The lowest rates in history (again)

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Mortgage rates ticked down to yet another new low last week: an average 2.71% for a 30-year fixed-rate loan. That’s down from the previous week’s 2.72%, mortgage company Freddie Mac said on Thursday, and this marks the 14th time rates have hit a new low since the coronavirus pandemic started hitting the U.S. hard during March.

Rates on 30-year mortgages are down nearly a full percentage point from a year ago, when the average was 3.68%. Mortgage rates are continuing to drop as COVID-19 keeps thrashing the economy, says George Ratiu, senior economist at Realtor.com.

“While we see a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel with upcoming vaccines, there is still a big question around whether Congress can come to terms on a new stimulus package to help the country recover from the current economic downturn,” Ratiu says.

Rates have reached a new bottom even with the new 0.5% refinance fee imposed by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, government-sponsored mortgage giants that buy most U.S. home loans from lenders. Many lenders had been expected to pass the fee along to consumers in the form of higher mortgage rates.

On other popular mortgages, rates also fell last week, the Freddie Mac survey shows. The average for a 15-year fixed-rate loan dropped to a record-low 2.26%, from 2.28%. Those mortgages, a favorite type for refinancing, are miles below last year at this time, when the average rate was 3.14%

Starter rates on 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgages, or ARMs, are averaging 2.86%, down sharply from 3.16% a week earlier. One year ago, the average was a stiffer 3.39%.

Cut your bills with record-low rates

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Historically low rates have continued the yearlong rush on refinances. The Mortgage Bankers Association reported this week that refi applications have been coming in at double the pace of a year ago.

But, many homeowners are sitting idly by while others cut their mortgage bills. More than 19 million mortgage holders are holding out and could still pocket savings averaging $309 a month by refinancing now, the mortgage technology and data provider Black Knight reported last month.

Good refi candidates — those with a solid credit score and at least 20% home equity — may need to hurry to lock in one of the best rates while they're still available. If demand heats up any further, it could thwart your shot at getting the best rates.

“Some lenders have chosen to keep rates slightly higher than the market would indicate to mitigate the wave of applications coming their way,” says Matthew Speakman, an economist with Zillow.

To find the best rates, experts say borrowers should gather and compare at least five mortgage offers — because rates can vary sharply from one lender to the next.

Even if you do miss out on the cheapest rates in history, you can still squeeze out savings elsewhere, like by using your comparison shopping skills to get the lowest price when you buy or renew your homeowners insurance.

About the Author

Ethan Rotberg

Ethan Rotberg

Reporter

Ethan Rotberg is a staff reporter at MoneyWise. His background includes nearly 15 years as a writer, editor, designer and communications professional. He loves storytelling, from feature writing to narrative podcasts. His work has appeared in the Toronto Star, CPA Canada and Metro, among others.

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