Whether you’re not sure if you should buy or rent, refinance or renew your mortgage, or go with a fixed or variable rate, these tools can help you decide on the right course of action.
Would you like to buy a home soon but not sure if you should continue renting instead? Or are you already a homeowner and pondering if it’s worth it to break your mortgage and refinance? In these and many other mortgage scenarios, it is always worth investigating what you’ll be signing up for and how much it will cost you—upfront and over the long term. To help, we’ve compiled 10 must-use online calculators that make it easier to shop and compare even the most complex mortgage and housing scenarios.
No. 1: Buying versus renting calculator
If you’re currently renting and want to know whether or not you should dive into the housing market, you’ll want to explore a renting versus buying calculator. This New York Times calculator is one of the best. Keep in mind it was built for American users, and the housing market in Canada is different in significant ways. However, if you’re looking for general guidance on when it’s best to buy or continue renting, you’ll get it here. Based on the most important costs of homeownership, the tool gives you an equivalent monthly rent to benchmark against and decide if it makes more financial sense to rent.
North of the border, Benjamin Felix, a portfolio manager and head of research and client education with PWL Capital in Ottawa, has built a Google Sheet calculator to help you compare buying and renting options. Shared with the Globe and Mail in November, the tool uses the 5% rule as a guide. The rule stipulates that if you can rent for 5% or less than what it would cost to buy a home, you might be better off renting.
No. 2: Mortgage affordability calculator
If you want to know how much home you can afford on a mortgage before you get excited bookmarking listings, check out the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada’s (FCAC) mortgage qualifier tool. It will quickly tell you whether or not you qualify for a specific mortgage amount based on your income and expenses. You can also recreate some of these calculations yourself using the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s (CMHC) debt service calculator. (Note, however, that FCAC and CMHC use different debt-to-income ratios in their models.)
If you have a specific amount set aside for a down payment, another option is to use Ratehub.ca’s mortgage affordability calculator. The tool determines the maximum you can afford on a home based on your income, expenses, debt payments and living costs. (Note: Both Ratehub.ca and MoneySense.ca are owned and operated by Ratehub Inc.)
For a different approach, try Mortgage Maestro’s affordability calculator, which asks you to input your maximum monthly mortgage payment and then works backwards to calculate the size of the mortgage that will fit that budget. It will also show you interest paid on the lifetime of the loan and how long it will take you to pay it off.
No. 3: Mortgage payment calculator
To understand what taking on a mortgage means for your finances, consider using a mortgage payment calculator. These tools use the details of your mortgage contract, including the size of your mortgage, amortization and interest rate, to tell you how much you’ll pay every month.
The FCAC offers a mortgage payment calculator on its website that is free and easy to use. It allows you to model your payments based on different payment options, such as bi-weekly or accelerated bi-weekly. It also helps the user see the impact mortgage prepayments have on the total interest paid over the life of the loan.
Some mortgage payment calculators, like this one from Ratehub.ca, even calculate the other fees that come with buying a home, such as your land transfer taxes, mortgage loan insurance fees and property taxes.
Before using these calculators, look for one that allows you to easily compare multiple mortgage scenarios side-by-side, like the one on TaxTips.ca. This particular tool comes with the added benefit of showing you the effective interest rate—your nominal, or quoted, interest rate adjusted for the loan term and compounding interest.
No. 4: Mortgage down payment calculator
True, the information provided by a mortgage down payment calculator may already be accounted for in one that calculates mortgage payments (see mortgage payment calculator, above).
However, you may find it useful to use a calculator that was designed specifically for down payment calculations. One such calculator can be found on Calculator.net. The tool helps you uncover three different pieces of down payment information, depending on your reason for using the calculator. You can figure out how much cash you’ll need to cover a down payment, the percentage of the down payment you have covered with savings, or the purchase price you can afford based on your savings and your down payment percentage.
No. 5: Mortgage refinance calculator
Since there are a few different reasons you may want to refinance your mortgage—such as getting a lower interest rate or consolidating debt into your mortgage loan—it’s best to do a bit of investigative work to ensure your strategy aligns with your goal.
That’s where a mortgage refinance calculator comes in handy. Wowa.ca’s mortgage refinance calculator lets you assess your options based on your primary objective, be it to lower your interest rate and monthly payments or access home equity. For a quick and easy breakdown of how refinancing will impact your finances, another good option is superbrokers.ca’s mortgage refinancing and equity calculator.
No. 6: Mortgage penalty calculator
Whether you’re moving and need to terminate your mortgage before the end of your term, or you simply want to break your contract to get a better rate (see mortgage refinance calculator, above), you’ll need to factor in the penalty that comes with breaking your mortgage.
Mortgage penalty calculators, like the ones on Ratehub.ca and League Savings and Mortgage, can help with that. For example, Ratehub’s tool helps you estimate the cost of breaking your mortgage and figure out how much you’ll pay once a new contract is finalized. Keep in mind, these calculators provide best-guess estimates. Before making any final decisions, be sure to call and discuss your options—and the costs—with your mortgage lender.
No. 7: Mortgage renewal calculator
To figure out how to proceed before renewing your mortgage at the end of your term, use a mortgage renewal calculator. For example, the one on getabettermortgage.com helps you compare three different mortgages at once, based on their respective terms, interest rates and payment frequencies. If you used a mortgage payment calculator while searching for your first mortgage, you’ll already be familiar with the inputs and information needed.
No. 8: Fixed- or variable-rate calculator
Before signing or renewing a mortgage contract, you’ll also want to know if you should go with a variable- or a fixed-rate mortgage. For that, you’ll want a tool that shows you the impact of rising rates over the length of the mortgage term and amortization.
Karl’s mortgage calculator, which I consider to be one of the best online tools available, allows you to adjust virtually every aspect of your mortgage contract, from typical inputs like mortgage amount, down payment and interest rate, to more complex ones that illustrate the impact of prepayments and rising interest rates.
No. 9: Land transfer tax calculator
No matter where you buy a home in Canada, you will have to pay taxes to your provincial or territorial government. This fee is called a land transfer tax—unless you live in Alberta or Saskatchewan, where the levy is referred to as “land transfer fee.”
Calculators can help you guesstimate this cost, based on your location and purchase details. For example, wowa.ca and Ratehub.ca have land transfer tax calculators to determine the amount of land transfer tax you could pay, as well as how much you can expect to get back in rebates as a first-time home buyer.
No. 10: Closing costs calculator
While knowing how much you can afford on mortgage payments is important, so is setting aside enough money for closing costs. As a general rule of thumb, you should set aside 1% to 3% of your purchase price to cover closing costs, which include land transfer taxes, lawyer fees and inspection fees. Those who prefer budgeting with more precise numbers should consider using an online closing costs calculator, like those available on wowa.ca and Homewise.
For many people, understanding the true costs homeownership can be overwhelming. Fortunately, these calculators are designed to guide you every step of the way, from the moment you decide to buy a home through to the day you close—and beyond. If, on the other hand, you excel at math or enjoy crunching numbers yourself with a regular calculator, you can always calculate your mortgage payments the pen-and-paper way.