Do Canadians Earn Enough to Live Comfortably with a Mortgage?

by Roxana Baiceanu
10 min. read

When thinking about buying a house, the first question that pops into our minds is ‘Can I make the loan payments and still live comfortably?’ The question is particularly legitimate when it comes to the Canadian housing market, as prices here have increased exponentially in the last years and the new mortgage rules may have just made it more difficult to qualify for a house loan.

And if we want to add more weight to the question, we can also take into account the gross debt service formula (GDS) advanced by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation — that is, keeping the house debt-to-income ratio under 35% to avoid becoming debt-burdened. Okay, before you decide that renting may be a better idea after all, take a look at what we learned from a study we recently conducted on single-income professionals in Canada looking to get a house mortgage.

Key findings:

  • See the city breakdown below to find out where and how well Canadian professionals can live while paying the mortgage on an average home;
  • Canadians may need an extra $20,000 per year added to the average income of $50,000 to afford making payments on a home;
  • Among the 10 major cities considered for the study, those where Canadians earning less than $50,000 in annual income can secure a mortgage are Fredericton NB, Winnipeg MB, Halifax NS, and Saskatoon, SK;
  • In most of Canada’s cities, single Canadians at the upper end of the income scale can pay for a mortgage loan while complying with the 35% GDS;
  • Vancouver is becoming out-of-reach even for highly-paid professionals such as lawyers.


Only in 4 cities will the average income secure you a mortgage which won’t be a burden: Fredericton, NB; Winnipeg, MB; Halifax, NS and Saskatoon, SK

Official statistics informed us that in September 2016 the average salary in Canada rounded off to $50,000 a year, just an uptick from the same period of last year. Generally speaking, salaries depend on the city and other factors, so we wanted to find out if the average gross salary would be enough for the single Canadian to make mortgage payments and not be debt burdened.

In our study, we relied on the average home price in several of Canada’s major cities and the average monthly income on a per capita basis (so not per household), we focused on 10 cities — Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Fredericton, and Halifax. We discovered that, out of these, the only ones where Canadians can hop on a five-year, fixed mortgage rate of 2.49% over a 25 year amortisation period without breaking the 35% ‘safe borrowing’ rule are Fredericton NB, Winnipeg MB, Halifax NS, and Saskatoon, SK. In all other major cities, Canadians need to earn between $2,000 and $80,000 more per year in order to comfortably afford a mortgage.


Annual income needed to buy a house in Canada

In Vancouver B.C., lawyers are on the verge of not being able to afford a house loan at a 35% debt-to-income ratio — they may need about $1,000 more per year, while a general practitioner needs a bonus of about $6,000. It may not be a lot, looking at the numbers but what’s problematic is that people being paid that much can barely stay under the official GDS. If they can barely make the cut, what about all the other working BC residents?

Toronto homes, on the other hand, seem to be a more accessible alternative for the same professionals as income here is enough to cover a loan for an average home and living expenses.


Computer programmers and workers in 9 other well paid professions outpriced in Vancouver and Toronto

We looked at the difference between the income needed to buy a home and the income earned by several types of professional in most major cities in Canada and it looks like many single Canadians — at least the professionals we selected for this study — can make their mortgage payments and still have enough money to live on.

Interactive visual: Click on the arrows on the left and right sides of the job title to browse through the professions



Note: For smooth reading, from here on, when we use the term ‘mortgage’ it will refer to a five-year mortgage with a fixed rate of 2.49% and a 25 year amortisation period.


Vancouver and Toronto have become out-of-reach even for well-paid professionals. To illustrate, we looked at computer programmers, one of the many well-paid jobs in the IT field. According to Living in Canada’s statistics, they earn around $38/hour both in Toronto and in Vancouver, which adds up to a total annual income of around $75,000. However, in order to afford a mortgage loan which represents less than 35% of their wage they need an annual bonus of $54,000 in Vancouver and $38,000 in Toronto. Accountants, another in-demand job in Canada which pays over the national average, are in a similar situation. They need an extra $68,500 to live comfortably while paying for the mortgage on a house in Vancouver and $40,000 more in Toronto.

At the other end are bank clerks and cashiers, who’d have to shell out almost their entire income to afford a house in most major cities. When it comes to getting a house in Vancouver or Toronto, they wouldn’t be able to afford one even if they gave away their entire annual pay.

Professionals tend to earn different wages in different cities, which means it might be difficult for some of them to afford buying homes in a certain city without spending more than 35% of their income on a house mortgage. Homes in Montreal, QC, for example, tend to be a bit expensive for firefighters and registered nurses. Elementary school teachers and electricians may also need to spend close to 35% of their income on homes in Calgary, AB.


Is mortgage a burden for working Canadians living in the big cities?

We’ve previously mentioned the 35% debt-to-income rule, which is considered by experts to be a safe threshold for credit seekers. In real estate, this rule is meant to help home buyers avoid defaulting on their loan. The limit comes from the belief that housing costs exceeding 35% of a household’s income are considered a red flag, showing that the household may be at risk of becoming mortgage burdened.

The visual below shows how working Canadians at all paying levels may need to pay more than 35% of their income on their house loan, and the cities where they are most at risk.  Green is used to designate the cities where professionals have money left after paying the mortgage while dark orange points out the cities where Canadians need to earn extra in order to avoid becoming mortgage burdened. Once again, all calculations were based on the 35% debt-to-income rule and the income considered was that of an individual, not of a family.

Interactive map: Click on the tabs on the left side of the visual to quickly move through professions

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The best major Canadian cities for living with a house mortgage

When classifying cities into most affordable and least affordable we took into account the yearly income left for other expenses after making mortgage payments.

Registered Nurses

Among Canada’s major cities, nurses receive the best pay in Calgary, AB ($90,786/year), but average home prices are also quite high ($451,242).

Best 3 cities to get a house mortgage:

  • Edmonton AB ($68,914 left)
  • Saskatoon, SK ($68,108 left)
  • Fredericton, SK ($68,059 left)


General Practitioners and Family Physicians

For doctors, Winnipeg, MB offers the best pay — $147,564. Its second advantage is the low cost of housing — $279,557 on average.

Best 3 cities to get a house mortgage:

  • Winnipeg, MB ($148,260 left)
  • Fredericton, NB ($132,655 left)
  • Edmonton, AB ($129,860 left)


Bank Clerks

The fact that bank clerks earn less than the national average makes it rather hard for them to get a house loan in one of Canada’s major cities and not spend over 35%.

Best 3 cities to get a house mortgage:

  • Ottawa, ON ($29,429 left)
  • Edmonton, AB ($29,271 left)
  • Fredericton, NB ($25,019 left)



According to our data, accountants earn enough to live comfortably with a house loan pretty much anywhere in Canada, except for Vancouver and Toronto.

Best 3 cities to get a house mortgage:

  • Edmonton, AB ($57,936 left)
  • Calgary, AB ($56,286 left)
  • Halifax, NS ($54,193 left)



Professionals in this category are also able to get a house loan and still keep their debt under the 35% ‘safety threshold’.

Best 3 cities to get a house mortgage:

  • Calgary, AB ($80,431 left)
  • Winnipeg, MB ($63,751 left)
  • Ottawa, ON ($57,366 left)


Police officers

Although they’ll be left with very little if they go for a house loan in Vancouver or Toronto, police officers are able to live comfortably with a mortgage in the following cities:

Best 3 cities to get a house mortgage:

  • Ottawa, ON ($65,916 left)
  • Calgary, AB ($64,619 left)
  • Saskatoon, SK ($62,360 left)



Because of the low paying grade, cashiers will have a hard time getting a house loan in Canada’s most important cities unless they can show proof of extra income. In many cases, they’ll have to use their entire monthly pay in order to make the payments on an average home.

Best 3 cities to get a house mortgage:

  • Fredericton, NB($13,805 left)
  • Winnipeg, MB ($9,295 left)
  • Halifax, NS ($9,007 left)


Elementary School Teachers

Except for a few big cities in Canada, teachers are lucky enough to be able to afford a house mortgage in most parts of the country.

Best 3 cities to get a house mortgage:

  • Edmonton, AB ($64,248left)
  • Fredericton, NB ($59,605 left)
  • Ottawa, ON ($59,333 left)


Social workers

The best province for a social worker to settle in seems to be Alberta. High pay and affordable house prices make Alberta’s major cities the most attractive for social workers.

Best 3 cities to get a house mortgage:

  • Edmonton, AB ($72,185 left)
  • Calgary, AB ($66,431 left)
  • Fredericton, NB ($59,048 left)


Computer Programmers

The income earned by computer programmers makes them part of that group of fortunate workers who can live and pay a house loan pretty much everywhere in Canada. Well, they might have to live a bit more frugally in Vancouver and Toronto, but that depends on the type of house they buy.

Best 3 cities to get a house mortgage:

  • Fredericton, NB ($69,300 left)
  • Ottawa, ON ($65,574 left)
  • Edmonton, AB ($64,956 left)



Pretty much any city in Canada is a ‘good’ city for lawyers to become home owners, but there are some of them which are just better (savings-wise) than others.

Best 3 cities to get a house mortgage:

  • Saskatoon, SK ($131,038 left)
  • Edmonton, AB ($120,640 left)
  • Ottawa, ON ($116,897 left)



Professionals in this category should better stay away from Vancouver and Toronto if they don’t want to completely empty their pockets when making house loan payments. Instead, a house in the following cities would be more affordable:

Best 3 cities to get a house mortgage:

  • Edmonton, AB ($59,352 left)
  • Calgary, AB ($56,140 left)
  • Montreal, QC ($51,600 left)



  • The findings are based on average home prices published in January 2017 by CREA and on mortgage payments calculated using a five-year, fixed mortgage rate of 2.49% and a 25 year amortisation period;
  • For income, we looked at the single salaries of professionals (not family income) in several of Canada’s most important cities. Gross wages were adjusted in order to reflect the current situation by applying the provincial annual growth rate available on Statscan to 2011 income data;
  • For calculating the real income needed to afford a house mortgage, we took into account the gross debt service formula (GDS);
  • Sources: Living in Canada; Statscan; Ratehub; CREA.








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