Someone recently asked me about the best credit advice I could give.
I thought after being a mortgage broker for 14 years I certainly have some best practices about finances and credit I could write about. One of the biggest things I have learned is money, finance, and credit are concepts that a lot of people know nothing about. Here are some things you may find useful.
One of the biggest questions is, how do I improve my credit score or how do I keep it high?
Most Canadians have a credit score between 650 – 680. Anything over 700 is considered excellent and anything under 620 is considered poor credit.
The two biggest factors that drive that score are:
- Credit utilization or how much of your available credit are you using. I have found that your credit score stays higher if you are only using 50% of your available credit. Therefore, if you pay off a credit card, keep the card open (exercise self discipline and don’t use it) with a zero balance to maintain a high score
- The other significant factor is payment history. This means do you pay on time? You need to pay at least your minimum payment ON TIME or better yet pay it in full, ON TIME.
Keep your credit limits high and balances low.
Cell phones and mortgages now report to the credit bureau. If you are looking for a great way to start your teenager in establishing credit, put their cell phone in their own name. Your mortgage also reports to the credit bureau. There is ZERO tolerance in lending for late mortgage payments. Credit bureaus hold history for about 7 years. That’s longer than the average marriage! If you need to default on something don’t pick your mortgage.
Keep your credit limits high and balances low.
If you are someone who struggles with temptation, I recommend freezing you card into the middle of an ice cream bucket filled with water. This way the card is accessible in an emergency but its going to take a considerable amount of effort to access. Delete the memory of your card number on your computer.
It’s very important to establish credit in your own name.
I have an Aunt who lost her husband after being married for over 50 years. In addition to not knowing how to fill the car with gas she also had zero credit on her own. Everything was in her husband’s name. There she was 70+ years old trying to establish credit on her own and learn how to bank. Her questions were simple. How does the money go from my bank account to the gas station? Does someone run the money over? I know this is an extreme case but do yourself a huge favour and get a credit card on your own name and take an active role in understanding and doing your banking. When I say get a credit card in your name, I do not mean a supplementary card that your husband/wife is the primary applicant.
You need to be the primary card holder even if your limit starts at $500… get started.
Can we talk about consumer proposals and bankruptcies? Sometimes bad things happen to good people and sometimes people are just financially irresponsible and make poor choices. I think the biggest struggle is the moral one. A consumer proposal combines all your debts and your creditors are paid a small percentage of the overall debt. The individual who files the proposal along with a trustee reviews income and liabilities and a payment schedule is set. You make your payments over a period of several years. You get to maintain your registered investments like RRSP’s and often your home, if your debt excluding the mortgage is less than $250,000. When your payments are all paid back you become discharged and the consumer proposal reports to your credit bureau for 3 years after discharge. When you claim bankruptcy, your creditors don’t get paid anything and you don’t make payments. You don’t get to maintain your home or any assets and it will stay on your credit bureau for 6 years after discharge. From a mortgage stand point a consumer proposal is viewed very similarly to a bankruptcy and very frowned on by potential mortgage lenders. You need two years of PERFECT re-established credit to qualify for a mortgage after both consumer proposal and bankruptcy. Here are a couple websites that may provide some help, Romans Debt Solutions Inc. and The Credit Counselling Society.
I have some pretty strong opinions on what I deem to be poor choices on managing your finances.
Don’t make these poor choices:
- Don’t buy an RV or a boat with 20-year or more amortization – you won’t keep it for 20 years and you will have negative equity and quite frankly if you need to amortize a purchase like this over 20 years you can’t afford it. Don’t buy it.
- Don’t buy a vehicle with a balloon payment at the end. Don’t ever put yourself in a situation that when you sell the vehicle you will owe more than it’s worth. I strongly feel the government needs to step in a ban this garbage.
- If you have credit card debt make sure you are paying it back significantly more than the minimum payment. Remember that credit card interest starts at the moment of purchase (when you have a balance owing) and compounds DAILY. So that means you are paying interest on interest on interest, etc. and the balance grows every day. Now that thing you bought because it was on sale but you couldn’t afford isn’t a very good deal.
Here are a few things that I deem to be good financial choices:
- Use a broker when ever possible – general insurance broker, life insurance broker, mortgage broker, stock broker. A broker has a license to broker the product they are selling so they are likely specialized and have a variety or products for you to choose from that best fits your needs.
- Pay your property taxes on your own. Don’t include them in your mortgage payment. Three times I have received frantic calls from clients – their tax account slipped thru the cracks and didn’t get paid by the lender. If you don’t pay your property taxes for three years the municipality has the right to commence foreclosure proceedings. And they do! The TIPPS program is free from most municipalities and they will deduct it monthly from your bank account or you can pay in full on June 30 every year. In addition, when your mortgage comes up for renewal it’s way easier to change lenders if your tax account isn’t attached to your mortgage.
- Use the clauses in your mortgage contract in your favour. Your mortgage likely has a portability clause (unless you have a no-frills mortgage). This means that if you want to change homes, you can port or move your existing mortgage from one home to the next. There are some rules surrounding this but this is an awesome clause that avoids paying the mortgage penalty in the event of a move. Use your prepayment privileges. Depending on your lender you can increase your mortgage payment from 10% to doubling up your payment. In addition, you can lump sum your mortgage up to 20% of the loan amount. These additional funds go directly to your principle and can save you thousands of dollars in interest and take years off your mortgage.
Because I have a mortgage brokering license,
I will expand on why you want to use a mortgage broker over your bank.
What’s the difference?
Brokers have a license which allows them to access mortgage funds from all sorts of lenders. This is great for you, as it creates a competitive rate environment. A mortgage broker gets paid a percentage of your loan amount from the lender and gives you the best discounted rate for your situation. Your banks mortgage specialist is a bank employee and they only offer their banks mortgage. They can be knowledgeable on that banks individual mortgage products but they get paid more if they give you a higher rate. Keep in mind a mortgage shouldn’t always be about rate. You have to look at the terms of the mortgage. The big 5 banks mortgage penalties strongly favor the bank where the monoline lenders have consumer friendly mortgage penalties. RBC, BMO, CIBC, TD, Scotia, and ATB all have mortgage specialists. One of my biggest pet peeves is when a bank mortgage specialist refers to themselves as a broker. They are not – they don’t have a brokering license and they only offer their employers mortgage. Keep in mind your mortgage broker can often offer you one of the big 5 bank’s mortgages too – some exceptions apply.
Your banks mortgage specialist is a bank employee and they only offer their banks mortgage.
Stay away from a collateral mortgage clause attached to your mortgage. Better yet ask if your mortgage has one? Don’t be surprised if your personal banker at your branch doesn’t have a clue what it is… but keep asking until you get the answer. There are some minor perks of a collateral charge but the risk far outweighs the gain. A collateral charge on your mortgage allows your lender to extend secured credit to you easier and with less risk to them. On the downside a collateral charge makes it more expensive and difficult to move your mortgage to a new lender on renewal and the biggest risk of all… in the event of default on any trade line extended as a result of your collateral mortgage, your bank can FORESLOSE on your home because of the defaulted trade. In some cases with a line of credit there is no option except to collateral charge but I highly recommend asking for a STANDARD mortgage charge. The power of a collateral charge mortgage may be best described by what happened to one borrower.
The parents had a collateral charge clause on their mortgage (nobody ever told them what this was nor did they know it was in the fine print of their mortgage paperwork). They held all their banking with “their bank”- credit cards, line of credit and in this case a car loan they co-signed for their son. The son was in an auto accident and the car was written off and not covered by insurance and for whatever reason the son stopped making the car payments. The bank started foreclosure proceedings on the parents’ home to recover the loss on the car loan.
You never know what can happen in your life, loss of job, sickness, etc that can impact your finances. I think the last thing you need to do is put your family home at risk.
There are many things that I covered here…and many I did not. This post could literally be 10 pages long.
Hopefully the tools above help you in your journey.