When you’re completely new to the world of real estate, it can be an intimidating pool to wade into. In order to really get the big picture, you need understand a little bit about a lot of terms that are bandied about: interest rates, amortization, mortgage insurance, brokers, lenders . . . the list goes on. If you want to climb onto the first rung of the property ladder but aren’t independently wealthy – and maybe even if you are independently wealthy – then your first priority is to understand what a mortgage is. More than likely you’re going to need one.
You’ve undoubtedly heard the word before, but apart from a vague idea of something to do with property and a bank, what exactly is a mortgage? Simply speaking, a mortgage is a legal agreement in which property is used as security for the repayment of a loan. If all of the agreed-upon terms of the mortgage are met, the borrower will own the property outright by the end of the specified period.
Every mortgage has three components: the principal, the interest, and the amortization period.
A mortgage principal is the amount of money that you’re borrowing from a lender. If you have a $300,000 mortgage, it doesn’t mean that that was the sale price of the property; it’s the amount that you’re being loaned by the bank in order to purchase the property. Your mortgage principal is the sale price of the property minus your down payment, which is the amount of money you present upfront in order to purchase a property.
Interest is the catch of any loan, be it a mortgage or a student loan for university. Sure, a lender will loan you money – for a fee. This fee calculation is fairly tricky and is dependent on something known as the prime rate, which has traditionally been the lowest interest rate that a commercial bank charged its most optimal borrowers. Other factors determining your personal mortgage interest rate include your personal credit score and income level. And as with any other loan, all of the interest paid to your lender is added to your principal, which means that you’re paying more than you borrowed. Part of what to look for when getting a good mortgage is that you pay a competitive interest rate so that you’ll pay as little extra as possible. When you start making mortgage payments, a portion of each payment is dedicated to paying down the principal, but most of it will go toward the interest at first. Eventually, as the principal amount is reduced, there will be less to pay in interest, and therefore the bulk of the payment will continue to go toward the principal.
A loan’s amortization refers to the period of time in which you make scheduled payments in order to pay off that loan. The amortization period is not to be confused with the term of the loan; a term is the length of time that your specific loan parameters, such as the interest rate and payment amount, are agreed upon, while the amortization period is how long you have to pay off the loan. Amortization periods in Canada range from 10-35 years. The longer your amortization period, the lower your monthly payment. The shorter your amortization period, the less you’ll pay in interest over the life of your loan.
Relax, you don’t actually have to do any pencil-to-paper math. Just type some numbers into our mortgage payment calculator.
For example, a $300,000 mortgage with an interest rate of 2.8% and an amortization period of 25 years would mean that your monthly mortgage payments would be $1,391.62. Over the life of the mortgage, you’ll have paid $117,486.00 in interest on top of your original loan, which means that in 25 years you’ll have repaid your lender $417,486.
Use that same loan amount, $300,000, with the same 2.8% interest rate and an amortization period of 15 years, and you’ll see that your monthly mortgage payments are $2,043.01. Over the life of the mortgage, you’ll have paid $67,741.80 in interest on top of your original loan, which means that in 15 years, you’ll have paid the bank $367,741.80. You get the idea: the shorter the amortization period and/or the higher the monthly payments, the quicker you’ll pay off the loan, which means that you’ll pay your lender less in interest.
Two things thing to keep in mind, though. One is that your interest rate won’t stay the same throughout the life of your loan. Remember, the term of a mortgage is the period of time that the lender’s terms remain the same, and a term gets renewed after each period is over. Terms range from six months to 10 years, and the interest rates available to you will vary depending on the length of the term. Shorter terms tend to have lower interest rates, and longer terms tend to have higher rates – with the former, you’re trading stability for low prices. Depending on various factors at the time of your loan renewal, you can choose to renew with the same terms, different terms, or even switch to a different lender, if desired. Mortgage rates could rise and fall over the life of the loan – and generally will, especially if the term is for a long period of time – and whatever the new mortgage rate is at the time of your term renewal will alter your mortgage payments.
The second thing to keep in mind is that if you have less than 20% of the purchase price of your property available upfront as a down payment, then the maximum amortization period you can get is 25 years. There are 35-year amortization periods available, although they aren’t provided by every lender and they’re only available if your down payment is 20% or more. Part of that is because the longer the amortization period, the more likely it is for a borrower to default on the loan. If a borrower has less than 20% down toward a purchase of property, then they are required by law to get mortgage default insurance, also known as mortgage loan insurance, which protects the lender in case the borrower defaults on the loan. The lender pays the insurance premium to the insurance provider, but the cost gets passed on to the borrower, usually by combining it with mortgage, so that there is a single payment that combines the principal and interest of the home loan with the premium for the mortgage default insurance. Generally speaking, the mortgage default premium is calculated as a percentage of the loan and is based on the size of your down payment. The higher the percentage of the total house price/value that you borrow, the higher percentage you will pay in insurance premiums.
The minimum down payment allowed on any property is 5% of its value. If a property is sold for $500,000 or more, then the down payment is 5% up to $500,000, and 10% for any amount over that. Mortgage insurance is only available for properties purchased for less than $1,000,000.
For the most part, a mortgage works just like any other loan, although more safeguards are in place since so much money is at stake. Now that you’ve got a handle on the basics of a mortgage, you can figure out which mortgage product is right for you.

Are you looking to invest in property? If you like, we can get one of our mortgage experts to tell you exactly how much you can afford to borrow, which is the best mortgage for you or how much they could save you right now if you have an existing mortgage. Click here to get help choosing the best mortgage rate