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Ever wondered how are mortgages rates set? Well, read on ...

Does the Bank of Canada set all interest rates?

No. The Bank of Canada sets the "target for the overnight rate." The overnight rate is the interest rate that banks charge each other to cover their short-term daily transactions. The target for the overnight rate is a half-percentage-point band.

The chartered banks use the overnight rate as a guide in setting their prime lending rate - the rate at which the bank's best customers can borrow money. When the central bank changes its overnight rate, it's sending a signal to the chartered banks that it wants them to change their prime lending rates.

The Bank of Canada does not directly set mortgage rates or credit card rates. Variable mortgage rates and other floating rate loans like lines of credit move up and down in lock step with the prime lending rate. But the rates for fixed mortgages depend more on the bond market. Banks rely on the bond market to raise money for those kinds of mortgages. Interest rates on the bond market can move up or down more frequently than the prime rate because the bond market is far more sensitive to market fluctuations. Rates move when traders believe the central bank may be about to increase - or reduce - interest rates.


What happens when rates go up?

It goes without saying that it costs more to borrow money when interest rates increase. This doesn't have much of an impact on most day-to-day buying decisions. But if you're in the market for a house, you might think twice about buying as rates rise. For instance, if you need a $200,000 mortgage - which is not uncommon now that you can buy a home with essentially no down payment - you would be paying $1,163.21 every month in principal and interest for 25 years, if your mortgage interest rate was five per cent.

But if that rate was just one percentage point higher, your payments would be $1,279.62 per month. And that doesn't include property taxes. Bump the rate to seven per cent and your payments are just over $1,400 a month. Might be enough to make you think twice about buying.

And if you don't buy, then those big box hardware stores might not see as much of you since you won't be renovating that new house. Same goes for the furniture stores that wanted to sell you that entertainment unit for the new home theatre you were thinking of installing.

On the other hand, if you've paid off your mortgage and have a whack of cash lying around, higher rates mean the bank will pay you more to let your money sit with them in savings accounts or GICs which, reduces your propensity to spend.

The central bank moves to higher rates when it believes the economy is in danger of growing too rapidly. Rapid economic growth could cause a cycle of rising prices and wages. The central bank wants that growth to be moderate, so inflationary pressures are kept in check.

What happens when rates go down?

The simple answer is, of course, that the cost of borrowing goes down. But there's method behind the maneuvering. Lower rates are an unmistakable signal from the central bank that it's worried that the economy is weakening and people aren't buying enough big-ticket items. Lowering rates helps to spur economic growth because it makes it more attractive for businesses and consumers to borrow. The central bank must be careful not to inject too much stimulus into the economy or it risks igniting inflation. Correctly forecasting this balance of risks is the central bank's most difficult and most important task.

When are interest rates set in Canada?

The Bank of Canada sets rates eight times a year - in late January, early March, mid-April, late May, mid July, early September, mid-October and early December.

The Bank retains the option of taking action between fixed dates, but only under extraordinary circumstances.

The U.S. Federal Reserve also sets rates eight times a year. The Bank of England sets rates 12 times a year.

Where are rates going?

Depends who you ask. The bond market as of late is showing rates going higher. That is why, we believe, banks won't be lowering their mortgage rates any further. In our opinion, rates will move sideways for the next 30 days or so.

Current rates

Sincerely,--The Team at True North Mortgage