On paper, you could afford your mortgage. Your lender even approved the paperwork. But now that you’re settled in your home, maybe you’ve incurred some unplanned-for monthly expenses, such as higher-than-planned utility bills, property taxes that have risen (as they tend to do), or increased insurance premiums, and find that you're unable to make your mortgage payments. If you’re not sure what to do, the first thing is not to panic. All hope isn’t lost, and you don’t have to let your home own you. You do, however, have to confront the issue head-on in order not to lose control of your finances.
If you think your mortgage is too big, here are some options and avenues to consider going forward.
The first solution is the most obvious: Cut back on other expenses to try and make up for the shortfall. If you got a mortgage without properly budgeting, then it’s better late than ever. Be honest with yourself and keep track of everything you spend for one month – or even better, categorize all of your spending that took place last month so you can get a jump-start on the process. Quicken, Mint, and YNAB (you need a budget) are popular tools for tracking your spending and creating a budget. By tweaking your lifestyle and spending habits, you might be able to close the gap between the amount of money that you need for your mortgage and housing-related expenses and how much you’re spending elsewhere.
Refinancing is when you go back to your lender (or a new lender) and renegotiate your mortgage contract, based on your current balance and the current interest rates, before your mortgage term has expired. Note that if you refinance, you’re almost certainly going to end up paying a penalty for breaking your mortgage contract, even if you stay with the same lender. But the upside is that if you refinance at a lower interest rate than the one that’s currently being applied to your mortgage, then you can save money on your monthly payments. Another option would be switching from a fixed rate to a variable rate mortgage during a refinance, since variable rate mortgages tend to have lower interest rates than fixed mortgages. But since the interest rate on your mortgages fluctuates with the market rate, this tactic could also end up backfiring on you if interest rates go up; you’ll be forced to pay the higher interest rate and payments could end up being higher than you were previously paying. Refinancing can also be used as a tool in conjunction with budgeting, so that you withdraw some of the equity in your home to consolidate and get on top of your debt while better managing your cash flow going forward.
- Sell, sell, sell
It is always an option to sell your house and get a smaller one. While selling your home and pocketing the profit may seem like a good idea, the profits might not be as big as you’d expect. Between land transfer taxes, the penalty of breaking the mortgage, fees for real estate agents, and other selling expenses such as staging and/or making small repairs, you may find that your profits will be eaten into at such an extent that you can’t sell your house while generating enough cash to pay off the mortgage. Reasearching your housing market and having a frank conversation with a realtor when it comes to how much you could realistically expect to get for your home will be a big factor in determining whether or not you should sell, as well as using online calculators
so that you know how much those other incidentals will impact your bottom line.
- Rent it out
Renting often gets a bad rap as the doomed fate of the poor, the irresponsible, or the nomadic. But the thing is, it’s a fiscally responsible option for many people. If your housing market isn’t favouring sellers, or you aren’t getting any response to your house being on the market, considering whether it may be an option to rent your property to a tenant and live in a less costly option, whether that be smaller or located in a less desirable area. The sale and rental markets are related, so what’s happening in one will impact the other. If your area is experiencing a slow housing market and fewer people are buying homes for whatever reason, then there may be more people who are renting, or open to the idea. Ideally, your income from the rental will cover the costs associated with your home, and all you’ll have to pay for is your new rent, which you would find at an amount that you could actually afford.
- Get a private loan
This is not a fail-safe option and the private lending space isn’t for undisciplined borrowers. That being said, if you have a plan, a private loan
can be a good way to consolidate other high-interest debt that could free up some money that could go toward your mortgage payment if you’re suffering from a temporary setback such as making ends meet during a period where you had a loss of income, or went through a divorce.
- Talk to your mortgage broker
It’s all about knowing your options in this situation, and whether you want to refinance your mortgage, switch lenders, sell your home, you need to know exactly what each option is going to mean in terms of your current mortgage, which means you need to know how much the penalty is going to end up costing you in the long run. Remember, talking to your broker is free, and even though they’re not a financial planner or advisor, they can advise you as to what loans and mortgages would work best for you in your current situation.
Whatever you decide to do, you do have options. They may not always be the best options, but there are ways for you to get your head above water, even if your mortgage is too big for you. If anything, once you get on top of your situation or the next time you buy a house, you’ll know better how to anticipate your true expenses and budget for them going ahead.
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