Should you be your own mortgage lender?


Tuesday October 5, 2010

Wouldn’t you like to take your monthly mortgage payment and give it to yourself instead of the bank? Sounds too good to be true? It depends…

Instead of paying principal and interest to a bank, you could pay that principal and interest to your RRSP. In effect, your RRSP becomes “the bank.” That means there must be enough money already in your RRSP that can be lent to you in the form of a mortgage (secured by your house), and you would have to make the repayments to your RRSP over time.

For example, let’s say your RRSP has a value of $1-million and you have an outstanding balance on your mortgage of $200,000. You can arrange for your self-directed RRSP to lend you $200,000, which must be paid back over time with all the same terms as a regular mortgage.

There are costs involved in setting this up: An initial setup fee from your financial institution up to about $300; one-time legal fees of $500 or more; a trustee and mortgage administration fee of around $100 to $200 per year; CMHC insurance premiums of at least 0.5 per cent of the principal; and your usual self-directed RRSP annual account administration fee, which is usually around $125 per year. This can all add up to $1,500 or more up front and about $250 per year thereafter.

The interest rate you charge yourself must be in line with prevailing market rates. Striving for the highest interest rate possible to generate a better return for your RRSP means you are paying a high rate of interest on your mortgage. Does that make sense?

Figuring out your rate of return on this strategy is not so simple as assuming it is the rate of interest you decide to charge yourself. We’ve all seen the calculators that show us how, over the life of a mortgage, we can end up shelling out almost as much interest as the original principal, if not more in some cases.

For example, a $200,000 mortgage with a fixed interest rate of 5 per cent over a 25-year amortization schedule yields a cumulative interest charge of about $150,000. In the case of your RRSP, the initial principal of $200,000 turns into $350,000 over 25 years. That in and of itself equates to a rate of return of 2.26 per cent, since the amount upon which the interest is being charged is declining over time. Keep in mind, however, that with every monthly payment, your RRSP now has that payment amount freed up to be invested elsewhere. Perhaps you can use it to dollar-cost average your way back into equities over time. Assuming the markets revert to their long-term trends, that will increase the rate of return on the overall strategy.

Some final notes:

  • mortgage payments to your RRSP are not RRSP contributions and do not generate tax savings;
  • you’ll have to pay CMHC insurance premiums so that your RRSP is protected in case you default on your payments, which are monitored by the trustee (remember the trustee fee you are paying?);
  • you should treat the strategy as a fixed-income investment when figuring out your overall asset mix, and think about whether that is the best investment for your RRSP at this time;
  • you should never engage in a strategy you don’t fully understand;
  • utilizing more that 25 per cent of your RRSP puts you at risk of putting too much of your portfolio into one strategy, so make sure you understand the risks;
  • you’re better positioned for this strategy if you have a long history of avoiding debt outside your mortgage.

Holding your mortgage inside your RRSP is not for everyone. Being your own bank sounds appealing, but don’t forget to perform a bank-like application on yourself – not everyone could be their own best client. Make sure to talk to a qualified adviser about all the advantages and disadvantages.


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