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How the U.S. midterm elections could shake up Canadian business: Don Pittis




Canadians who thought political and economic turmoil south of the border had reached a peak may be in for a surprise after tomorrow’s midterm elections.

Until all the votes are counted, no one can be sure where the chips will fall, but there is increasing evidence that President Donald Trump’s Republican Party could lose control of the House of Representatives.

Anti-Trump Canadians may be breathing a sigh of relief at the prospect, but some Canadian policy experts say a Democratic win is not necessarily better for the Canadian economy or Canadian business.

And even if the Republicans manage to hold on to both the House and the Senate, the increasing clash of ideologies stoked by the bitter campaign could create lasting divisions that will continue to plague Canada-U.S. economic relations.

Clashing ideologies

Those who find the current election process confusing would do well to read CBC Washington correspondent Matt Kwong’s “primer on why November’s elections matter.”

But the shorter version is that in an already fractured U.S. political system, there is a good chance the body that passes the laws — the House of Representatives — will flip from Republican to Democratic Party control and thus be in direct opposition to Trump’s executive branch, which runs the country and enforces the laws.

A nation, even households divided. Campaign signs for both a Republican and a Democratic Party candidate on the same front lawn in Chatham, N.J. (Nancy Lapid/Reuters)

If that outcome actually materializes, with the Democrats in control of the House and the Republicans the Senate, historian and former Canadian trade negotiator Michael Hart says there would be little chance of compromise between the two bodies.

“In earlier days, until about the 1980s, it was possible for Democrats and Republicans to form a coalition and pass legislation,” says Hart, Carleton University’s former Simon Reisman Chair in trade policy and author of A Trading Nation: Canadian Trade Policy from Colonialism to Globalization.

No centrist left

He says we should expect another budget impasse, and with a swollen deficit and the prospect of social service cuts to balance the accounts, there will be little room for coaxing centrist Democrats onside with new costly initiatives, including the mooted middle class tax cuts.

In an integrated North American economy, not knowing whether U.S. spending is on or off can make a big difference to Canadian suppliers, too. U.S. spending and borrowing policy affects bond rates and the value of the dollar.  

“There may be centrist legislators left but they dare not admit it,” says Hart, who believes Democrats are raring for a fight.

“If Congress does go Democratic and they select Nancy Pelosi again, you have someone who,” Hart pauses, “lacks wisdom, let’s put it that way.”

Democratic supporters would no doubt beg to differ, but the discord that Hart predicts could spell the end of not only any future pro-Trump legislation, but also the end of the new U.S-Mexico-Canada trade agreement (USMCA) that Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has been struggling over since Trump threatened to throw out the North America Free Trade Agreement.

After more than a year of negotiating, the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement was finally reached. But experts say a divided Congress might fail to approve it. (Edgard Garrido/Reuters)

“Now that we have this replacement agreement, it’s not a sure thing it will pass through Congress,” Hart says.

Besides the possibility anti-Trump Democrats see USMCA as the president’s baby, Hart says the new deal is actually more restrictive on trade than NAFTA.

Oddly enough, the effect of rejecting USMCA would be to keep NAFTA in place. But University of Saskatchewan public policy expert Daniel Béland, who has worked and studied in the U.S., says that ostensible trade continuity may be of little reassurance to business if it merely raises the ire of Trump and his supporters.

He says the inflamed rhetoric of the campaign is pulling the two sides into more radical opposition, adding to the business uncertainty of where the U.S. goes next. 

“It’s really a division that’s not just political anymore,” says Béland, Canada Research Chair in public policy. “You watch MSNBC and Fox News and you think you live on two different planets.”

He is worried that growing anger over issues such as immigration and trade could exacerbate the kind of violence we have already seen, as each side speaks exclusively to its own supporters, leading to yet greater uncertainty. In the case of Trump, unlike in the campaign that elected him, he does not have Hillary Clinton as a focus for his attacks.

“His foe is quite abstract,” Béland says. “It’s liberals or immigrants or specific target groups.”

And with a Democrat-controlled House, frustration could push more zealous Trump devotees into greater extremism against their adversaries, real or imagined.

Oil and gas backlash

Another area where Canadian business interests could suffer is on environmental issues, says Bessma Momani, a specialist in financial and foreign policy at Waterloo’s Balsillie School of International Affairs.

Appealing to a more environmentally conscious, urban electorate, a Democratic House could lead to a backlash against Canadian oil and gas projects, including the oilsands and pipelines such as Keystone, which are necessary to get Canadian oil to market.

“I think there’s a risk there,” Momani says.

U.S. President Donald Trump at a rally in Illinois last week. Intense rhetoric intended to galvanize his base could be exacerbating the political divide in the U.S. (Al Drago/Reuters)

Of course, for many Canadians, increased environmentalism, including support on climate change and automobile fuel-efficiency standards, would be seen not as a risk but a benefit.

A less controversial positive outcome for Canada is that a Democratic majority could help defuse the U.S.’s growing trade conflict with China, which Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz has called one of the biggest risks to the Canadian economy.

Momani also says that increased Democratic power could mean Canada and the U.S. could move ahead on what’s called the “gender dividend,” where increasing the percentage of women in businesses is calculated to increase revenue by more than three per cent and boost an economy struggling from a shortage of talent.

She says the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, has been pushing the gender issue in the U.S. but has had little backing from the Republican administration or Congress. 

“There might even be, dare I say, bipartisan support.”

Follow Don on Twitter @don_pittis


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Real Estate

5 ways to reduce your mortgage amortization




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




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




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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