(The Canadian Press)

Bank of Canada lowers qualifying rate used in mortgage stress tests

Home sales softened last year after the federal government introduced new stress test rules for uninsured mortgages

The Bank of Canada has lowered the rate used by mortgage stress tests to determine whether would-be homeowners can qualify, marking the first drop in three years.

The central bank’s five-year benchmark qualifying rate is now 5.19 per cent, down from 5.34 per cent. It’s the first decrease in the five-year fixed mortgage rate since September 2016, when it dropped from 4.74 per cent to 4.64 per cent, and increased steadily since.

The qualifying rate is used in stress tests for both insured and uninsured mortgages, and a lower rate means it is easier for borrowers to qualify.

“This 15 basis point drop in the qualifying rate will not turn the housing market around in the hardest-hit regions, but it will be an incremental positive psychological boost for buyers,” said Sherry Cooper, chief economist for Dominion Lending Centres in a statement. ”It should also counter, in some small part, what’s been the slowest lending growth in five years.”

READ MORE: B.C. real estate board urges feds to revisit mortgage stress test

Home sales softened last year after the federal government introduced new stress test rules for uninsured mortgages, or those with a down payment of more than 20 per cent, and mortgage rates inched higher.

These stress tests require potential homebuyers to show they would still be able to make mortgage payments if faced with higher interest rates or less income. The Bank of Canada’s five-year benchmark rate is calculated using the posted rates at the Big Six Banks.

As of Jan. 1, 2018, to qualify for an uninsured mortgage borrowers needed to prove they could still make payments at a qualifying rate of the greater of two percentage points higher than the contractual mortgage rate or the central bank’s five-year benchmark rate.

An existing stress test already stipulated that homebuyers with less than a 20 per cent down payment seeking an insured mortgage must qualify at the central bank’s benchmark five-year mortgage rate.

The federal financial regulator has said that the new, stricter regulations aimed to tighten mortgage lending and take some of the risk out of the market.

Meanwhile, home sales have improved in recent months as mortgage rates have moved lower.

READ MORE: Mortgage test, high supply to keep cooling B.C. housing prices in 2019, report says

But on Thursday, the Ontario Real Estate Association called for less stringent mortgage rules, saying that policy changes are needed to counter a downward trend in home ownership.

OREA’s chief executive Tim Hudak said in a letter to federal policy-makers that Ottawa should consider restoring 30-year insured mortgages, ease up on the interest rate stress test and eliminate the test altogether for those renewing their mortgage with a different lender.

Borrowers looking to renew their mortgages are subject to stress tests if they switch to a new lender, but not if they stick with their current one.

In a May letter to policy-makers, the chief executive of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation defended the stricter lending rules, arguing that “the stress test is doing what it is supposed to do.”

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Feedback sought Thursday on Nakusp’s future development

Nakusp last updated its Official Community Plan 13 years ago.

West Kootenay snowpack nearing record levels

High snowpack can mean a greater risk of flooding in spring, say forecasters

VIDEO: Kootenay Patricks, Montreal Canadiens play to the crowd in Nelson

The charity game was a spectacle from puck drop

Province looking at steps to dissolve Jumbo resort municipality

Disincorporating municipality will likely require a legislative change, according to the province

RCMP still investigating body found between Nelson, Castlegar

Halimi’s body was found between Nelson and Castlegar in May 2018

VIDEO: Feds look to help 126 Canadians quarantined in China for coronavirus

China has confirmed more than 4,500 cases of the new virus, with more than 100 deaths

Sap thief taps Saanich park maple trees, faces hefty fine

One tree found with four taps in Mount Doug Park

B.C. reports first coronavirus in Vancouver region

First patient visited Wuhan, China, reported symptoms

Uber threatens legal action to ‘defend its right’ to operate in Surrey

‘I have no concerns,’ Mayor Doug McCallum replies

Victoria resident says WestJet employee uttered racist comment, refused to let her on plane

Customer claims she was told ‘You guys can’t handle your alcohol’ by WestJet employee

Bystander who tried to help dog being attacked not liable for its death: B.C. tribunal

Owner of dog killed tried to get $5,000 in damages from man who tried to save it

INFOGRAPHIC: See how fast your B.C. city grew in 2019

The province’s fastest-growing municipalities were located on Vancouver Island

Landowner hearings begin for Trans Mountain expansion in Alberta

Detailed route talks start in Spruce Grove, in B.C. communities soon

Alessia Cara to host and perform at 2020 Juno Awards

Multi-platinum Canadian singer-songwriter also up for six awards, including Artist of the Year

Most Read