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First-Time Home Buyer Loans

When buying their first home, most people will need a loan from a bank. A first-time home buyer loan, called a mortgage, is gradually paid off over a number of years. Here are some things you need to know about getting a loan to buy your first home:

Types of mortgage: variable or fixed rates

When you apply for a mortgage, you have the choice of getting either a fixed or variable interest rate. The most popular kind of mortgage in Canada is a 5-year fixed rate mortgage, which means your rate is set for the first five years of your loan.

As the name implies, fixed-rate mortgages are constant for the duration of the term. There are also variable-rate mortgages, which fluctuate with the bank’s prime rate. The advantage of a fixed-rate mortgage is that your mortgage payments won’t change even if the prime rate increases. Because of this, the interest rates on fixed-rate mortgages historically tend to be higher than variable-rate mortgages. With a variable-rate mortgage, your interest rate will decline if the bank’s prime rate falls. However, if the prime rate increases, so will the interest rate on your mortgage.


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Down payment rules

A down payment refers to the money a purchaser must pay up front when buying a home. Typically, the down payment is a much smaller amount compared to the size of the mortgage. Together, the down payment plus the mortgage represent the total value of the home being acquired. Down payments are usually expressed as a percentage of the property value. For example, a 15% down payment on a home selling for $500,000 would be $75,000. The mortgage, comprising the balance, would be 85% or $425,000.

In Canada there are minimum down payments for all property purchases. The percentage you must put down depends on the purchase price of the home:

  • For homes less than $500,000, the minimum down payment is 5%
  • For homes selling for between $500,000 and $1 million, the minimum down payment is 5% of the first $500,000 of the purchase price and then 10% of the purchase price between $500,000 and $1 million
  • For homes with a purchase price of greater than $1 million, the minimum down payment is 20%

The size of your down payment affects the size of your mortgage and whether or not you need mortgage default insurance, sometimes known as CMHC insurance.

Mortgage default insurance (CMHC insurance)

In Canada, any purchaser who has a down payment of less than 20% is required to purchase mortgage default insurance, which is also known as CMHC insurance. This protects your lender in the event that you end up defaulting on your mortgage.

The amount you pay decreases as your down payment increases. For down payments of 5% to 9.99%, home buyers pay a premium rate of 4.0%. If you have a down payment of 10% to 14.99%, the mortgage default insurance is 3.10% of the mortgage amount. And for down payments of 15% to 19.99%, the mortgage default insurance is 2.80%.

Mortgage default insurance isn’t needed if your down payment is 20% or greater, and it’s not available at all on homes that cost more than $1 million.


First-time home buyer grants and incentives

Buying a home is a big financial commitment and getting a first-time home buyer loan can be difficult, especially in expensive cities like Toronto and Vancouver. Fortunately, there are a series of incentives and grants available for first-time home buyers available from federal, provincial and municipal governments.

Have a look at this helpful video on first-time home buyer programs in Canada. The links below have more information on the most important first-time home buyer programs in Canada.

UPDATE: As of March 31, 2024, the First-Time Home Buyer Incentive will be discontinued. Read our blog post Federal government cancels the First Time Home Buyer Incentive to find out more.

WATCH: First-Time Home Buyer Programs in Canada: What you need to know

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