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New Uninsured Mortgage Stress Test Starts June 1

Here’s the latest on what we know about the banking regulator’s new mortgage stress test proposal…

12:10 p.m. ET Update

  • OSFI has proposed a tougher minimum qualifying rate for uninsured mortgages. As planned, it will be the higher of:
  • That 5.25% floor is 0.46%-pts higher than the current minimum stress rate of 4.79%. So, for many, it would be harder to get approved for a mortgage than today. But if rates go up, the stress test could actually get easier to pass because then only the increment above the borrower’s actual mortgage rate would apply.
  • OSFI intends to “revisit the calibration of the qualifying rate at least once a year to ensure it remains appropriate for the risks in the environment.” (OSFI will seemingly be attempting to time the interest rate and/or housing market. Quite a feat!)
  • “The current Canadian housing market conditions have the potential to put lenders at increased financial risk,” OSFI says.
  • OSFI is accepting comments on its proposed new mortgage qualifying rate by email to [email protected] before May 7, 2021.
  • OSFI says it “will communicate final amendments to the qualifying rate for uninsured mortgages in Guideline B-20 by May 24, 2021, with a coming into force date of June 1, 2021.”
  • The Department of Finance says it is expected to make a statement about its insured mortgage stress test “mid-afternoon” today.
  • For context on the history of this proposal see the story from yesterday on revisiting the mortgage stress test.

12:35 p.m. ET Update

  • At today’s rates, OSFI’s proposal would theoretically cut borrowers’ homebuying power by roughly 4%.
  • Clearly, this policy alone won’t spark a lasting bear trend in housing. Far from it, given the demand/supply imbalances out there. But it would certainly add some chill to Canada’s lava-hot market.
  • Policymakers knew they needed to deflate some of the manic homebuying psychology we’re seeing across the country, but that wasn’t the stated purpose of this move. OSFI’s proposal, it says, is to protect regulated lenders from “significant loan losses if economic conditions deteriorate.” OSFI explained that banks “can experience losses both through the potential inability of borrowers to meet their debt obligations, as well as through declining values of the real estate properties pledged as collateral in mortgage loans.”

1:05 p.m. ET Update

  • OSFI says its new proposed minimum stress test is “risk-based” unlike the one it suggested last year.
  • The current stress test is market-based. Banks influence the 5-year posted rate that acts as today’s minimum stress test rate, as well as the actual rates borrowers pay. This new stress test would give the banking regulator direct power to control Canada’s housing market.
  • That begs the question, how would OSFI set the new floor rate to ensure it’s not too high (restricting housing demand) or too low (allowing too much demand)?
  • The initial 5.25% floor “ensures that the financial system is adequately prepared for the possibility of a return to pre-pandemic economic conditions,” OSFI said. It equals the “average benchmark rate that prevailed in the 12 months leading up to the pandemic…”
  • OSFI plans to review the floor rate “at a minimum annually, every December, well in advance of the high-volume…spring season.” Of course, a lot can happen to interest rates between Decembers.

1:55 p.m. ET Update

  • There will likely be tweaks to this “proposed” stress test before it takes effect on June 1. OSFI could very well change that 5.25% floor rate to something else, for example.
  • Today’s announcement at least partly addresses policymakers’ concern that too many people are taking on too much mortgage debt. The percentage of folks with loan-to-income (LTI) ratios above 450% (the danger zone, according to the Bank of Canada) is at a record 23%+.
  • On April 1 CMHC told us the new First-time Home Buyer Incentive (FTHBI) “is still expected for the spring.” This revised program—which is expected to increase first-timers’ buying power in Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria—could potentially offset a stricter stress test for young buyers.
  • There may be some front-running of this policy, mainly by folks with high debt ratios who are afraid they won’t qualify come June 1. But the number will be minimal and may be offset by the number who don’t rush to buy (because they fear a market top).
  • OSFI included this seemingly innocuous statement at the bottom of its letter today: “OSFI will be looking for heightened vigilance from FRFI lenders in applying the principles of Guideline B-20 related to collateral management, income verification and debt servicing, combined Mortgage-HELOC loan plans and risk governance.” In other words, expect fewer debt ratio exceptions at federally regulated lenders (i.e., it will get additionally harder to qualify for borrowers at the very margins.)
OSFI Superintendent Jeremy Rudin

2:35 p.m. ET Update

  • OSFI head, Jeremy Rudin, addressed reporters just now, saying:
    • OSFI is concerned about what it’s “seen in the market” and chose the higher 5.25% rate because “the system needs to be ready for a return to pre-pandemic levels.”
    • “..The main thing we have to be ready for is an increase of mortgage rates in the pre-pandemic range…It’s possible….that [rates are] extraordinarily low because of the pandemic.”
    • The originally proposed stress test from last year would have proved “too volatile to be practical in the housing market.” Rudin said it would have been hard for borrowers getting pre-approvals to know what they could afford.
      • We’re not sure this is a great argument against a market-based stress test rate, because the pre-approval floor rate could easily be locked in at the time of application.
    • When asked if an insured stress test was coming, Rudin replied that he is “not able to speak for” the Finance Minister and that in the long history of policy adjustments, insured and uninsured changes “have often been done at different times.”
  • OSFI will announce the results of the public consultation on this proposal on May 24.
  • Any time the government makes it harder to qualify for a federally regulated mortgage, it creates more demand for non-OSFI-regulated lenders. Such “alternative” lenders lend more liberally, but at higher interest rates. This case will be no different. In other words, the government continues to shift higher-risk lending to the less regulated market.
  • It’s interesting that OSFI criticized big bank 5-year posted rates on February 18, 2020, saying “the posted rate [benchmark] is not playing the role that we intended…OSFI has observed that these rates are no longer moving in line with actual contract rates.” Yet, the regulator bases the starting floor rate for this new proposal on a 12-month average of 5-year posted rates.

4:50 p.m. ET Update

  • The Minister of Finance has thus far not announced any change to the stress test on default insured mortgages. Insured borrowers must still prove they can afford payments at the benchmark rate (currently 4.79%).
  • The Minister made this statement today: “We will continue to monitor housing market conditions across the country. To inform potential steps the government may take, we will closely examine the results of the consultation announced by the Superintendent of Financial Institutions.”
  • OSFI didn’t comment on this but mortgage approvals by May 31 will almost certainly be based on the current stress test, even if the closing date is in June or later.
  • We’re still assessing the potential side effects of today’s announcement. Here’s one. Currently, multiple banks make debt ratio exceptions for strong clients. For example, a client purchasing a home with considerable equity (e.g., a down payment of 35%+), excellent credit and sufficient net worth may be approved, despite having a 50% total debt service (TDS) ratio. The normal limit is 44%. OSFI’s announcement today may curtail those exceptions somewhat. That would be unfortunate because, in reality, these are nearly zero-risk borrowers due to their ability to pay and skin in the game.
  • A higher qualifying rate would reduce credit limits of new HELOCs, possibly pushing more seniors into higher-cost reverse mortgages, which aren’t stress tested.

5:50 p.m. ET Update

  • OSFI tells us:
    • “Our process is to continually monitor the appropriateness of the rules that we set and to update them accordingly….With respect to the qualification rate…there will be an annual review of the calibration of that rate to recognize conditions can change. We will be publishing an update and a decision at least annually in December to recognize that we’re looking at this actively and incorporating the latest information that we think is appropriate.”

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  • WTF says:

    This is crazy. Bureaucrats are setting the qualifying rate now? So if they set the stress test at 6.50% next year and rates fall 2%, we have to wait a year for them to update their unresponsive stress test?? That is economically absurd.

  • JJ says:

    If this is all that Ottawa did to slow the mortgage market lenders would be cracking champagne. But I fear there is more to come.

  • Mark says:

    Any views on how much this might slow the real estate market?

  • Grahame Miller Ware says:

    As a (mostly) retired couple with (mostly) guaranteed income, these stress tests bug me. We’ve always made our payments and when we got into a renewal last year, the response from the lender was pathetic. Retired people are put at a disadvantage and the formulas work mostly for up and comers that will be needing more things and will have more capex and opex in their monthly lives.

    What are your thoughts on the “seniors bias” in the stress test and what can we do about it?

  • Ryan says:

    I’m not sure why they are tinkering with this. This is all smoke and mirrors. The last time real mortgage rates (not the fake posted rates that Banks tout) were at 5% was Feb 2009. If anyone believes mortgage rates will climb to that level or higher in the next 5-10 years they are sadly mistaken. It would collapse the entire Canadian financial system with the amount of debt people are leveraging. Thus why are we having people qualify at these ridiculously high rates when in all likelihood mortgage rates will stay sub 5% for the next decade.

  • Antonino says:

    Will this impact home buyers with a purchase agreement in place before the June 1st date? Thank you.

    • The Spy says:

      Hi Antonio, OSFI didn’t say but if the past is a guide, as long as you close a mortgage that was approved by May 31, the current rules should apply.

  • D says:

    The new floor rate doesn’t really make sense to me. I think the majority of people affected by this will be fthb. I’m one of them. I can put 30% down and still won’t qualify under a 25yr amortization with the stress test.
    The latest info I see from BoC is that they don’t forecast a rate hike until Jan 2023. So why the rush from osfi now?

    I see this as a half assed market cooling measure which will barely have an effect. Is this measure supposed to help the banks rather than the people? If yes, the banks already lowered their pcl so they don’t forsee any increased risk at this point.

    The problem in real estate is a lack of transparency, too much speculation and too much focus on real estate as an asset class. Too many properties sitting empty, it’s not a supply problem. New condos having investors as a primary focus instead of end users.
    I was in a back office underwriting role for a couple of years. The system is broken.

    One thing I’m certain of is that I’ll keep adding more bank stocks.

  • Ryan says:

    Hi Spy,

    I think you may have answered this above already, although wanted to be sure.

    If a purchaser has an accepted signed purchase agreement in place prior to June 1st, but closing after June 1st, will they be qualified under the ‘old’ rules when they go to close?

    Essentially, will there be any ‘grandfathering’ under the old rules for in-flight purchasers who committed to a purchase without any insight of this rule change?

    • The Spy says:

      Hi Ryan,

      Yes, it’s very likely OSFI will allow approved purchasers with purchase agreements signed before June 1st to be qualified under the ‘old’ rules, even if they close after June 1. Otherwise it would create unreasonable risk for people.

      We’ve asked OSFI for clarification on this point and will report back once they answer.


  • AB says:

    This change will not accomplish its purpose, overheating is mostly a supply and demand issue, along with lifestyle change for some due to the pandemic.

    This change could have helped if it was done months ago. OFSI is using data from the past year to make their decision and this doesn’t paint an accurate picture of the current environment.

    What should be considered is the March and April data which shows a significant increase of supply on the market and a natural slow down with a downward price adjustment in the market is occurring. Less and less homes are going for over asking. DOM has increased and we are starting to see fewer listings with offer dates.

    This change is pointless as it is too late to serve the intended purpose. It should be held off for a few months to collect more current data which will reflect completely different story.

    The news headlines will read OFSI change helps cool the market in June, however it was going to happen anyway.

    There will a rush to buy prior to June 1, which will increase prices short term, followed by short term increases supply and lower prices. Once this occurs owners of multiple properties will elect to hold on their properties and just rent them out, as was the case last year. They will wait it out until supply goes lower and prices increase again.

    OFSI needs to do some real research with actual Industry professionals on the ground level who see what challenges people are actually facing rather than looking at older data and expecting that to tell you an accurate story what the current or upcoming environment.

  • Octavia Ria says:

    I am a “retired” homebuyer. Whatever can be done to curb some of this insanity should be done. Multiple offers, over asking price, on even questionable properties (leaky basements, cracked concrete, roofing problems or horrid layouts) by clearly inexperienced purchasers is quite a serious problem for both, the banks and the purchasers. All one can do in this market is wait it out and hope for some sanity to return.

  • Hopefully grandfathered says:

    I was so glad Antonino and Ryan asked about currently signed APS purchasers. We purchased in January 2021 and don’t close until February 2022 so I’ll be keeping an eye out for any response to your question re: this topic to OSFI.

    Thanks for keeping us in the loop, appreciated!

  • IKD says:

    Laird points out, “anyone who signs an offer to purchase prior to June 1st, but whose home closes after June 1st, should ensure that they have mortgage approval. When mortgage regulation has changed in the past, the government will typically grandfather existing approvals (under the old rules) even if the mortgage has not yet closed.”

  • Peter says:

    I believe this will decrease already low inventory levels.

    Property owners with large rental portfolios have refinanced at 1.69-1.79% and are flushed with cash to buy even more.

    Without incentives for developers to build more housing. I think that you will see even less inventory, higher prices, higher rents, and even less affordability.

    This has been the wrong approach since it was implemented.

    First Time Home Buyers need to get on the property ladder

  • Sue says:

    It’s absolutely ridiculous to increase the stress test. The market will adjust on its own. This increase only limits the retired and young from qualifying for a property. If you live in a city with high real estate prices and high rental prices, these changes may increase homelessness. Seniors are on fixed incomes. It appears there is an assumption that all seniors are wealthy which is very untrue. Not all buyers or renters are couples either and only have one income. This is a bad decision and could have an impact on the next election results. The politicians ignore seniors (largest voting group) at their peril,

  • D says:

    The liberals are in way over their heads on housing policy. They’ve done little but make it harder to get a mortgage. What they should be doing is building more homes to accommodate all the immigrants they’re bringing in.

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