According to Statistics Canada, about one-quarter of Canadians are spending too much on housing costs. “Too much” is defined by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) as 30% or more of household income. Are you house rich and cash poor?
First off, it’s important to understand what CMHC’s “household income” refers to in order to measure if you are over or under the suggested 30% threshold. They define household income as pre-tax household income, which is a questionable metric due to our tax code.
We have a graduated tax system in Canada where every taxpayer files their own tax return, so there can be a big difference in after-tax income between two households with identical household incomes. A household where two people are earning $50,000 each in Ontario, for example, has after-tax income of about $75,840. A household where one person is earning $100,000 – the same gross income as the $50,000 times 2 household – has only $69,841 of after-tax income. That’s a difference of about 8%, so not immaterial.
What are “housing costs”? According to CMHC, these costs include rent and utilities for renters. For homeowners, included are mortgage payments, property taxes, condo fees and utilities.
Several factors are ignored by the 30% rule of thumb. What if a couple has two cars and they drive long distances to work, so transportation costs are higher than a couple with no cars? What if they have kids? They’re not cheap either.