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What’s the dirtiest surface on an airplane? The result may surprise you

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Used tampons, sandwiches, loose condoms, smartphones, dirty diapers. What do they all have in common?

Flight attendants tell Marketplace they’ve all been found in the seat pockets of airplanes.

Marketplace‘s latest investigation reveals that the surfaces on a plane you’re likely touching most often might not be as clean as you think, and some are contaminated with bacteria and other pathogens.

Marketplace staff took a total of 18 short-haul flights between Ottawa and Montreal, flying with Canada’s three major airlines — Air Canada, WestJet and Porter — at various times throughout the day.

On each flight, the following surfaces were swabbed: seatbelt, tray table, headrest, seat pocket and washroom handle. In total, Marketplace collected more than 100 samples.

Microbiologist Keith Warriner tested the samples gathered by the Marketplace team on 18 short-haul flights between Ottawa and Montreal (Norman Arnold/CBC)

Those samples were then analyzed at a lab at the University of Guelph by microbiologist Keith Warriner, who tested the samples for a number of different types of bacteria, as well as yeast, mould, E. coli and other pathogens.

“I was really amazed about how much we actually recovered from them,” said Warriner.  “Some of them more scary than others.”

Nearly half of the surfaces swabbed contained levels of bacteria or yeast and mould that could put a person at risk for infection, Warriner said.

Yeast and mould were detected on the majority of the 18 flights, which Warriner said suggests that the surfaces were either not cleaned well or often enough.

The most contaminated surface on the plane was the headrest.

The most concerning finding for Warriner was E. coli bacteria detected on both the seat pocket and the headrest. The presence of E. coli indicates fecal contamination, and the bacteria can cause intestinal infections, with symptoms that can include diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

“We’ve got to try and think how would fecal contamination get inside [the seat pocket],” said Warriner.

‘It’s mostly for esthetics’

Connor Remus has a pretty good idea how a seat pocket might have come into contact with feces. The former Porter employee said he has found used diapers and other trash in seat pockets before.

“Everything goes in there; everything from the paper-thin vomit bags, to used wrappers…. I found used tampons in seat pockets before.”

Marketplace spoke to more than a dozen former flight attendants and customer service representatives about their experiences working on airplanes. Most said it was their responsibility to clean the planes between flights, but that there simply wasn’t enough time to properly disinfect an entire aircraft.

Former flight attendants describe a few reasons to avoid the seat pocket on an airplane:

Three former flight attendants describe a few reasons to avoid the seat pocket on an airplane. 1:00

The reality, said Stéphane Poirier, who previously worked for WestJet, is that staff typically have less than 15 minutes to turn a plane around. “We had no time to wash the table or clean everything perfectly.”

There’s also no time between flights for staff to use cleansers or antibacterial spray, he said, noting cleaning solutions are often not allowed on board.

“We don’t have rags, we don’t have spray on board,” said Poirier. “Lots of [cleaners] are a dangerous good … so it’s either water from the aircraft, or a napkin.”

Any cleaning that does happen, said Remus, is often totally superficial. “It definitely was not a huge priority. And when it was a priority, it wasn’t necessarily for cleanliness, it was for an esthetic purpose.”

Bacteria found on contact surfaces

The levels of staph and mould Marketplace found on tray tables is evidence that the surface hasn’t been cleaned for some time, according to microbiologist and self-proclaimed “germ guy” Jason Tetro.

Travellers should pay particular attention to the tray-table result, he said, because it likely includes a kind of staph that may cause skin and soft-tissue infections, such as boils.

A sample shows the presence of mould, which was found on a blanket. (Jenny Cowley/CBC)

“If you’re coming into contact with high levels of staphylococcus aureus, such as what you’re seeing here, then you definitely are at a higher risk of having something go wrong,” Tetro said.

Tetro suggests air passengers avoid putting their faces down on the tray table to sleep, and never placing food directly on the table surface before putting it in their mouths, as ingesting or inhaling staph can be especially harmful.

Even ‘germ guy’ went ew!

For Tetro, who works in infection control, the headrest results were the biggest surprise.

“I was shocked. Honestly, I have looked at planes, and I travel so much on planes, I’m aware of so many of the different places [where germs could be found],” he said. “But then I saw what you showed me with the headrest. And even I, the germ guy, went ‘ew.'”

The levels of staph and mould Marketplace found on tray tables is evidence that the surface hasn’t been cleaned for some time, according to microbiologist Jason Tetro. (Dave Macintosh/CBC)

Hemolytic bacteria, mainly associated with strep throat, found on one headrest was especially concerning for Tetro, as was the presence of staph on that surface.

“It really is about ingestion or inhalation,” said Tetro. “If you happen to have this on a headrest, and you’re moving your head back and forth, then there’s a very good likelihood that you could potentially be inhaling this or getting it into close enough contact that it could get into you.”

Tetro added that it can also get into wounds. “If you have acne and you’re touching your face all the time, you could get something called impetigo, you could get cystitis,” he said.

Marketplace’s samples were analyzed at a lab at the University of Guelph. (Jenny Cowley/CBC)

And it’s important to note that if staph and mould is found living on these surfaces, other microbes can live there too, he said.

“It tells you that there’s not a sufficient amount of cleaning going on; yeast and mould are tougher to clean than bacteria,” Tetro said.

Marketplace also tested the blankets offered to passengers from two of the carriers: Air Canada and WestJet. (Porter didn’t offer a blanket.) The yeast, mould and high counts of bacteria on the WestJet blanket surprised Warriner.

Lab testing on this WestJet blanket showed yeast, mould and high counts of bacteria — surprising as it came in a cellophane wrapper. The airline said it was concerned by the finding, as all of its blankets are sold new and come sealed, straight from a distributor. (Andy Hincenbergs/CBC)

“What was worrying was this was in a cellophane wrapper,” he said. “It shouldn’t have been used.”

When Marketplace reached out to WestJet about these results, the airline said it was concerned by the findings.

“We are looking into this matter further, as all blankets sold on our flights are new (not previously used) and come sealed straight from the distributor,” the company said in an email.

Airlines respond

The only time a plane gets a proper cleaning is when it is not in service, according to the former airline employees.

All three airlines declined to be interviewed but did respond to emailed questions. Air Canada, WestJet and Porter all said they follow Canadian and international cabin-grooming rules.

These samples show the presence of E. coli, which was detected on both the headrest and the seat pocket. The presence of E. coli indicates fecal contamination, and the bacteria can cause intestinal infections. (Jenny Cowley/CBC)

In its response, Air Canada pointed to a study that it says proves hygiene on airlines is dirty, but no more dirty than any other public space. The study was funded in part by Boeing, the world’s largest airplane manufacturer.

WestJet said it was concerned by the findings, but that staff do their best, given the fact that planes are public spaces. The company said its planes are cleaned daily, noting that aircraft are given a light groom after every flight, a full groom every 24 hours, a complete interior detail monthly, and an enhanced, hyper-focused groom every year.

Porter said the company is confident about its efforts to keep passengers and staff safe. Porter also said that when an aircraft is done flying for the day, teams clean the interior from nose to tail, as well as carry out an intensive cleaning every three weeks.

Tetro advises that airline passengers need to take cleanliness matters into their own hands. He suggests travellers wipe down the surfaces they’re going to touch and always carry hand sanitizer with enough alcohol to actually kill germs.

“Fifteen seconds on your hands, 30 seconds on surfaces, and you’re good to go,” said Tetro.

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Real Estate

5 ways to reduce your mortgage amortization

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Since the pandemic hit, a lot of Canadians have been affected financially and if you’re on a mortgage, reducing your amortization period can be of great help.

A mortgage amortization period is the amount of time it would take a homeowner to completely pay off their mortgage. The amortization is typically an estimate based on what the interest rate for your current term is. Calculating your amortization is done easily using a loan amortization calculator which shows you the different payment schedules within your amortization period.

 In Canada, if you made a down payment that is less than the recommended 20 per cent of the total cost of your home, then the longest amortization period you’re allowed to have is 25 years. The mortgage amortization period not only affects the length of time it would take to completely repay the loan, but also the amount of interest paid over the lifecycle of the mortgage.

Typically, longer amortization periods involve making smaller monthly payments and having a much higher total interest cost over the duration of the mortgage. While on the other hand, shorter amortization periods entails making larger monthly payments and having lower total interest costs.

It’s the dream of every homeowner to become mortgage-free. A general rule of thumb would be to try and keep your monthly mortgage costs as low as possible—preferably below 30 per cent of your monthly income. Over time, you may become more financially stable by either getting a tax return, a bonus or an additional source of income and want to channel that towards your principal.

There are several ways to keep your monthly mortgage payments low and reduce your amortization. Here are a few ways to achieve that goal:

1. Make a larger down payment

Once you’ve decided to buy a home, always consider putting asides some significant amount of money that would act as a down payment to reduce your monthly mortgage. While the recommended amount to put aside as a down payment is 20 per cent,  if you aren’t in a hurry to purchase the property or are more financial buoyant, you can even pay more.

Essentially, the larger your down payment, the lower your mortgage would be as it means you’re borrowing less money from your lender. However, if you pay at least 20 per cent upfront, there would be no need for you to cover the additional cost of private mortgage insurance which would save you some money.

2. Make bi-weekly payments

Most homeowners make monthly payments which amount to 12 payments every year. But if your bank or lender offers the option of accelerated bi-weekly payment, you will be making an equivalent of one more payment annually. Doing this will further reduce your amortization period by allowing you to pay off your mortgage much faster.

3. Have a fixed renewal payment

It is normal for lenders to offer discounts on interest rate during your amortization period. However, as you continuously renew your mortgage at a lower rate, always keep a fixed repayment sum.

Rather than just making lower payments, you can keep your payments static, since the more money applied to your principal, the faster you can clear your mortgage.

4. Increase your payment amount

Many mortgages give homeowners the option to increase their payment amount at least once a year. Now, this is very ideal for those who have the financial capacity to do so because the extra money would be added to your principal.

Irrespective of how small the increase might be, in the long run, it would make a huge difference. For example, if your monthly mortgage payment is about $2,752 per month. It would be in your best interest to round it up to $2,800 every month. That way, you are much closer to reducing your mortgage amortization period.

5. Leverage on prepayment privileges

The ability for homeowners to make any form of prepayment solely depends on what mortgage features are provided by their lender.

With an open mortgage, you can easily make additional payments at any given time. However, if you have a closed mortgage—which makes up the larger percentage of existing mortgages—you will need to check if you have the option of prepayments which would allow you to make extra lump sum payments.

Additionally, there may also be the option to make extra lump sum payments at the end of your existing mortgage term before its time for renewal.

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Real Estate

Mortgage insurance vs. life insurance: What you need to know

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Your home is likely the biggest asset you’ll ever own. So how can you protect it in case something were to happen to you? To start, homeowners have a few options to choose from. You can either:

  • ensure you have mortgage protection with a life insurance policy from an insurance company or
  • get mortgage insurance from a bank or mortgage lender.

Mortgage insurance vs. life insurance: How do they each work?  

The first thing to know is that life insurance can be a great way to make sure you and your family have mortgage protection.

The money from a life insurance policy usually goes right into the hands of your beneficiaries – not the bank or mortgage lender. Your beneficiaries are whoever you choose to receive the benefit or money from your policy after you die.

Life insurance policies, like term life insurance, come with a death benefit. A death benefit is the amount of money given to your beneficiaries after you die. The exact amount they’ll receive depends on the policy you buy.

With term life insurance, you’re covered for a set period, such as 10, 15, 20 or 30 years. The premium – that’s the monthly or annual fee you pay for insurance – is usually low for the first term.

If you die while you’re coved by your life insurance policy, your beneficiaries will receive a tax-free death benefit. They can then use this money to help pay off the mortgage or for any other reason. So not only is your mortgage protected, but your family will also have funds to cover other expenses that they relied on you to pay.

Mortgage insurance works by paying off the outstanding principal balance of your mortgage, up to a certain amount, if you die.

With mortgage insurance, the money goes directly to the bank or lender to pay off the mortgage – and that’s it. There’s no extra money to cover other expenses, and you don’t get to leave any cash behind to your beneficiaries.

What’s the difference between mortgage insurance and life insurance?

The main difference is that mortgage insurance covers only your outstanding mortgage balance. And, that money goes directly to the bank or mortgage lender, not your beneficiary. This means that there’s no cash, payout or benefit given to your beneficiary. 

With life insurance, however, you get mortgage protection and more. Here’s how it works: every life insurance policy provides a tax-free amount of money (the death benefit) to the beneficiary. The payment can cover more than just the mortgage. The beneficiary may then use the money for any purpose. For example, apart from paying off the mortgage, they can also use the funds from the death benefit to cover:

  • any of your remaining debts,
  • the cost of child care,
  • funeral costs,
  • the cost of child care, and
  • any other living expenses. 

But before you decide between life insurance and mortgage insurance, here are some other important differences to keep in mind:

Who gets the money?

With life insurance, the money goes to whomever you name as your beneficiary.

With mortgage insurance, the money goes entirely to the bank.

Can you move your policy?

With life insurance, your policy stays with you even if you transfer your mortgage to another company. There’s no need to re-apply or prove your health is good enough to be insured.

With mortgage insurance, however, your policy doesn’t automatically move with you if you change mortgage providers. If you move your mortgage to another bank, you’ll have to prove that your health is still good.

Which offers more flexibility, life insurance or mortgage insurance?

With life insurance, your beneficiaries have the flexibility to cover the mortgage balance and more after you die. As the policy owner, you can choose how much insurance coverage you want and how long you need it. And, the coverage doesn’t decline unless you want it to.

With mortgage insurance through a bank, you don’t have the flexibility to change your coverage. In this case, you’re only protecting the outstanding balance on your mortgage.

Do you need a medical exam to qualify? 

With a term life insurance policy from Sun Life, you may have to answer some medical questions or take a medical exam before you’re approved for coverage. Once you’re approved, Sun Life won’t ask for any additional medical information later on.

With mortgage insurance, a bank or mortgage lender may ask some medical questions when you apply. However, if you make a claim after you’re approved, your bank may ask for additional medical information.* At that point, they may discover some conditions that disqualify you from receiving payment on a claim.

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Real Estate

5 common mistakes Canadians make with their mortgages

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This article was created by MoneyWise. Postmedia and MoneyWise may earn an affiliate commission through links on this page.

Since COVID-19 dragged interest rates to historic lows last year, Canadians have been diving into the real estate market with unprecedented verve.

During a time of extraordinary financial disruption, more than 551,000 properties sold last year — a new annual record, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association. Those sales provided a desperately needed dose of oxygen for the country’s gasping economy.

Given the slew of new mortgages taken out in 2020, there were bound to be slip-ups. So, MoneyWise asked four of the country’s sharpest mortgage minds to share what they feel are the mistakes Canadians most frequently make when securing a home loan.

Mistake 1: Not having your documents ready

One of your mortgage broker’s primary functions is to provide lenders with paperwork confirming your income, assets, source of down payment and overall reliability as a borrower. Without complete and accurate documentation, no reputable lender will be able to process your loan.

But “borrowers often don’t have these documents on hand,” says John Vo of Spicer Vo Mortgages in Halifax, Nova Scotia. “And even when they do provide these documents, they may not be the correct documentation required.”

Some of the most frequent mistakes Vo sees when borrowers send in their paperwork include:

  • Not including a name or other relevant details on key pieces of information.
  • Providing old bank or pay statements instead of those dated within the last 30 days.
  • Sending only a partial document package. If a lender asks for six pages to support your loan, don’t send two. If you’re asked for four months’ worth of bank statements, don’t provide only one.
  • Thinking low-quality or blurry files sent by email or text will be good enough. Lenders need to be able to read what you send them.

If you send your broker an incomplete documents package, the result is inevitable: Your mortgage application will be delayed as long as it takes for you to find the required materials, and your house shopping could be sidetracked for months.

Mistake 2: Blinded by the rate

Ask any mortgage broker and they’ll tell you that the question they’re asked most frequently is: “What’s your lowest rate?”

The interest rate you’ll pay on your mortgage is a massive consideration, so comparing the rates lenders are offering is a good habit once you’ve slipped on your house-hunter hat.

Rates have been on the rise lately given government actions to stimulate the Canadian economy. You may want to lock a low rate now, so you can hold onto it for up to 120 days.

But Chris Kolinski, broker at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based iSask Mortgages, says too many borrowers get obsessed with finding the lowest rate and ignore the other aspects of a mortgage that can greatly impact its overall cost.

“I always ask my clients ‘Do you want to get the best rate, or do you want to save the most money?’ because those two things are not always synonymous,” Kolinski says. “That opens a conversation about needs and wants.”

Many of the rock-bottom interest rates on offer from Canadian lenders can be hard to qualify for, come with limited features, or cost borrowers “a ton” of money if they break their terms, Kolinski points out.

Mistake 3: Not reading the fine print

Dalia Barsoum of Streetwise Mortgages in Woodbridge, Ontario, shares a universal message: “Read the fine print. Understand what you’re signing up for.”

Most borrowers don’t expect they’ll ever break their mortgages, but data collected by TD Bank shows that 7 in 10 homeowners move on from their properties earlier than they expect.

It’s critical to understand your loan’s prepayment privileges and the rules around an early departure. “If you exit the mortgage, how much are you going to pay? It’s really, really important,” Barsoum says.

She has seen too borrowers come to her hoping to refinance a mortgage they received from a private or specialty lender, only to find that what they were attempting was impossible.

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