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More Canadians locking in low-rate mortgages, reducing debt

Highlights of CAAMP report:
- 23% of mortgage borrowers voluntarily increased their regular payments
- 19% made lump sum payments
- 10% made both lump sum payments and increased their regular payments
- 50% of borrowers pay at least $100 per month above their required payments
- 74% of borrowers who renewed in the last year saw their rate decrease by an average of one-half percentage point
- 83% of Canadians have at least 25% equity in their home

Canadians have been taking advantage of record-low interest rates to lock in their mortgages, a new survey suggests.
The Canadian Association of Accredited Mortgage Professionals, in its annual spring release, says among the 3.8 million Canadians with a fixed rate mortgage, 14% chose to lock in during the past year.
“This data supports comments by lenders that they have high numbers of new borrowers who start with variable rate mortgages but soon opt for the security of fixed rates,” says CAAMP in the report. Overall, 29% of those with mortgages have a variable rate leaving them with exposure to any changes in the Bank of Canada’s lending rate which the prime rate — used in those loans — tends to track.
The survey also found Canadians are making significant efforts to reduce their debt with 23% of respondents saying they voluntarily increased their regular payments, 19% making lump sum payments and 10% doing both.
For those who increased their regular payments, the average amount of the increase was $400-$450 per month. With about 5.85 million mortgage holders in Canada and roughly 1.35 million increasing their payments, it translates into about $7-billion per year. Lump sum payments averaged $12,500, and with about 1.1 million people making these payments, that equals about $13.75-billion.
“Despite daily warnings in the media about mortgage indebtedness — or maybe because of them — Canadians are making responsible decisions about their mortgages and they’re exhibiting confidence in their own situations,” said Jim Murphy, chief executive of CAAMP. “We should feel encouraged by this behaviour — it means Canadians are well positioned to weather a potential rise in interest rates.”
Overall Canadians have $994-billion in mortgages on their primary residences and $161-billion in controversial home equity lines of credit or HELOCs which allow them access to the equity in their home.
The total equity takeout from residences was $46-billion in the past year with renovations accounting for $17.25-billion of the money used. Another $10-billion was used for investments and $9.25-billion for debt consolidation.
Amortization periods, which have been legally shortened by Ottawa for insured government backed loans, are shortening. Lengths are down 20% but Ottawa legally reduced the length a mortgage could be amortized from 40 to 30 years over the past three years.
Craig Alexander, chief economist with Toronto-Dominion Bank, said the locking of mortgage rates has protected consumers from future rise in rates. “It’s a very positive thing that people are shifting to fixed rate because it provides greater security in protecting from upside risk in interest rates,” he said.
The survey also found despite the fact three of the major banks are either out of or backing out of the mortgage broker channel, it still is an important segment of the market. Brokers account for 26% of the market overall and captured 31% of activity in 2011.
The report is based on information gathered by Maritz Research Canada in a survey of 2,000 Canadian consumers in April and May 2012.
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