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If you’re like most people who are paying off a mortgage or looking to buy or sell a home, chances are you pay attention to where mortgage rates are heading. Mortgage interest rates directly affect your monthly payments and the cost of owning a home long-term. Consider the following strategies when deciding to buy, sell or refinance if rates stay the same, rise or head lower.  

Key Takeaways

  • Mortgage interest rates can be influenced by a number of factors, including inflation, geopolitical events and unemployment levels.
  • The Federal Reserve can raise the federal funds rate to curb rising inflation, which can indirectly impact mortgage interest rates.
  • When interest rates rise, home-buying becomes more expensive; when rates drop, home affordability increases.
  • Using an online mortgage calculator can help you decide if buying, selling or refinancing makes sense in the current interest rate environment.

When Mortgage Interest Rates Hold Steady

Average interest rates for mortgages have been at historic lows for much of the last decade, which could put you in a good position to buy or sell a home. Low interest rates allow you to buy more house for the same monthly payment you would be paying with a higher interest rate.

Interest rates have been extremely low but are starting to rise with most experts expecting them to continue to rise. December 2020 had the lowest average rate on a 30 year fixed mortgage at 2.68%. Rates continued to stay low with some minor fluctuations through 2021 and early 2022 with February 2022 having an average rate of 3.76%.

The Federal Reserve raised rates on March 17, 2022, and is expected to do so again if the job market remains strong. While the Fed doesn’t directly set mortgage rates, it does set the Federal Funds Rate. This is the rate at which banks lend money to one another. Changes to the federal funds rate can affect changes in bond yields, which in turn influences mortgage rates.

How Rates Impact Your Buying Power

If you were to buy a home for $300,000 with a 20% down payment and finance the remainder with a fixed-rate 30-year loan at 4.5% your monthly payment would be $1,216.04. Financing the same home at 6% would raise your payments to $1,438.92, over $200 more a month. If you can’t afford that extra $200 you’ll have to reduce your home buying budget, simply because rates have risen.

Using a mortgage calculator is a good resource to compare these costs.

If Mortgage Rates Drop

After years of historical lows, mortgage rates have been rising. Theoretically, at some point, they could go down again. If they do, the above still holds true.

If you have an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) and rates fall or remain the same you may want to consider refinancing with a fixed-rate loan to take the stress out of worrying about rising rates in the years to come. Interest rates for adjustable-rate mortgages, also known as variable-rate mortgages, are lower initially than fixed-rate loans for a given period – five years, for example. After the introductory period ends, rates rise according to market indexes, eventually surpassing the rate for fixed-rate loans.

Important

Upward adjustments to an ARM interest rate can substantially increase your monthly mortgage payment.

If you have a fixed-rate loan and rates fall, it may be worth looking at refinancing it into a shorter-term loan. If, for example, you have 20 years left on a 30-year mortgage it may make sense to refinance the remaining 20 years into a new 15-year mortgage. Rates on 15-year mortgages are also lower than 30-year mortgages. Combine that with a rate drop and you could save on the amount of interest paid and pay off your mortgage sooner.

When refinancing always consider your unique set of circumstances. Factor in closing costs and how long it will take to realize the cost benefits. How long, for example, do you plan to live in your home before selling? Will you break even before you plan to sell? Generally speaking, the larger the outstanding mortgage, the more impact lower rates can have on your monthly payments. You might consider if a variable or fixed-rate mortgage is a better option.  

And, of course, lower rates mean you can afford more house—and more people can afford your house—so it can be a good time to buy or sell a home.

Note

When refinancing, also consider whether you’ll still have to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI) on the loan and if not, how much that might reduce your monthly payment.

Rising Mortgage Rates

When rates rise and you have a low interest fixed rate mortgage and are not looking to sell or buy, you can happily stay the course and sleep well at night. But if you need a larger home or have to relocate, keep in mind the long-term view that, historically, home values have kept up with inflation. In addition, as inflation rises, your mortgage payments on a fixed-rate loan remain the same.

Also, consider that median prices for homes have risen post-recession. If the value of your home has gone up, so has your equity. Equity is the amount of the home you own, minus the outstanding loan balance. In a rising interest rate environment, you might want to reconsider whether now is a good time to refinance your mortgage.

A 10% rise in value on a $300,000 home means $30,000 more in your pocket when you sell. This can help with putting down a larger down payment when you buy your next home and help offset higher interest rates by lowering your monthly payment.

While a rising interest rate environment isn’t ideal for buying and selling, if it comes with more equity, that extra money can help cancel out the effect of higher interest rates. 

Will Mortgage Interest Rates Go Up in 2022?

Given the Federal Reserve’s expressed interest in raising the federal funds rate to help cool rising inflation, it seems likely that mortgage interest rates will go up again in 2022 and perhaps into 2023 as well. Just how much mortgage rates are likely to increase is unclear.

Should I Lock My Rate Now or Wait?

Locking your interest rate could help you to secure a lower rate on a mortgage if rates rise before you close on the property. Whether it makes sense to lock your rate is a personal decision and you may want to talk to your mortgage professional about the pros and cons. Also, consider whether your lender will charge any fees to lock your rate or allow you to purchase points to buy down the rate.

Is Now a Good Time to Refinance?

The best time to refinance a mortgage loan is usually when you’re able to get a lower interest rate and/or more favorable loan terms. Whether it makes sense for you to refinance your mortgage can depend on your reasons for wanting to do so and how much you might be able to reduce your rate or monthly payment by.

How Do I Shop for Mortgage Rates?

Shopping for mortgage rates starts with deciding what type of home loan will work best for your needs. Rates for conventional loans, FHA loans, VA loans and USDA loans can vary and one type of loan may be a better fit than another. Once you choose a mortgage option, you can then compare mortgage rates from different lenders online to see who has the best rates. Learn what’s important about locking in a good rate.

The Bottom Line

The consensus is that interest rates in 2022 and beyond will continue to rise as the Federal Reserve has been periodically raising its benchmark rate and is forecast to keep doing so. That means would-be homebuyers should consider acting now. Of course, there’s always the chance that rates will drop in the future. If that’s the case, buyers should be prepared to capitalize on any dips.

Because rates are still relatively low, homeowners with older mortgages who haven’t yet refinanced should consider whether it makes sense to do that to secure lower monthly payments. And homeowners with ARMs should waste no time considering whether they should switch to a fixed loan. As always, closing costs and your own timeframe (how long do you plan to stay in your current home?) should be factored in.

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