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Fixed or variable mortgage rate: Which should you choose in 2024?


It’s been a tough time for home owners (and first-time home buyers), but the Bank of Canada (BoC) has held interest rates steady since July 2023, and the latest economic data is leading experts to suggest that interest rate cuts may be on the horizon. So, what can Canadians expect from interest rates in the months and years ahead, and what does that mean for fixed mortgage rates and variable mortgage rates? We spoke to an economist and a mortgage broker to get a better sense of what’s ahead, and whether a fixed or variable rate is your best option in 2024.

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What happened with interest rates in 2022 and 2023?

Rates went up significantly over the past two years, and a lot of it had to do with post-pandemic inflation.

“Central banks had to react very aggressively to the spike in inflation, and they jacked up interest rates significantly—475 basis points since March 2022,” says Robert Hogue, assistant chief economist at RBC Economics. (One basis point is equal to one hundredth of a percentage point. And 475 BPS means 4.75%.) “This is easily the most aggressive monetary policy we’ve seen in at least a generation.”

John-Andrew Newman, a mortgage broker in Oakville, Ont., notes that this aggression was essentially a side-effect of the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. “The COVID environment brought all rates down because the government influenced the interest rate marketplace in a way that was intended to help Canadians manage the effects of various lockdowns,” Newman explains. “They went extreme in one way, which led to inflationary factors peaking after [COVID], and then interest rates started to go up.” 

Rates climbed quickly to help tame decades-high inflation. “There was almost a whiplash effect [after COVID] as rates went up to the other extreme—and that’s where we are today,” Newman says.

Many mortgage holders with fixed-rate mortgages secured before the pandemic now face steep payment increases at renewal. Canadian mortgage holders with variable rates are also dealing with higher costs, though the impact has not been the same for everyone—some have seen their payments increase with every hike in the prime rate, while others haven’t. 

With a variable mortgage with adjustable payments (sometimes referred to as an adjustable-rate mortgage), the mortgage payments fluctuate in response to changes in the lender’s prime rate. Borrowers with this type of mortgage watched their payments increase as interest rates began to rise. 

However, many variable-rate holders have a mortgage with fixed payments. As interest rates rose, their mortgage payment stayed the same, but the amount of principal paid each month decreased as the amount of interest paid went up. Some of these borrowers have seen their amortizations stretched to point that their payments are almost interest only, Newman says. Some have reached their trigger rate—the point at which the mortgage payment no longer covers the mortgage interest costs.

This is one of the reasons it’s important to know what type of variable mortgage you have—the former can have a far bigger impact on your budget and cash flow in the short term, and the latter can result in a sudden spike when renewing your mortgage. That increase may be challenging for many mortgage holders to navigate, particularly if they’ve gone into negative amortization (when the monthly mortgage payments aren’t high enough to cover the interest owed on the loan). 



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