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Fixed Rate or Variable Rate……has the choice become easier?

Whether I’m in my office, getting a hair cut or enjoying a friends wedding … I’m continually asked “SHOULD I LOCK IN MY MORTGAGE ??”

And if you don’t already have a mortgage …then “What’s best, fixed or variable” ??? 

If you’re reading this, then you probably fall into one of the above and so below is summary of a webinar put on by Merix

(one of our favourite broker-access-only lenders)

The age old question facing consumers, do I take a fixed rate or variable rate……and a similar dilemma facing mortgage brokers as their clients ask them for advice on which option to take. We all know it depends on the client’s appetite for risk, affordability, cash flow stability, etc. however statistics have shown that taking a short term or variable rate has predominantly, but not always, been cheaper than take a longer fixed rate mortgage.

We maybe in or coming to an interest rate environment when taking a fixed rate or a hybrid mortgage (50/50) may actually be cheaper than staying in a variable rate. Why you ask…..let’s look at the facts as to why this maybe a good time to take a fixed rate or hybrid mortgage.

  1. 5 year fixed rates are at the lowest levels in history, we have never been this low…..3.39% are available through many lenders and 2.99% for a 4 year is very attractive.
  2. The gap between a prime – 0.40% (2.60%) and 5 year fixed rate (3.39%) is 0.79% and (in some cases even lower), this is down significantly from 3 to 4 months ago when the gap between a 5 year ARM and 5 year fixed rate was as high as 2.00%. If we consider a 4 year fixed rate at 2.99% versus ARM of 2.60% the gap is only 0.49% or two quarter point increases in prime.
  3. You can’t predict when to time a conversion from ARM to Fixed rate, especially in a volatile market. Fixed rates have a tendency to move ahead of variable rates….when variable rates begin to rise the fixed rate has already gone up and if you convert you maybe converting at a much higher fixed rate than today’s rates.

No position is complete without looking at the counter arguments’, in other words why a client should consider a variable rate versus fixed rate mortgage. Once again let’s look at the facts.

  1. Bank of Canada has indicated it is not looking at raising the overnight anytime soon or at least will hold off until such time as it sees the economy improving
  2. There is no indication that inflation is increasing, therefore supports point 1 above.
  3. U.S. has no plans to increase rates for the next two years making it more difficult for Canada to raise rates unless the Canadian economy is growing in spite of the U.S. being sluggish
  4. Canada is becoming a safe haven for investors’ thus larger demand for Canadian bonds. This demand is keeping bond yields down thus lower fixed rates on mortgages.

Both positions have merit and no one has a crystal ball, however, if we continue to see the gap between fixed rate and ARM rates shrink then the risks of taking a variable rate versus fixed rate increases substantially. The risk being that ARM rates could increase higher than 0.79% over the next 18 months to 24 months, therefore over the course of a 5 year term the fixed rate may actually be less costly than the ARM rate. If the gap between ARM and fixed gets is 1% or less, I believe the smart money would go to fixed rate versus ARM. If the gap between ARM rate and fixed rate is between 1% and 1.50% then a 50/50 mortgage maybe the best bet. If the gap between ARM and fixed rate is in the 1.50% to 2.00% range then ARM rate maybe the way to go. Based on the present volatile market conditions it is hard to predict or say what will happen, this volatility, is the biggest wild card and probably the main reason I personally would be taking a fixed rate or 50/50 versus an ARM, a bird in the hand (fixed rate) is better than two in the bush (ARM rate).

Fixed Rate to ARM Gap *

Primary Product Selection

less than 1.00%

5 year fixed rate

1.00% to 1.50%


1.51% or higher

5 Year ARM

* difference in rate between a 5 year fixed rate and 5 year ARM rate

The correct solution and final conclusion:  IT DEPENDS.

There is no “right answer” that is similar for all … but with the right questions a good broker should be able to assess your risk profile, align them with your short and long term goals and recommend the best solution for your needs.

Yours in mortgage-clarity,

James Signature

About the author...

Here to help inform, educate and represent you in the home financing process.

View all posts by James Loewen

Your reactions

  • Sherry March 11, 2017 - Reply

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