Collateral charge mortgages got more bad press on Friday after CBC’s Marketplace ran this report.
The gist of it is that collateral mortgages “effectively trap you at the bank,” says the CBC (which is not entirely true…more on that below).
TD Canada Trust, which sells only collateral charge mortgages, was caught in CBC’s crosshairs. An undercover reporter went into a TD branch with a hidden camera, asking the mortgage rep what made TD mortgages different than those at other banks.
After being questioned in four different ways, the TD rep finally disclosed that TD’s mortgage was a collateral charge, saying:
“This could be considered a con for clients who want flexibility to have the choice of transferring out (to another lender).”
CBC approached TD corporate for comment, but TD apparently wouldn’t respond about its collateral mortgages on camera.
Collateral charges are designed so that you don’t need to pay refinance fees if you add more money to your mortgage. But they’re also criticized because, in most cases, they force you to pay legal/registration fees to switch to another lender (due to the way they’re registered). In turn, that roadblock helps the lender retain more customers.
Even TD itself does not accept collateral mortgages from other lenders. In its mortgage guidelines (which we obtained freely off the Internet) TD says: “Collateral mortgages (e.g. Manulife One accounts and Scotia Total Equity Plan accounts) are secured by collateral mortgages and cannot be transferred [to TD].”
It should be noted, however, that a handful of lenders currently pay legal fees to attract business from people with collateral mortgages. ICICI Bank (for status brokers) and Royal Bank (according to a rep we spoke with) are two such lenders.
One of the bones CBC picked with TD was that its collateral registration is not disclosed to clients until the customer is signing in the lawyer’s office, at which point it’s too late to switch lenders. CBC might have been referring to old documentation, however, because TD’s approvals now clearly disclose that their mortgages are a “COLLATERAL CHARGE.” (Whether the borrower reads this disclosure and understands it, and whether the TD rep or broker explains what it means, are separate issues.)
Collateral mortgages are useful and can save you roughly $500 to $800 in legal costs if you:
a) have a high likelihood of refinancing before maturity, and
b) the lender approves you for those additional funds (a big caveat).
But they also have potential drawbacks, over and above the additional switching cost:
Since they’re often registered for more than the mortgage amount, collateral charges can sometimes prevent you from obtaining a second mortgage or a secured line of credit elsewhere (unless you pay any penalties and fees required to leave the collateral mortgage lender, or unless that first lender reduces the mortgage amount it has registered and permits secondary financing).
Title insurance premiums can sometimes be higher for a collateral mortgage than for a regular mortgage.
In some cases, defaulting on another debt owed to a collateral mortgage lender can put your house at risk. That’s because that lender can theoretically seize your home equity if you don’t pay that other debt. (This is called “offsetting” in legal parlance.)
A number of other lenders sell collateral charge mortgages besides TD. They do so even if the borrower wants just a regular mortgage with no line of credit. Such lenders include ING Direct, National Bank and various credit unions, for example. And most of these lenders don’t give you an option to refuse this type of registration.
All in all, collateral mortgages are right for some but clearly unsuitable for many. A few years ago, TD said that “20 times” as many customers refinanced with them versus leaving for another lender. But that figure has to be less now, given that government rules prohibit refinances above 80% loan-to-value, and given that home price appreciation isn’t what it used to be.
To that extent, the net benefit of collateral mortgages is questionable for most of today’s borrowers.