When Leigh Malone bought her house two years ago, she was told a five-year fixed rate mortgage was the best product for her.

However, she never thought she'd find herself moving to Ottawa, having to sell home and having to break her mortgage.

"They advised me it was going to be $7,500 to get out of my mortgage…I started running numbers – variable versus fixed rate. I've spent $12,000 in two years. If I had been in a variable, it would've been $6,000 or less," Malone said.

Malone feels she wasn't told about all of her options and she is planning to make a formal complaint to the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments. As of June, the ombudsman has seen a 21 per cent jump in complaints against banks and most of them are about how they handle pre-payment penalties.

The number of complaints doesn't come as a surprise to some mortgage experts.

Daryl Harris, with the Canadian Association of Accredited Mortgage Professionals, says his association gets a lot of inquiries from people who are wondering about breaking their contract.

But, as with most contracts, they're difficult to break and that's why people should do their research before they sign onto a mortgage, he says.

"Where people have been caught is where interest rates have gone down," Harris said. They have to pay the difference between now-current rates and their rate. It's called interest rate differential. When rates go up, that IRD may not come into play as much--then it might be three-month interest rate penalty. That's an important component to know up front."

So, Harris says that before you look at variable or fixed mortgages, you should ask yourself three questions.

• Can you sleep at night knowing your variable rate may go up?

• Will your earning potential grow in the future to weather changing rates?

• How closely do you follow rates?

"There is a certain segment that will only qualify for a fixed rate mortgage, because the qualifications for the variable rate mortgage would be too high," Harris added.

Consumers need to negotiate or find a broker who can do it for them. Mortgage specialists say the posted rate on the bank's window is usually a percent-and-a-half higher than consumers can actually get.

That represents money that could be in your pocket, instead of your house.

As of June, the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments has seen a 21 per cent jump in complaints against banks.