What is the Home Buyers’ Plan? Should You Pay Down Sooner?

As most readers know my revulsion of Guest Posts, however, Sean Cooper is a friend of the site and has posted before.

Disclosure: This site (and I) have not been compensated for publishing this post. The opinions expressed are those of Mr. Cooper.


Buying a home is a major financial decision. If done right, it can be the single best investment of your lifetime. But the desire to purchase a home and actually buying one are two different things. Many of us would like to be homeowners, but what stops us is the down payment. Thankfully, the government will give you a little help. The RRSP Home Buyers’ Plan assists first-time homebuyers afford a home sooner.

Let’s take a look at what the Home Buyers’ Plan is and if it makes sense to pay it down sooner.

What is the Home Buyers’ Plan?

The Home Buyers’ Plan (HBP) is plan made by the government to make it easier for first-time homebuyers. Under the HBP, you can withdraw up to $35,000 from your RRSP to use for your down payment. (That’s $70,000 combined when you’re buying with another first-time homebuyer.)

The RRSP helps save up your down payment sooner because of the tax refund that you receive. Let’s go through an example to illustrate this. Let’s say your tax rate is 30% and you made a $10,000 RRSP contribution. In this instance you’d be eligible for a tax refund of $3,000 (30% X $10,000 = $3,000). That’s the equivalent of a 30% no risk return on your money. Not bad!

Also by borrowing under the HBP, you may be able to avoid paying CMHC fees thanks to your heftier down payment.

The HBP is a great program as long as you follow the rules. When you withdraw money from the HBP, you’re required to pay it back over 15 years starting in the second years since you borrowed the money. Any money you don’t pay back is included as taxable income and you lose the RRSP room forever. Ouch!

Some financial gurus are against using the HBP. They claim that you’re borrowing from your future self. While that may be true, if you’re buying in a city with high home prices like Toronto or Vancouver, the HBP may be the helping hand you need to get into the real estate market sooner rather than later. In these markets, it’s tough to turn down the guaranteed return you get with the HBP. Provided you use the HBP is a smart way and repay the money you borrow according the repayment schedule, it can be a wonderful program.

Should you Pay Down the Home Buyers’ Plan Sooner?

If you get a cash windfall, should you pay off the HBP sooner? It some cases it can make a lot of sense. As previously stated, you need to pay back any money borrowed from your RRSP from the HBP within 15 years. Using the example above, if you borrowed $10,000, you’d have to pay back $666.67 annually ($10,000 / 15 years = $666.67). But if you have the money, why not increase it to $750 annually? When you do this, you’d pay it back in only 13.33 years, almost 2 years sooner. After the HBP is fully repaid, any further money you contribute to your RRSP goes towards saving for retirement. This lets you take full advantage of the power of compound interest.

About the Author

Sean Cooper is the bestselling author of the book, Burn Your Mortgage: The Simple, Powerful Path to Financial Freedom for Canadians. He bought his first house when he was only 27 in Toronto and paid off his mortgage in just 3 years by age 30. An in-demand Personal Finance Journalist, Money Coach and Speaker, his articles and blogs have been featured in publications such as the Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, Financial Post and MoneySense. Connect with Sean on LinkedInTwitterFacebook and Instagram.

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Toronto Housing Bubble ?

A while ago you might have seen the following poster on the TTC and you would have said, “How can anyone afford that kind of money?”. The prices back then were starting to really inflate, and inflation was in very high gear. Interest rates might have been running around 15% for a mortgage. There was no mention of a Toronto housing bubble, but folks might have asked, “How can anyone afford this?“.

toronto housing bubble

When was this?
 Poster courtesy of the Halton County Railway MuseumMy Father-in-law thinks this might be from the early 80’s, but I am not sure. If you know when this provocative poster about another Toronto Housing Bubble please comment. How much are these houses selling for now?


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The Bank of Mom and Dad

Another interesting topic that came up at CPFC15 was the concern that First Home Purchasers are relying more and more on Parental help with the transaction (monetary help, as well as advisory help).

Bank of Dad
The Bank of Dad (Always Open)

I have spoken a few times about how both sets of parents helped my wife and I purchase our first home (leading to the Best Financial Advice Given, ever), and I don’t think parents helping kids buy their first homes is a new thing. In our case my parents helped us to make sure that we didn’t have to pay CMHC Loan Insurance premiums, and my wife’s parents helped with furniture purchases and repairs in our first home.

Is this a good or bad thing? As usual, it all depends on the situation.

In my opinion this is mostly a good thing (if the parents can afford to help out their kids, however, if the parents have to borrow money to do this, it is a very bad idea), but there are scenarios where this might not be the best idea:

  • If the parents are loaning the entire down payment on the house for the children, this is a bad thing. I always espouse that with all things people are much more diligent and attentive to a debt if they have “skin in the game” (i.e. their own money is part of the purchase). It also might create a sense of entitlement in the children, assuming their parents will continually bail them out in hard economic times.
  • The money loaned can simply allows the “kids” to become very house poor, and ties them down to a home that symbolizes being broke (to them).
  • If the money is loaned because “the kids” don’t have a very good credit rating, and can’t get a mortgage without a large down payment (or worse without a co-signer). Most times a bad credit-rating is earned, and maybe they really are a bad loan candidate ?

Families and money sometimes are a very bad mix, both parents and children should think carefully before there are large monetary transactions “between them”.

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Land Transfer Tax (don’t forget it)

The Land Transfer Tax is one of those interesting pains in the arse (in Ontario) that bites you when you are thinking about buying a house or property. I was very lucky that when I bought my first house, I didn’t have to pay the land transfer tax, because I had used a Ontario Home Owner Savings Plan (long since gone), which had this as its major bonus (for 1st home buyers only) not having to pay the Land Transfer Tax. This forgiving of the Land Transfer Tax on first homes has been replaced by the  Land Transfer Tax Refund for First-time Homebuyers (please read that carefully).

Unfortunately the second house I bought I had to fork out my land transfer tax, and I grumbled a great deal about it. This cost is one of those forgotten costs that is rarely spoken of, until closing costs are discussed (the danger is you might buy less house if you thought about it as part of your purchasing price), but you should think about it before you make an offer on a house.

Land Transfer Tax Calculation

Financial Calculator

You could try to calculate your Land Transfer Tax with a Calculator

From an Ontario Government page, the tax is calculated in the following way:

The tax rates on the value of the consideration are as follows:

Amounts up to and including $55,000 -0.5 %

Amounts exceeding $55,000 up to and including $250,000 - 1.0 %

Amounts exceeding $250,000 - 1.5 %

Amounts exceeding $400,000 where the land contains one or two single family residences – 2.0 %

For the definition of “single family residence,” as defined in subsection 1(1) of the Act please see the end of this bulletin or the Act.

On the basis of that simple formula for residential properties, you could put this in your Excel-like spreadsheet and get the right answer (based on the calculation proposed on the government web page):

=IF(B4<=55000,(B4*0.005),IF(B4<=250000,((B4*0.01)-275),IF(B4<=400000,((B4*0.015)-1525),((B4*0.02)-3525 ))))

Where the B4 cell holds the actual selling price of the residential property. An example output might be:

Price $500,000.00
Land Xfer Tax $6,475.00

Easy enough to figure out, but don’t forget it is there! If you are buying a  $1/2 Million dollar house $6475 may seem like chump change, and if you think so, please stroke me a cheque for that amount, and see how it feels then.

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House Poor ?

Nobody Calls it House Poor ? That is an expression that you don’t hear much these days, and I wonder why it seems to have evaporated as a term when purchasing a house? Very rarely do I hear of Realtors using this expression to dissuade potential buyers from binding themselves up in too much long-term debt (if anything the opposite is true). My guess is the code phrase to other realtors would be for buying too much house now, might be “buying a house they can grow into“.

With  the current rate of interest for mortgages, it seems like a great idea to take on as much house as you can especially if you are young because you have so many things ahead of you:

  1. You will need more space because you are going to have kids
  2. You will make more money soon, because your career is only starting
This House MIGHT be a bit of a stretch for you, but you can grow into it.
This House MIGHT be a bit of a stretch for you, but you can grow into it.
Photo by Mike Alexander

Yes, a real estate agent told me that, in 1990 when we were looking at our first house, but I didn’t fall for it, and back then our first mortgage rate was 12.9% so we locked in for 5 years (that was a great deal back then!).  We didn’t actually over buy at the time, because with interest rates so high, adding more to the principal meant a higher monthly payment.

These days you can get a mortgage at 2.95% (at best), thus adding more principal wouldn’t change much. You might even be tempted to borrow more money to:

  1. Get some new appliances for your house
  2. Consolidate your credit card debt
  3. Add in your moving expenses, land transfer taxes and maybe a nice vacation
  4. Add in your Student Loans

At that rate of interest why not?

Allow me to be clear in my answer, “What are you NUTS ?!?“. We are living with historically low-interest rates, which will eventually go up, what do you do when that happens? Assuming the rates can’t go up because of the fragile economy is going to catch a bunch of folks off guard is my guess.

Anybody else ever heard the expression House Poor lately?

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