How Mortgage Penalties are Calculated

When you’re shopping for a mortgage, what’s the most important thing? Most Canadians will say getting the lowest mortgage rate. While getting a low mortgage rate certainly matters, it’s important to recognize that there are other things to consider as well.

There’s a difference between getting the lowest mortgage rate and the lowest cost of borrowing. Getting the lowest mortgage rate is just that, the mortgage with the lowest rate. Whereas, getting the lowest cost of borrowing factors in other things like prepayments and penalties. In this week’s article, we’re going to talk about the latter, penalties.

When you sign up for a mortgage, probably the last thing on your mind is breaking it. But sometimes life happens and you’re forced to break it sooner than anticipated. It could be for many reasons: relocating for a job promotion, job loss, divorce, and the list goes on. If you didn’t take the time to ask about mortgage penalties when you first signed up for your mortgage, you could find yourself blindsided by a big penalty.

In this article, we’ll look at how mortgage penalties are calculated for variable-rate and fixed-rate mortgages. After reading this article, you’ll have a much better understanding of how mortgage penalties work and what to look for.

“Roughly 2 out of 3 people break their mortgage early, at an average of 33 months”

Dustan Woodhouse

Dustan Woodhouse President at Mortgage Architects

Variable Rate Mortgage Penalties

If you’re signed up for a variable (or adjustable) rate mortgage, the penalty is pretty simple. You’ll pay three months’ interest for breaking your mortgage early. This is the most favourable mortgage penalty calculation (besides paying no penalty at all of course). Whether you’re with one of the big banks or a monoline lender, your penalty will be three months’ interest.

For example, let’s say your mortgage rate is 2.49% percent and you have a $500,000 mortgage balance. In this case your mortgage penalty would be:

2.49% × $500,000 × (3 months/12 months) = $3,113

Pretty simply wouldn’t you say? Whether you break one month into your mortgage over four years, three months in, your mortgage penalty is the same.

Fixed Rate Mortgage Penalties

If you sign for a fixed rate mortgage like most Canadians, the mortgage penalty calculation is a little more complicated. You’ll pay the greater of three months’ interest or something called the “Interest Rate Differential” or IRD for short. If you’ve read stories in the media about Canadians paying huge mortgage penalties, the IRD is most likely the reason why.

Using the same numbers as above, even though your mortgage rate is only 2.49%, if you’re with one of the big banks whose posted rate is let’s 4.79%, that’s when it can really inflate your penalty.

Let’s say you have three years left on your mortgage and your lender’s three-year fixed mortgage rate is 2.25%. If we use the IRD, your mortgage penalty would be:

$500,000 × 36 months × 2.54% (difference between 4.79% and 2.25%)/12 months = $38,100

Because the IRD penalty calculation is greater than the three months’ interest calculation, you’d have to pay a penalty of almost $40k to break your mortgage early. I don’t know about you, but that’s a lot of dough!

The example we showed here is using one version of IRD known as Standard IRD which is based on the current posted rate for a similar comparable term. There are many other versions of IRD and penalty calculations. Some Lenders calculate their penalties on the posted rate at the time you got your mortgage, some deduct the discount you originally received of the posted rate, some require you to pay back the cash-back you originally received, some calculate penalties entirely differently, like 12 months interest or 3% of balance. The only true way to find your exactly penalty is asking your lender. 

The Bottom Line

It’s important to ask about mortgage penalties up front so you’re not forced to pay a penalty out of pocket like this later on.

If you want a fixed rate mortgage, but don’t want to get stuck paying a huge penalty out of pocket, you may consider taking out a fixed rate mortgage with a monoline lender instead of the big banks. Monoline lenders don’t have high posted rates like the big banks, so your mortgage penalty is likely to be a lot lower when breaking your mortgage with a monoline.

April brings a slight inventory decline

There have been no significant changes occurring in sales activity, but the number of new listings coming onto the market continues to ease relative to 2018 levels.

The decline in new listings was enough to start chipping away at overall inventory levels, which have eased slightly compared to last year.

The slight adjustment in supply levels has helped support further reductions in the months of supply, which was 4.6 months in April. While this level still represents oversupply in our market, it does reflect improvement from the nearly seven months of supply that we saw at the start of the year.

“Demand remains relatively weak in the resale market. However, if supply levels continue to adjust, this could help reduce the amount of oversupply and eventually support some price stability,” said CREB® chief economist Ann-Marie Lurie.

As of April, the total residential benchmark price in Calgary was $415,900. This is slightly higher than last month, but still nearly five per cent lower than last year’s levels.

Citywide sales were 1,547 units in April, two per cent higher than last year’s levels. Year-to-date sales remain nearly six per cent lower than last year and are 26 per cent below longer-term averages.

“Sales have been improving mostly in the lower price ranges, causing tighter supply conditions in that segment.  This will likely have a different impact on price trends in the lower price ranges depending on location,” said Lurie.



  • Detached sales improved by nearly three per cent in April compared to last year, due to gains in homes priced under $500,000. However, with 930 sales, activity still remain 24 per cent below long-term averages.  Recent gains were also not high enough to offset pullbacks earlier in the year, causing year-to-date sales to fall by over five per cent.
  • Improving sales did not occur across all districts. In April, there was growth in the North East, North West, South and South East districts of the city. Despite some signs of sales improvement, overall sales activity remains well below 10-year averages throughout every region in the city.
  • April detached inventories citywide continue to remain just above levels recorded last year. Months of supply remain relatively unchanged at four months.
  • The amount of oversupply has varied significantly depending on the area of the city. Months of supply has only risen in the City Centre, South and West districts of the city.
  • Despite some of the adjustments occurring in the detached sector, overall April prices remain lower than last year’s levels across all districts. Year to date, the largest year-over-year declines occurred in in the City Centre, North West and South districts.


  • Despite the affordability of apartment condominiums, sales activity continues to fall across the city and in most districts. There have been 714 apartment condominium sales so far this year, the lowest level since 2001.
  • The decline in new listings has started to outweigh the sales decline, causing inventories to ease. As of April, resale apartment condominium inventories totaled 1,546 units, 16 per cent lower than inventory levels last April.
  • The easing inventories have also caused the months of supply to decline to just above six months. While this is still a buyers’ market, this trend could help ease the downward pressure on prices if it continues.
  • Apartment condominium prices in April totalled $250,400, comparable to last month, but over two per cent below last year’s levels and nearly 17 per cent below 2014 highs.


  • Attached sales activity improved compared to last year’s levels for the second straight month, almost offsetting the declines occurring in the first two months of the year.  Year-to-date sales were 1,113 units, nearly one per cent below last year’s levels, and 14 per cent below long-term averages.
  • Year-to-date sales have improved in all districts except the City Centre, North West and West.
  • Improved sales and easing listings have helped prevent further inventory gains in this sector and overall months of supply have trended down to five months.
  • Following several months of prices trending down, semi-detached benchmark prices in April rose over the previous month. However, prices remain over five per cent below last year’s levels at $395,300.
  • Row prices were $284,900 in April, over five per cent below last year’s levels.



  • Stronger sales in March and April offset earlier declines, causing year-to-date sales to total 363 units, similar to levels recorded last year. New listings continue to decline, causing April inventories to ease compared to last year. Months of supply remain elevated at five months, but this is a notable improvement compared to last year, when months of supply was over six months.
  • Rising sales and easing inventories helped prevent further price declines in April compared to March. However, overall, April prices remained nearly four per cent below last year’s levels. Prices have eased across all property types, with the largest year-to-date decline in the apartment sector at eight per cent.


  • Despite improving sales in April, year-to-date sales in Cochrane eased by six per cent compared to last year. However, new listings have also eased, helping reduce some of the inventory in the market.  While inventories and months of supply remain elevated, for the first time since June 2018, the months of supply fell below six months.
  • Some improvement with oversupply has likely prevented further monthly declines in prices. As of April, total benchmark prices remain over three per cent below last year’s levels for a total of $415,100.


  • Despite some recent improvements in sales, year-to-date sales activity slowed compared to last year. New listings have also eased, but it was not enough to prevent further inventory gains, keeping months of supply above five months.
  • The amount of oversupply has impacted prices. April residential prices totalled $406,700. This is nearly four per cent below last year’s levels. Price declines were slightly higher in the attached sector, with a year-over-year decline of nearly five per cent.