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Open vs. closed mortgage: What’s the difference?

Every Canadian is different, so we all have different needs when it comes to buying a home. As a result, mortgages come in lots of different shapes and sizes: closed, open, variable, fixed, 3-year, 5-year, 10-year… you get the picture.

One of the most important decisions you’ll need to make when applying for a mortgage is whether you want an open vs. closed mortgage. They are designed with different borrowers in mind and can result in significant savings (or costs) if you chose the wrong one. That’s why it’s important to make the right choice! Here’s what you need to know to get started.

Open vs closed mortgages

An open mortgage is one with flexible options to increase your mortgage repayments, either by increasing your regular payments or via a lump sum. A closed mortgage, on the other hand, will penalize you for paying off all or part of your mortgage early. While prepayment penalties can be significant, closed mortgages also come with much lower interest rates than open mortgages.

In Canada, closed mortgages are more common because they offer lower interest rates, and most people don’t need the extra flexibility of an open mortgage. Open mortgages are generally used when you soon expect to receive additional cash to pay off your mortgage. This might be an inheritance, proceeds from the sale of a home, or a significant increase to your income.

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Pros and cons of open and closed mortgages

The table below lays out the pros and cons of both open mortgage and closed mortgages.

Open mortgages
  • Increase your regular payments with little or no penalty
  • Make a lump-sum payment on your mortgage at any time, with little or no penalty
  • Refinancing your mortgage is more flexible and cheaper
  •  Higher mortgage rates than closed mortgages
Closed mortgages
  •  Lower mortgage rates than open mortgages
  • Cannot increase your regular repayments without refinancing
  • Lump-sum payments can incur significant penalties
  • Refinancing your mortgage can be costly and difficult

Choosing the right mortgage type for you

For most Canadian homeowners, a closed mortgage offers the best value. The additional flexibility of an open mortgage isn’t needed for most of us, but closed mortgages come with significantly lower rates, which will save you a significant amount of money over your mortgage term.

However, if you expect to receive additional money in the near future that you’d like to use to pay off your mortgage, the flexibility of an open mortgage might be worth it for you. Here are a few situations you might want to consider getting an open mortgage:

  • You will soon sell your home: If you intend to sell your home and pay off your mortgage with the proceeds from the sale, you should consider an open mortgage. Paying off an entire closed mortgage can trigger significant prepayment penalties.
  • You have an inheritance on the way: If you expect a cash inheritance soon, an open mortgage will allow you to use that cash to pay off a lump-sum of your mortgage with no, or minimal, penalty.
  • Your income is about to increase: If you expect your household income to soon increase (eg from a promotion or someone re-entering the workforce) then an open mortgage will give you the ability to increase your regular mortgage payments without penalty.

Closed mortgages with variable rates

It’s worth noting that closed mortgages with variable rates tend to have lower prepayment penalties than closed mortgages with fixed rates (you can learn more about how prepayment penalties are calculated here). In some cases, your best option might be to take a closed mortgage with a variable rate. This can give you some of the lowest mortgage rates available while somewhat limiting the potential size of your prepayment penalty, in case you need to refinance or pay off your mortgage.

The draw-back of this option is that you’ll be exposed to changes in prime mortgage rates, which could increase your regular payments throughout your mortgage term. Learn more about fixed and variable mortgage rates here.

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The bottom line

There are lots of decisions you need to make when shopping around for a mortgage, and the decision you make can mean a difference of thousands of dollars, either in interest or prepayment penalties. As such, it’s important you make the right decision!

If you need help deciding which mortgage is best for you, you should consider speaking to a mortgage broker, who can give you expert advice, at no cost to you. Find a licensed mortgage broker near you here.

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