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10 ways to take control of your finances

A New Year means resolutions and often times have a financial component to them. Here are 10 ways you can take control of your finances this coming year.


New Year. New financial you.

It’s hard to believe the New Year has already begun. With a New Year often comes resolutions – creating a plan for the future using lessons from the past – and many times have a financial component to them.

Here are 10 ways you can take control of your finances this coming year.

1. Set goals

We all have dreams of what we want to do and what we want to achieve. Make these dreams a reality by setting goals to achieve them. Organize your goals by priority and be sure they’re realistic and achievable. Tip: Start small. Small goals are easier to reach and help train your brain into believing you can achieve it, increasing your chance for success of future goals. Get started by checking out our Goal Setting Blog.

2. Take action

It’s one thing to say you’re going to do something and actually doing it. Put action to your words by creating an action plan setting dates you want to achieve parts/milestones of your goal by. Hold yourself accountable and reward yourself when achieving each milestone helping you to keep motivated.

3. Create a budget

A budget helps you manage your money, showing you how much you’re bringing in each month and where you plan on spending your money. It can help you not spend above your means and focus on what’s important to you. To make budgeting easier for you, we recommend using our online Budget Calculator.

4. Track your spending

By tracking every nickel you spend, you’re able to get an accurate picture of your spending habits – sometimes it can be very shocking how quickly or how much your purchases add up. Tracking your spending will also help you create a more precise budget based on your spending habits and allow you to identify areas where you may need to change your spending behaviours.

5. No-spend challenges

Each month challenge yourself to a spending freeze for a day, weekend or even the full month for all non-essential items. Or pick a different non-essential category to not spend on such as ‘No Eating Out March’.

We recommend challenging yourself for a day or weekend if doing for the first time. Check out our No-Spend Weekend Challenge Blog helping you succeed in taking an entire weekend off from spending.

6. Save for an emergency

Life can sometimes throw us a curveball, threatening our financial well-being and causing us stress. Set money aside each month into an emergency savings fund for those unexpected life events. Having a fund ensures if your car breaks down or your furnace goes in the middle of winter that you’re prepared and gives you peace-of-mind knowing you won’t need to stress trying to find money to cover these unexpected expenses.

7. Prepare for retirement

We all dream of the day we’ll retire – no more alarm clock, being able to take a nap whenever we’d like and playing that golf game on a Wednesday afternoon. Being able to retire the way we want though requires some planning in advance. Start preparing now by checking out our blog, Retirement: will you have enough?

8. Save your extra money

Throughout the year we come across extra money such as an income tax return or a cheque from our Grandma for our birthday. Though we may be tempted to treat ourselves, consider putting any extra, unexpected money you come across into savings – you’ll thank yourself at the end of the year when you have extra savings in the bank!

9. Invest in a TFSA

A tax-free savings account (TFSA) is a great way to save for just about anything, whether it be a short-term or long-term goal. What you save is not tax deductible nor are you taxed when you withdraw your earnings. As well, in 2019 contribution maximums have increased to $6,000. Learn more here.

10. Plan/review your estate

We often think that planning our estates is something we do when we’re older but in fact, everyone young or old should have an estate plan in place in case something unexpected were to happen to us. Having an estate plan helps our loved ones understand our wishes and how to carry them out if we were to pass. This can include naming guardians for children, instructions for your burial/cremation and how you’d like your property divided up and should be updated at each life event such as marriage, children, divorce, retirement, etc. Start your plan by speaking with a local estate planner or lawyer today.

A New Year symbolizes a fresh start and new beginnings. Hopefully, these quick tips help you feel more prepared to take on the new year and take control of your finances. For more financial advice, we encourage you to check out some of our other blogs or contact us today to set up an appointment with a financial advisor.

mortgage documents and pen

Fixed vs. variable: picking a mortgage that’s right for you

Fixed or variable? When it comes to picking the type of mortgage rate you want, there are many things to consider. 


There are many questions and decisions to make when buying a house. How much can I afford? Where do I want to be located? How much can I put down? Something you may not be considering though is the type of mortgage rate you want – a fixed rate mortgage or a variable rate mortgage.  Understanding and picking the type of mortgage rate you want is a big decision, and without the proper knowledge and resources, can be quite difficult to make. When choosing the mortgage rate for you, it’s important to look at your situation and ask yourself what you are comfortable with.  Like any big decision someone makes in their life, it often starts with a good old-fashioned pro’s and con’s list.

Fixed

A fixed mortgage rate is one that remains the same throughout the entire term of your mortgage, no matter how much the market fluctuates. With a fixed rate, you’ll know exactly what you’re paying towards the principal and the interest on your mortgage.

  • Pro: Known as the ‘set it and forget it choice’, a fixed rate mortgage provides no risk if interest rates change and can provide a sense of security for people, especially if raising interest rates cause you stress.   
  • Con: Fixed mortgage rates often are higher than variable mortgage rates and are locked-in, meaning if interest rates were to decrease, you wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the lower rates. They typically have higher payout penalties than variable mortgage rates if having to break a mortgage prior to the term being up.

Variable

A variable mortgage rate is one that fluctuates with the market interest rate, known as the ‘prime rate’. What this means is the amount of your mortgage payment that goes to the principal and towards interest can change month-to-month.

  • Pro: Generally, variable mortgage rates are lower and can result in interest savings and provide you with the option to pay your mortgage off faster. Variable mortgage rates also have a lower payout penalty (3 months interest) if the mortgage is broken prior to the term being up.
  • Con: Variable rates have a bit of risk associated with them, as they’re unpredictable due to fluctuating markets. If interest rates increase, the amount you pay towards interest will also increase.

When people hear the term variable, many believe this means that your payment fluctuates. What many don’t know is that when choosing a variable rate you have the option to set your payment amount so it’s the same each time. What this means is that each payment date your payment amount stays the same, but depending on an increase or decrease in interest rates the portion of your payment that goes towards interest and to the principal may change. To learn more, talk to a mortgage specialist.

To help explain the difference between fixed and variable rates further, we recommend checking out this great Know How video by Ontario’s Northern Credit Union.

Your buying situation

There are many factors to consider when choosing between a fixed and variable rate. To help break it down, here are the three questions to ask yourself:

  1. What is your risk tolerance?
  2. What is your financial circumstance?
  3. What are the chances of you breaking your mortgage before maturity?

Risk Tolerance

Everyone’s risk tolerance is different and depends on your personal and financial situation. For some, a bit of risk may be scary, while for others they may be comfortable taking one. If you’re someone who lays awake at night worrying about increasing or changes to payments, choosing a variable rate may not be for you.

Financial Circumstance

Your financial circumstance can have a large impact on determining if a fixed or variable rate is right for you. Do you live pay cheque to pay cheque or frequently spending above your means? If so, a fixed rate may be the better option for you. If interest rates increase causing your mortgage payment to increase does this cause you to worry? If you can handle an increase, a variable rate might be better suited for you.

Breaking your mortgage before maturity

Life happens and things change that may cause you to break your mortgage before your term is up. It’s important to understand when choosing a mortgage the rules around payout penalties – the fee you would pay if you were to break your mortgage before the term ends. Variable and fixed rates have different payout penalty rules and a mortgage specialist can help you to understand the penalty payout rules, but also calculate the payment.

Consider factoring in your personal situation and future goals to help pick a mortgage term length (one-year, three-years or five-years) based on your situation. Ask yourself:

  • What stage of life are you in?
  • Are you purchasing the house with anyone? (e.g. friend, sibling, etc.)
  • Is this home big enough to grow into?
  • Do I plan on relocating for work anytime soon?

With any decision, it is always important to do your research and speak with a mortgage specialist. They can provide you with guidance and advice based on your personal situation, help you to understand market trends and forecasts and assist you in making one of the most important decisions of your life.

To learn more, contact one of Conexus’ Mobile Mortgage Specialists today.

person handing setting of keys to another person

Tips for first-time homebuyers

Purchasing your first home is a big life decision. Our Mobile Mortgage Specialists share advice for first-time homebuyers on what to know and consider when purchasing your first home.


Buying your first home is a huge life event and can sometimes cause a bit of stress. Figuring out where to start can also become a bit overwhelming. All the questions you begin to ask yourself – how much can I afford? Who should I talk to? How much money do I need to put down? To help get you started, and reduce some of that unnecessary stress, we sat down with our Mobile Mortgage Specialist Team to give us their advice on what to know and consider when purchasing your first home.

Planning

As it’s one of the biggest decisions of your life, planning is essential to ensure you don’t get in over your head. Planning early is key and includes asking yourself some important questions including:

  • What type of home do you want to buy? A condo, residential home or perhaps one that has a legal suite in the basement allowing for potential income – or what some like to call a mortgage helper?
  • How long do you plan to live in this home? Is it your starter home? Forever home? What does your life look like in the next 5-10 years? Family, pets, etc. – will this home need to be able to grow with you?
  • What can you afford? What payment would you be comfortable paying that allows you to still live comfortably? Does this amount include all home-associated costs such as utilities, maintenance, etc.? What other expenses impact your affordability such as debt repayment, etc.?
  • How much money do you have saved for a down payment and what will you need?

When starting to think about purchasing a home, these are just a few of the questions you need to be asking. We recommend speaking with an expert, such as a Mobile Mortgage Specialist, to walk you through these questions and to help you come up with a plan. Doing so will allow you to become focused and help you understand exactly what you need to do to get you where you want to be.

Pre-approvals & affordability

Once you have an understanding of what you’re looking for, it’s important to determine how much money you can borrow. Getting pre-approved sets parameters for the amount of loan you’d be approved for and helps ensure you’re not looking at homes outside of your price range.

When getting approved for a mortgage a number of factors are considered including your income, length of employment, credit history, monthly obligations, assets, liabilities, etc. Debt is also a big factor when it comes to being approved. Credit cards, lines of credit, and loans can have a huge impact on how much you’re approved for.

Also, it’s important to understand how your pre-approved amount equates to your payment cycle. Is this amount something you can afford each month, bi-weekly or weekly? And how long do you want to be paying this mortgage off? Twenty years? Twenty-Five? A longer length of time may make your payments lower but can cost you more interest in the long run.

Remember, whatever you are pre-approved for doesn’t mean you need to spend the full amount on a home. Purchasing a lower-priced home means you’ll need to borrow less money, potentially smaller payments, and the ability, if it works within your budget, to potentially pay off your home more quickly.

Down payments

First-time homebuyers are required to put down a minimum of 5% of the purchase price – for example, if you’re looking to purchase a $300,000 home, you’ll need to put down $15,000. Seems like a lot, right? And another reason why planning is essential.

Start saving for a down payment as early as you can. Consider putting into a savings account, Tax-Free Savings Account or RRSP. Take the ‘pay yourself first’ approach and put a certain amount of money into a separate account each payday. Label the account something that means something to you such as ‘down payment’ or ‘house account’ as you’ll have a better chance leaving the money alone. Also consider putting any extra money you receive such as a work bonus, gift money, money you make selling some of your own personal items, income tax refunds, etc. into this account to help grow your savings faster.

Programs and incentives for first-time homebuyers

There are several programs and incentives for first-time homebuyers that you should be aware of.

  • The Home Buyers’ Plan allows first-time homebuyers to withdraw money from your RRSP to buy or build a qualifying home. You will need to repay these funds back into your RRSP within 15 years.
  • Saskatchewan’s first-time home buyer’s tax credit provides first time homebuyers with a provincial non-refundable income tax credit of up to $1,075 to eligible taxpayers on qualified homes.
  • The Head Start Equity Builder Program allows first-time homebuyers to take a personal loan as a down payment to purchase a new home constructed by the HeadStart on a Home Program.

Also, consider looking at what local builders have to offer homebuyers. During certain times of the year, or in certain community developments, builders offer incentives such as no down payments or down payment grants to encourage homebuyers to purchase through them.

Other considerations/things to know

There is a lot to know when it comes to purchasing and owning a home, and it can be hard to think of it all by yourself. Along with the advice above, here are a few additional things to know and consider.

  • Lean on your experts. Don’t try to do this alone and work with people who are experienced and have your best interests in mind. Your realtor and mortgage specialist are there to offer you a wealth of information to help guide you step by step and ensure as little stress as possible during this exciting time.
  • Set money aside for all the additional fees associated with purchasing a home such moving expenses, inspection fees, home and life insurance, utility hookups, taxes, lawyer’s fees, etc. We recommend setting aside 1.5-2% of the purchase price to help cover these different costs.
  • Filling your new space can come with a cost. The great part about planning in advance means you can also start setting money aside for furniture, household items and your first grocery trip to fill your cupboards with all of the staple items. Another great tip is to create a list of items you’ll need, watch for sales and purchase throughout your planning timelines, putting anything into storage until you move. Be sure to share this list with family and friends for ideas on what to get you for birthdays and Christmases.
  • Use www.expressaddress.com to have your mail forwarded to your new address, update your address within existing companies and even set up your utilities for your new home. It’s free and will help you save time.
  • Budget. Budget. Budget. With new home ownership comes new expenses, and it’s important to have an understanding of your money and budgeting for your newest life chapter. When setting a budget, be sure to put money aside for some of those unexpected expenses such as maintenance or breakdowns. Check out our Setting a Budget blog to get you started.

Buying a home for the first time can be stressful but with a bit of planning, and working with a team of experts, your transition into home ownership can run smoothly. Remember, you’re not in it alone. We’re here to help.

Ready to start your first-home plan today or have additional questions? We’d love to talk to you – contact one of our mortgage specialists today and let’s start planning your future today!

Home for sale sign

Mortgage stress tests: what to know

Keep hearing the term mortgage ‘stress’ test but unsure what it means to you. In this blog, we break it all down for you and provide advice on what you should consider when it comes to your mortgage.


There has been a lot of talk about the new mortgage restrictions aka “mortgage stress tests”. But with all the coverage and information out there, what does this actually mean and how does it impact you?

Starting Jan. 1, 2018, if you’re applying for a new mortgage (e.g., buying a new home), re-advancing an amount on your mortgage (e.g., renovations), or switching your mortgage to another financial institution, you’ll be subject to a “stress test”. What this means is that your advisor will assess your finances and qualifications based on a higher interest rate than what they are today.

What many don’t know is this process is already in existence for people applying for mortgages with a down payment of less than 20% of the home purchase price or those with a term of less than five years. The new restrictions will now include those who have a larger down payment and longer term time.

Credit unions are not governed federally, and provincially are not legally bound to comply with these new restrictions. However, as a mindful and trusted community partner, many credits unions already have similar policies to ensure our member’s financial well-being is a long-term focus.

“Approving a member for a mortgage that they could not afford to repay over the long term, simply to satisfy a higher purchase price, does not agree with our values as a credit union, nor increase a person’s financial wellness,” said Kris Wanner, Manager, Financial Services, Conexus Credit Union. “Also, it doesn’t promote community growth, all of which are key components to our cooperative.”

This “stress test” is being put into place to protect homeowners from rising interest rates which may impact their overall finances.  Lending rates have been at a historically low level for a number of years. Lately, we’ve seen a rise in interest rates which speaks to the why behind this stress test.

By factoring your ability to repay, and in turn how much they can spend on a home purchase, at a higher rate of interest provides you peace of mind knowing the greatest asset (and largest borrowing) you will ever have is something you can afford to repay.  It also presents the opportunity for you and your advisor to discuss the difference between “What I qualify for” and “What I can afford”.

“Being aware of your finances and your plans will give you a better understanding of what you can afford and not feel stressed,” said Wanner. “It’s also important to think of all variables when looking at affordability. Many times people forget of other expenses, which can cause them financial stress in the future.”

When it comes time to applying for a mortgage or renewing your mortgage, take a broad look at your finances and your plans – look back at what’s changed and where you want to go. Don’t forget to also look at all other factors and expenses that may be associated with homeownership, such as:

  • Property taxes;
  • Condo fees;
  • Utility bills;
  • Insurance; and
  • Home security.

Other expenses such as loan and credit card payments, food, entertainment, etc. are also important to consider.

Homeownership all starts by understanding the money you have and what you spend. Once you have an understanding, you can then create a holistic plan that works for you.

If you have any questions on what you just read or would like further information on mortgages, ask in the comments below or click the ‘Talk to us about banking button’ below to contact us.