Rates have gone so low that some homeowners are still finding they can save money by refinancing mortgages that are only a year or so old.

Mortgage applications go down, led by refis

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Mortgage applications overall dipped 2.2% last week, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported Wednesday.

Applications for refinance loans slumped 8% from a week earlier — but they were still up an eye-popping 152% compared to the same week in 2018. In other words, lenders were dealing with two and a half times as many refis as they were a year ago.

Refinancings accounted for 59.5% of all mortgage applications last week, down from 61.9% a week earlier.

The amount of mortgage purchase applications — for loans to buy homes — rose 7% last week compared to both one week and one year earlier.

Use this calculator to see how a refinance could cut your monthly mortgage payment:

The impact from mortgage rates

Refinance activity has slowed in spite of recent declines in mortgage rates, notes Joel Kan, associate vice president of forecasting for the Mortgage Bankers Association.

"U.S. and China trade anxieties and protests in Hong Kong pulled U.S. Treasuries lower last week, and the 30-year fixed mortgage rate followed the same path," Kan says.

But the closely followed survey from mortgage giant Freddie Mac told a different story last week.

The average for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rose to 3.75%, from 3.69%, Freddie Mac says. Rates on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages, which are a popular refinancing option, jumped to an average 3.2%, from 3.13% the previous week.

Freddie Mac will release fresh numbers on Thursday.

Current average mortgage rates

Loan Type Interest Rate
30-year fixed-rate mortgage 3.73%
15-year fixed-rate mortgage 3.19%
5/1 adjustable-rate mortgage 3.36%
Source: Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Market Survey, Dec. 12, 2019.

The outlook for mortgages

Couple talking with real estate agent outside house for sale.
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Kan is encouraged by the increase in mortgage applications coming from people buying homes.

"There may be signs that housing inventory is starting to meaningfully rise, which will help with affordability and provide more choices for potential homebuyers," he says.

Low mortgage rates should continue to do their part for buyers, too. The benchmark 30-year mortgage rate is likely to remain down around an average 3.7% through the end of the year, according to Freddie Mac's latest forecast.

Just slightly higher rates — averaging 3.8% — are predicted for 2020.

Though rates have been trending upward, they're still down considerably from last year.

On average, you can get a 30-year mortgage more than one full percentage point below the rates that were offered in November 2018, and Freddie Mac has said refinancers this year have been saving about $1,700 a year in interest costs.

Check out today's best mortgage rates where you live.