When a lender makes a loan at a fixed rate of interest with the interest (and usually the principal) repayable in installments over a set period of time, an earlier than expected repayment of the loan may result in the lender suffering a loss. Such loss would occur where at the time of early repayment, the rate of interest which the borrower promised to pay over the whole term of the loan is higher than the rate of interest which the lender could then charge if it immediately re-loaned the money to a new borrower. Given the then market conditions, any new borrower would only be prepared to pay a lower rate of interest. The lender’s loss is typically determined by reference to the value of the difference between the higher and lower rates over the balance of what would otherwise have been the remainder of the term of the original loan.
Actuarial mathematicians can calculate what that value is in the form of a lump sum of money which the lender would want to receive to eliminate its loss (“Early Repayment Loss”). Sometimes lenders will agree to an early repayment of their loan provided that the borrower concurrently pays such lump sum as compensation to the lender for the loss of the loan investment over its originally-intended term.
In the McMillan Fisheries Ltd. Case (the “McMillan Case”, British Columbia Supreme Court, in Bankruptcy, judgment filed March 3, 1998), a question arose as to whether or not a lender was entitled to obtain an Early Repayment Loss which the borrower had promised to pay in the event of an early repayment of the loan. The Court pointed out that in general, where a borrower wishes to repay the loan before the time stipulated in the loan agreement, the borrower cannot force the lender to accept such monies, but it is certainly open to the lender to agree to an early repayment in consideration of the borrower agreeing to pay an Early Repayment Loss amount to the lender. However, if there has been a default by the borrower and the lender has exercised its right to accelerate repayment in full, the cases show that the lender is usually not entitled to require the borrower to pay any Early Repayment Loss. The reasoning here is that now that the lender wants its money back (i.e. having accelerated), it should not be entitled to be compensated for getting that money back earlier than expected.
Notwithstanding this reasoning, the Court noted that earlier case law had held that where the parties’ agreement was that the loan’s “maturity date” was always to remain the last day of the term of the loan, and that the agreement specified that such maturity date was not to be brought forward to the date of acceleration following the borrower’s default, the lender was entitled to extract an Early Repayment Loss from the borrower. Unfortunately for the lender in the McMillan Case, the parties’ agreement clearly specified that the loan “maturity date” was the earlier of the last day of the stipulated loan term and the date upon which the lender chose to accelerate an early repayment of the loan following the borrower’s default. On that basis, the Court held that the lender was not entitled to any Early Repayment Loss.
An interesting sidelight of the McMillan Case is that the borrower also argued that even if the lender was entitled to receive its Early Repayment Loss amount based on what the parties had agreed to, the lender should nevertheless be disentitled from receiving same on the basis of Section 8 of The Interest Act (Canada). Section 8, in effect, provides that following default by a borrower of a real estate secured loan, the lender is not entitled to extract any fine, penalty or other amount which has the effect of increasing the rate of interest on the outstanding loan monies after default, to any rate higher than the rate of interest which was applicable prior to default. However, the Court noted that prior case law had made it clear that the obtaining of an Early Repayment Loss by a lender even after default and acceleration did not offend the requirements of Section 8 because such an amount can be properly categorized as compensation for the lender’s loss (as described above), rather than a fine or penalty or increase in the rate of interest post-default.
In another recent case (the “Pfeiffer Case”, British Columbia Court of Appeal, March, 2003), a question arose as to whether or not a mortgagee who agrees to accept an early repayment of a term loan can require the borrower to pay an extra amount which is not calculated with reference to the present value of the mortgagee’s lost interest over the balance of the term.
In exchange for permitting early repayment of the loan in the Pfeiffer Case, the mortgagee demanded an amount equal to the difference between the mortgage rate and the (then lower) prevailing mortgage rate multiplied by the amount prepaid (the entire balance of the loan) and calculated over the remaining balance of the loan term. This amount was not discounted for the purpose of obtaining a present value lump sum amount, nor did the calculation take into account the fact that the principal balance of the loan would have been reduced over the remainder of the term by virtue of the scheduled periodic (monthly) combined principal and interest payments, if there had been no early repayment. The borrower’s argument was, in effect, that, as a matter of law and notwithstanding the terms of the mortgage, the mortgagee’s entitlement to extra monies by virtue of the early repayment should be limited to the mortgagee’s actual loss over the balance of the term, discounted at the time of the early repayment. The Court held that the mortgagee was not so limited and could, in effect, charge whatever consideration it wanted as the price for the borrower to make an early repayment of the loan.
An interesting question not addressed in the Pfeiffer Case is whether or not, in a particular case, a Court might hold that the consideration required by the mortgagee to permit early repayment is so unduly high that it constitutes an unreasonable penalty. Aside completely from the operation of Section 8 of The Interest Act, the courts have long enjoyed an inherent right to relieve persons from having to pay unreasonable penalties. Since most mortgage lenders do calculate early repayment consideration based on their anticipated loss of interest over the balance of the term, discounted so as to produce a currently payable lump sum, this potential problem may not arise very often.
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