long-term commitment. If you are basing your ability to pay for your home on your current family income, consider whether or not you and your spouse have secure jobs. Could you afford to continue paying monthly house expenses if one of you lost your job? How long would it likely take get a new job if one of you were downsized?
- What are your family plans? If the next major milestone after buying a house is to start a family, that means that at least one parent may be out of the workforce for up to a year after the birth of each child. Are one or both of you eligible for EI maternity and parental leave benefits? Do either of your employers top up EI benefits to all or part of your full salary for some period of time? If not, how will you make up the difference? When both of you go back to work, will you be able to afford daycare costs on top of your mortgage payments?
- What if interest rates go up? Mortgage rates are at historic lows. According to ratehub.ca if you have a down payment of 20% your mortgage rate (calculated on August 17/15) you may pay as high as 2.69% for a 5-year fixed rate in Regina or as low as 1.85% for a variable rate in the same city. What if interest rates doubled or tripled? Could you still afford your mortgage payments plus all of your other family commitments?
The advantages of renting are that your costs are fixed for the term of the lease; you are not responsible for the cost of major repairs; and, if you want to leave the neighbourhood or move to another city you have much more flexibility.
While you are not purchasing an asset that will increase in value that you can cash in when you are ready to retire, if you save and invest the difference between your annual rent and the costs of running your home, you will have a nice little nest egg by age 65.But few people have the discipline to do so. And most rental properties cannot be customized or decorated to your own personal taste.
So all things considered, the decision to rent or buy may be as much an emotional decision as an economic one. Each individual or family will make a unique decision based on their stage of life, their finances and their personal priorities.
Cheap mortgage rates don’t justify home ownership
Blonde on a budget embarks on a shopping banOctober 9, 2014
By Sheryl Smolkin
Today we are continuing with the 2014 savewithspp.com series of podcast interviews with personal finance bloggers. I’m talking to Cait Flanders, who blogs at Blondeonabudget.ca.
In 2011, Cait had $28,000 worth of debt. To stay accountable throughout her debt repayment journey, she decided to start this blog. She paid off the last dollar just under two years later and today she’s going to tell us how she did it.
Cait lives in the Vancouver area, works full time from home as the managing editor of Ratehub.ca and is a contributor to Gale Vaz-Oxlade’s blog, The Globe & Mail, The Huffington Post Canada and Tangerine Bank’s blog.
Hi Cait, and thanks for joining me today.
Oh, thank you so much for having me.
Q: Cait, before you started this blog you had $28,000 in debt. How did that happen? Was it as a result of accumulated student loans?
A: No, I actually never had a lot of student loan debt. To be perfectly honest a lot of it was consumer debt. For years and years I was just swiping my credit card for anything that I wanted to do or see.
Q: You paid off your debt in just under two years, how did you manage that?
A: I literally had $100 in my bank account and it had to last me for six weeks. So I moved home for six months and from that moment forward just lived what I jokingly called “a very boring life,” saying “no” to everything. The only fun thing I let myself do was go for coffee with a friend which was $4 or $5 instead of $50.
Q: So, you wrote about your journey to solvency on your blog and you still post your monthly budget and goals. How have your family and friends reacted to this high level of disclosure about your financial affairs?
A: That’s actually a really good question. I grew up in a house where my family talked about money very openly, probably every day, so I think my parents love it in the sense that, it’s cool to see that I’m continuing that now and just taking those conversations online.
No one has ever said anything about me posting the numbers but I’ve recently made the decision that I’m going to stop posting them because I’m finally starting to realize that it could actually be pretty dangerous. It could lead to issues like identity fraud or theft. So I’m going to do budgeting a little bit differently going forward.
Q: Since you’ve paid off this significant debt, how has your life changed?
A: I’d say the biggest change is I’m no longer stressed all the time. Not having debt gives me much more freedom. I probably let my lifestyle get inflated a little bit since then because when I was paying off my debt I was sometimes putting up to 50-55% of my monthly income toward debt repayment. That’s not a sustainable budget. After two years of realizing that I don’t need all kinds of fancy things or outings to make me happy, life changes.
Q: In addition to blogs about reducing your personal debt, what other subjects do you write about?
A: On my own blog I’ve written about everything from moving, living in other cities, some travels, and sobriety. I write for the education section of the Globe and Mail about every eight weeks and more recently I’ve been talking about minimalism on my blog.
Q: How many hits do you get on your blog each month?
A: Right now I’m probably averaging between 80,000 and 110,000 page views a month.
Q: Wow. That’s incredible.
A: Yeah. It’s crazy. Fifty per cent of that is usually from Canada and maybe 35 per cent is from the U.S. The rest is divided between the UK, Australia and I even have readers in South East Asia which I think is really cool.
Q: So what have you done to promote your blog? Why do you think your readership is so high?
A: Personally, nothing that I can think of. I love talking to people on Twitter. I reply to every single comment that goes up on my site. There has also been press along the way like stories that The Globe or The Toronto Star have picked up. That obviously brings in more people. But no, I haven’t personally done anything.
Q: How long have you been writing the blog?
A: Technically, in October, it would be 4 years.
Q: What have some of the spin offs been?
A: Everything has changed in my career. When I first started the blog, I found a New York personal finance site for women looking for an editorial intern, I asked if someone from Canada could apply and they said that they’d love to have me. That taught me everything I needed to know about being an editor of a website.
Then my current boss Alyssa, at Ratehub.ca who is a blonde on a budget reader offered me a job in Toronto with the company. There have also been other freelance jobs and my relationship with Gale Vaz-Oxlade. She’s just the most incredible mentor and I write for her site. But her friendship, has been one of the greatest and most unbelievable spin offs from my blog and other writing.
Q: Do you actually have to go to an office for Ratehub.ca or do you work from home?
A: Originally I moved to Toronto for 8 or 9 months, just to really get to know the team and build up my position in the company. Then I moved back to Vancouver where I work from home.
Q: In early July you announced you’re embarking on a one-year shopping ban. Why?
A: There are a few reasons. One day I had this epiphany. Even though I’ve always felt like I was a minimalist, I had this moment where I was trying to open my can opener drawer and I couldn’t find anything in there. I just had this freak out that I actually have way more stuff than I probably need.
Then I started thinking that I wasn’t getting anywhere with my current savings and financial goals I realized that that was because I was spending a lot of money on things that probably didn’t really matter. Although I’ve been really good with my money for the last few years I do think that there is always room for improvement.
I think the ban is going to be difficult at times but I just want to challenge myself and learn and grow from that exercise.
Q: So tell me what the rules are of the shopping ban. Obviously you have to pay your rent and buy food and go out occasionally.
A: I have to pay the bills and get groceries. I’m keeping my car so I have to get gas and pay insurance, and I’m giving myself a small recreation budget. It’s no clothes, no shoes, no electronics – things that not all girls buy but some do. I was always bad for picking up nail polish. I don’t need any more decor items in my home. It’s just that kind of stuff.
Q: So, if the one year ban is successful, what comes next? Are you thinking about a book or is there a major purchase you’re saving up for?
A: I think a book is something that all writers want to accomplish in their career but that has absolutely nothing to do with the ban. I haven’t really announced this but when it’s over my goal is that I’ll have money saved so I can take an extended trip to the UK.
Q: If you had one piece of advice for someone who is deeply in debt and wants to turn things around, what would it be?
A: I don’t think everyone needs to put 55% of their income toward debt repayment like I did, but I think just facing up to the numbers is key and then making a plan so debt repayment is a priority.
Q: Thank you very much for talking with me today, Cait.
A: Oh, thank you so much for having me.
This is an edited transcript you can listen to by clicking on the link above. You can find the blog Blonde on a Budget here
Apr 7: Best from the blogosphereApril 7, 2014
By Sheryl Smolkin
Do you have a spring or summer wedding coming up? Squawkfox aka Kerry K. Taylor discovered H+M now has a Grecian style wedding gown on sale for USD$99. This happily married lady says if she were looking today she would say yes to this dress! The 38 comments (the last time I checked) are even more interesting with lots of great ideas on how to save money on a beautiful dress you may only wear once.
Whether or not to tip the people who provide you with services and how much is a perennial dilemma. On When Life Gives You Lemons Add Vodka, Sarah Greesonbach discusses how much it costs to get a massage and why your tips may be an important part of your massage therapist’s compenstation. Money saving idea: If you need a massage for therapeutic reasons, make sure you see a registered massage therapist in case you can claim all or part of the cost on your employee benefit plan.
In a recent Globe & Mail column Preet Banerjee had some great information on discounts for seniors and you don’t always have to be over 65! For example, by signing up for a membership with the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP), you can get an annual gym membership to GoodLife for $400 per year (plus tax) as long as you are 45 years or older. The cheapest CARP membership is $14.95 per year.
Tim Stobbs writes an interesting blog on Canadian Dream: Free at 45 about adjusting to having a higher self-worth as your savings grow. He says the first most obvious change is that you gain the ability to self-insure for more minor events. For example, you don’t have buy the extended warranty on your appliances because if something stops working you can just buy a new one. Later on when you have even more saved, you can raise your home insurance deductible since you can comfortably handle greater risks.
There has been considerable press recently about the number of illegal, unpaid interns in both Canada and the U.S. However Cait, a Blonde on a Budget says that an unpaid internship, writing her own blog and writing posts for other blogs she is really passionate about have led to her current full-time job with RateHub.ca.
“My boss saw that I could manage numerous projects with multiple deadlines, I obviously want to learn new things, and she loved that she never found any spelling mistakes in my posts.” Of course, Cait had been trying to build up her writing portfolio, but until that job offer came along she wasn’t conscious of the fact that her blog was a portfolio in itself.
Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere. Share the information with us on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.