What is the Trigger Rate for Variable Mortgages?

This Page's Content Was Last Updated: December 29, 2022
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What You Should Know

  • The trigger rate is the interest rate where all of your mortgage payment is going towards your interest.
  • Since none of your payment is going towards your principal balance, you'll be forced to either increase your payments, add unpaid interest to your principal, or switch to a fixed rate mortgage.
  • Hitting the trigger rate is only possible for variable rate mortgages with a fixed regular payment, and occurs when prime rates increase significantly.
  • The trigger point is when you hit your trigger rate and you owe more money on your mortgage than your original principal balance.

Mortgage Trigger Rate Calculator

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Your trigger rate is 7.20%

Note: This is an approximate value. To find your exact trigger rate, consult your mortgage contract.

What is a Mortgage Trigger Rate?

The mortgage trigger rate is the interest rate where your mortgage payments only cover the interest, with none going towards your principal balance. That might be the case for variable rate mortgages, where the mortgage rate is based on the lender’s prime rate, with a fixed payment. Hitting your trigger rate can be a concern for variable-rate borrowers if current interest rates are rising significantly in a short period of time.

As the lender’s prime rate increases, you’ll owe more interest on each payment, but because your payments are fixed, less money will go towards your principal balance. Once interest rates rise above your trigger rate, your payments no longer cover even just the interest. You can find your trigger rate in your mortgage contract.

Do all mortgages have a trigger rate? 💡

The only type of mortgage where a trigger rate might apply would be variable rate mortgages. Other mortgage types, such as fixed rate mortgages or adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs), will never hit their trigger rate. That’s because the interest rate on your mortgage doesn’t change with a fixed rate mortgage during your term, while adjustable-rate mortgages do not have a fixed payment. This means your payment will increase to cover the increased interest costs, with your principal payments remaining the same.

What happens if I hit my mortgage trigger rate?

Hitting your mortgage’s trigger rate means that your current mortgage payment isn’t enough. Your lender may provide you with some options. This might include:

  • Increasing Your Mortgage Payment: While variable mortgages have a fixed payment that doesn’t change, reaching your trigger rate might force your lender to increase your mortgage payment to cover the higher interest costs. This means that you’ll need to pay more money every month, and your mortgage payment might be required to increase even further each time interest rates rise.
  • Adding Unpaid Interest to your Principal: Called negative amortization, this is when unpaid interest is added to your principal balance, which increases the total amount you owe. It’s called “negative” amortization because the loan balance is increasing, rather than decreasing as it normally does with amortization.
  • Switch to a Fixed Interest Rate: To avoid the possibility of further rate hikes and their impact on your variable mortgage, your lender might give you the option of switching to a fixed rate mortgage. Or, they might give you the option of making a lump-sum payment to pay down unpaid interest.

Your lender might not contact you when you reach your trigger rate, and one of the options above might be automatically in place. For example, your lender might automatically increase your variable mortgage rate payment to cover the increased interest. If you can’t afford an increase in payments, contact your lender to discuss options.

The Trigger Point

A mortgage trigger point is hit when you owe more money on your mortgage than your original principal balance. That would happen if your lender allowed for negative amortization, where your mortgage is past your trigger point and unpaid interest is being added to the amount that you owe. Eventually, it may reach the point where the unpaid interest has caused your mortgage balance to be larger than the amount that you borrowed in the first place!

Once you hit your trigger point, continuing to add interest to your principal might not be an option anymore. Your lender may require you to increase your mortgage payment, make a lump-sum payment, or switch to a fixed rate mortgage.

Calculating Your Mortgage Trigger Rate

This page has a mortgage trigger rate calculator that gives an approximate value of your trigger rate. You can also manually calculate your trigger rate. To find your trigger rate, you’ll need to find the point where interest is the only payment being made, based on a certain fixed mortgage payment amount. That can be done by simply setting your mortgage payment as the interest, then calculating it for a year to get an annual interest rate.

The formula for the trigger rate is roughly:

The number of payments per year would be based on your mortgage payment frequency, with common frequencies being monthly and bi-weekly payments. Use the table below to see what number to use.

Number of Payments per Year

Mortgage Payment FrequencyNumber of Payments per Year
Monthly12
Bi-Weekly26
Weekly52

Example Trigger Rate Calculation

For example, let’s say that you have a $500,000 variable rate mortgage with a monthly payment of $3,000. What would your trigger rate be?

Since you’re making monthly payments, there will be 12 payments in a year. If interest made up the entire payment amount, you’ll be paying roughly $36,000 in a year, not considering if the principal balance goes down and assuming the rate stays the same. On a $500,000 balance, that works out to be 7.2% of $500,000. In other words, the trigger rate would be 7.2% if your monthly payments were fixed at $3,000 on a $500,000 mortgage.

What if you make bi-weekly mortgage payments? In this case, the number of payments per year would change in this calculation. If your bi-weekly payments were $1,500 each, then your trigger rate would be 7.8%.

Trigger Point Example

The trigger point is when you owe more money than you originally borrowed, and is an effect of hitting your trigger rate. Let’s say that your original principal balance was $500,000 with a variable mortgage rate of 3%. After a certain period of time, your regular mortgage payments have caused your principal to decrease to $450,000. You’ve paid down $50,000 of your principal balance.

Now let’s say that prime rates increase by 4%, something that occurred in 2022, which means your variable mortgage rate might now be 7%. You’ve hit your trigger rate, and your lender allows for negative amortization. As unpaid interest gets added to your principal, the balance that you owe will grow. If $50,000 worth of unpaid interest gets added to your principal, you’ve now hit your trigger point. Your principal balance is now $500,000, and may continue to increase, which is more than your original balance.

Adjustable-Rate Mortgages 💡

Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) also have a variable interest rate that changes with the prime rate, but the difference between them and variable mortgages is that adjustable-rate mortgages have a variable payment too. This means that ARM payments increase when the interest rate increases, so your principal will continue being paid off at the same amount. This allows for your amortization to remain the same, avoiding the issue of trigger rates and trigger points entirely.

Trigger Rate Statistics

According to the Bank of Canada, about half of variable-rate mortgages have hit their trigger rate in October 2022. Since fixed mortgages are more popular in Canada, this means that only 13% of all Canadian mortgages have hit their trigger rate by October 2022. However, that is still a significant number. The Bank of Canada expects this to increase to 65% of all variable mortgages by mid-2023.

The chart below shares the percentage of variable mortgages that would hit their trigger rate based on current interest rates. With a variable rate of 4.1%, only 5.3% of mortgages would hit their trigger rate. At 6.1%, then 76.8% of mortgages would have hit their trigger rate.

% of Variable Mortgages Hitting Their Trigger Rate

Interest Rate (%)% of Variable-Rate Mortgages at Trigger Rate
3.1%0%
3.4%0.2%
3.6%1.1%
3.9%1.7%
4.1%5.3%
4.4%18.3%
4.6%25.6%
4.9%33.9%
5.1%50.8%
5.4%57.5%
5.6%66.2%
5.9%72.8%
6.1%76.8%
6.4%80.3%
6.6%82.6%
6.9%84.6%
7.1%86.1%
7.4%87.5%
7.6%88.6%
7.9%89.6%
8.1%90.4%

Source: Bank of Canada

The calculators and content on this page are provided for general information purposes only. WOWA does not guarantee the accuracy of information shown and is not responsible for any consequences of the use of the calculator.