Mortgage rates hit a 2015 high when the national average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage hit 4.08% earlier this week, according to Freddie Mac’s weekly survey. That’s lower than where the U.S. average was at this time last year (4.12%), but home loan pricing (rates, loans and fees, taken together) has been on the rise for most of 2015, pushing homeownership out of reach for many Americans, as the cost of a mortgage creeps up.
For example, if mortgage rates hit 6%, a third of millennials (people younger than 35 years old) wouldn’t be able to afford homes as they’re currently listed, according to an analysis by HouseCanary, a housing-data analytics company. Given that millennials make up more than a quarter of the population, their ability to buy homes will weigh heavily on the performance of the housing market, which has been driven by the baby boomers for decades.
Why do interest rates have such a huge impact on home affordability? Mortgages are huge loans, so a seemingly small shift in interest rates can change a borrower’s monthly payment by hundreds of dollars (though going from the current 4.08% rate to 6% is in no way a small shift). Timing plays an important role in a borrower’s ability to buy a house, but there’s a lot more to home affordability than the economic factors. A consumer’s credit standing will significantly impact the rate he or she qualifies for on a home loan, as does that consumer’s outstanding debt obligations and down payment on the property.
As much as potential homebuyers should monitor mortgage rates before applying for a loan, preparing to enter the mortgage process requires much more planning. In the months and years leading up to when you want to buy a home, prioritize paying down your debt and improving your credit score, in addition to avoiding unnecessary damage to your credit, like applying for new credit (that will slightly ding your score for a short time period) and running up balances on your credit cards.
If you’re planning on buying a home soon, give your credit a thorough review to see if there’s anything that needs your attention before applying for a home loan and take the time to figure out how much home you can afford. You’ll want to make the homebuying process as simple and surprise-free as possible.