In 2017 the mortgage stress test was announced in Canada to mixed reviews. There are some positive effects of the stress test that lead to economic and housing market stability. There are also some negative effects that make it more difficult for homeowners, specifically fist time buyers to enter the market. Also, on mortgage renewal, after the mortgage term is up, the stress test can make it impossible to switch lenders to obtain a lower mortgage rate.

While I believe the stress test is doing good for the housing market overall, this article will show home buyers and those looking to renew their mortgage, how to reduce the impact of the stress test and get further ahead with their mortgage.

mortgage stress test

But First – How does the Stress Test Work?

The stress test is essentially a high interest rate that is used on a mortgage application, that a mortgage broker or bank will use to qualify you.

The stress test rate is not a real interest rate that you see on a mortgage approval document, or that your payments would be based on. Instead, it is an artificially high rate that is literally made up to lower the amount of mortgage you qualify for.

Specifically, the stress test rate lowers mortgage approvals by about 20%.

So for example, let’s say you were to qualify for $500,000 of the mortgage using an interest rate of 1.79% for 5 years fixed.

Using the stress test rate of 4.79% (a 3% higher rate than the actual mortgage rate your payments are based on), your maximum mortgage qualification would be lowered to $400,000. In other words, by qualifying you at 4.79% instead of the contract rate of 1.79%, this reduces your mortgage approval by about $100,000.

Clearly, this impacts how much home you would be qualified to buy.

Reducing the Impact or Avoiding the Mortgage Stress Test

There are thankfully a few loopholes that can help you to reduce the impact of, or even avoid the mortgage stress test.

Buying a Home

30 Year Amortization

By opting for a longer 30 year amortization, you can lower your payments and be approved for more mortgage. Even if you want to pay your mortgage off sooner, for example in 25 years or 20 years, you may obtain your approval with a 30-year amortization and then increase your payments after closing to reduce the effective amortization. This move can increase your approval amount by approximately 16% almost reducing the effect of the stress test. However please note that the 30-year amortization is only available for 20% down payment.

Gifted Down Payment

With parents, grandparents or other immediate family in the picture, down payment can be gifted. By increasing the down payment this can allow you to buy more home, with less mortgage in the picture.  Also, if you can get to 20% down payment, then as noted just above, you can stretch the amortization to 30 years and really extend affordability. However, even an extra 5% – 10% added to the down payment, in the form of a gift, can make a notable difference in the price range of your pre-approval. As long as the down payment is from an immediate family member,r the rules are fairly relaxed at this point of time. See our article here on down payment specifics.

Co borrower

Perhaps instead of a gift, or in combination with a gift, a co-borrower can be added onto a mortgage to help boost affordability and mitigate the effects of the stress test. The co borrower again should be immediate family and should be in a fairly strong position with little to no debt of their own and a stable, full-time income. As far as a pre-approval goes, the sky is the limit, as would be in line with the strength of the co-borrower.

Credit Union Approval

Interestingly, because credit unions are not federally regulated, the stress test does not apply to many of their mortgages. For a mortgage with less than 205 down payment, the stress test will always apply, because there would be a CMHC insured or ‘high ratio’ mortgage. However, if 20% is available for down payment, then the credit union can qualify you at their contract rate, and even potentially at a 30-year amortization as well. The result can be an incredibly high pre-approval.

But what’s the catch? Unfortunately, there is not an excess of funds available for these types of mortgages, so the rate can be pretty high. Perhaps 1% to 1.5% higher on the rate. For many borrowers, the thousands of dollars in extra interest costs are not worth it. However, for some, it may be if it helps into the home of their dreams and the payments are affordable.

Renewing a Mortgage

When renewing a mortgage, if you get stuck due to the stress test rate make sure you or your Ontario Mortgage Broker or lender are considering the following.

Purchase before 2017

If your purchase was before 2017 then the stress test will not apply to you. Your renewal will qualify at the standard contract rate.

Purcahse after 2017, under $1,000,000

If the purchase was after 2017 but the purchase price was less than $1,000,000 then the new lender may be able to qualify you at much lower, insurable rates. Even if the current value of the home is over $1,000,000. However, avoiding the stress test rate, in this case, maybe more difficult.

Stress test 2020 Rules Update

When the stress test was first implemented in 2017, the rate itself was literally just arbitrarily set by the Federal Government.

Now in 2020, the rules have changed so that the stress test rate more closely reflects the actual interest rates in the Canadian mortgage market. In other words, the rate is no longer arbitrarily set, but it it will now float based on actual market interest rates.

So while the effects of the stress test are mostly the same, the idea that the stress test can now move down as market rates move down is a more fair and accurate idea of what a stress test should be.

This does help the homeowner afford more home, although so far since the rules have changed – not by too much. The average mortgage applicant may not get an extra $10,000 – $25,000 in a mortgage approval, depending of course on the mortgage size.

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