What Does Mortgage Stress Test Mean?

What does mortgage stress test mean?

Published: January 30, 2018 Last updated: April 13, 2021 at 11:21 am

What Is Canada’s Mortgage Stress Test, And How Does It Affect You?

Many people are asking me how the new mortgage stress test rules affect them. Is it just for purchasing a home? What about at renewal time or if you want to refinance your current mortgage. What’s the deal? And can you please explain it in a way we can understand?

Sure can! For Starters:

Let’s stop talking about ‘old rules’ and ‘new rules’

The old rules don’t matter. Everyone must now qualify using the stress test, so there are no ‘old rules’ or ‘new rules’, only the current rules for mortgage qualification which include a stress test, and have been in effect since January 1, 2018. And, are you ready for the big reveal?

Mortgage lenders look at all borrowers the same way they always have!

Nothing Has Changed!

Lenders still care about your income and employment, your personal credit history, your overall financial picture and of course, the property itself.

The mortgage stress test doesn't change what lenders care about -- your income, employment, credit history, overall financial picture, and the property. Share on X

When they determine how much mortgage you qualify for, they still only want no more than 39% of your gross income to go towards your mortgage payment, property taxes, heating costs and maintenance fees, if any. This is called your gross debt service ratio. (GDS)

This has not changed.

Then they also factor in other monthly obligations like care payments, student loans, credit cards, other mortgages, etc., and they still want no more than 44% of your gross income to go towards everything. This is called your total debt service ratio. (TDS)

This has not changed.

So why is everyone so stressed out about these so-called changes?! Let’s circle back with a quick refresher on the test itself.

The Stress Test – What Is It Anyway?

In days gone by, they would input your mortgage interest rate into the application, and the ratios would be calculated and that was that. Oh… the good old days! If your term was less than five years, or if you wanted a variable rate mortgage, they were actually already doing a stress test. It was just not really talked about much at all.

Then in the Fall of 2016 the government introduced the next phase of stress testing — any borrower with less than 20% down payment would be qualified at a higher interest rate, regardless of term and even it was fixed, not variable.

The government is concerned with rising interest rates. They want to be sure you qualify for your mortgage not only today — but also in the future IF MORTGAGE RATES HAVE RISEN A COUPLE OF PERCENT by that time.

The purpose of the stress test is to make sure you can still afford your mortgage when interest rates rise. #MortgageStressTest Share on X

So now they ratchet up your mortgage rate by 2% in the application, and they crunch the numbers again. And the ratios that are calculated this time are the ones they use to determine how much mortgage you qualify for today. THAT is the so called stress test.

Okay, to be precise, they actually run the numbers at the GREATER OF 2% more than your mortgage contract rate, OR the Bank Of Canada Qualifying Rate. In late 2020, this qualifying rate is now 4.79%.

And there is a plan to increase the qualifying rate for all conventional mortgages to 5.25% effective June 01, 2021. To put that in perspective, we are brokering variable rate mortgages these days at 1.4% or so, yet the borrower has to qualify at an interest rate almost four times higher than that! Seems kinda ludicrous.

Simply put, a test of your finances to see how they hold up under the spectre or threat of higher rates down the road when your mortgage matures.

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The Not-So-Stressful Result

Plain and simple, the stress test is intended to protect us from overextending ourselves. To avoid borrowing to the absolute max — with no wiggle room.

Canada's mortgage stress test is intended to protect us from borrowing to the absolute max with no wiggle room. Share on X

We’ve all heard the stat that more than 40% of us feel we are screwed if we even miss one pay check. (In an online survey, conducted by Ipsos in December for insolvency trustee MNP Ltd., nearly half of the Canadians surveyed — 48 per cent — said they are now $200 or less away from not being able to meet their monthly financial obligations.)

Holy cannoli Canada, that is a mighty thin margin!

So the intention here is to give us a buffer. Whether we want one… or not.

Who Does The Stress Test Affect?

Pretty much everyone. It affects all mortgage borrowers, unless you are dealing with private lenders. Whether you are buying, refinancing or switching lenders at mortgage renewal time, the stress test is now a way of life. The new normal of borrowing, we might as well get used to it.

And… since, the market has become quite fragmented, asking the question “what’s your best interest rate” is almost pointless — because there are several, depending on what type of borrower you are. Instead you need to understand what your options and limits are — especially BEFORE you make a major decision.

In other words, proceed with thought and foresight.

Don’t spend the reno money, or lift your condition of financing clause until you know you are qualified properly for a mortgage — under the current stress-tested rules. Share on X

And now that you’ve got this whole stress test business figured out, it might be wise to brew a nice cuppa’ or do some yoga to calm back down 🙂

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​Ross Taylor
One of Toronto/GTA's Most Trusted and Knowledgable Mortgage Agents

Ross Taylor is recognized by his peers as one of Canada's pre-eminent difficult mortgage specialists. His ASKROSS blog and column ​ in Canadian Mortgage Trends are focused on the intersection between mortgage financing and personal credit.

With unique dual certification as a licensed credit counselor and mortgage agent, Ross's insights are valued by mortgage professionals and homebuyers alike.

If you have questions about anything financial or mortgage-related, please contact [email protected]. Ross answers everyone personally.

​For more information, visit About Ross Taylor.