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By Leslie Cook and Samantha Sharf
November 25, 2020
Money; Getty Images

Mortgage rates stayed put ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, one week after hitting the 13th record low of the year.

For the week ending November 25, the average rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was again 2.72% with 0.70 discount points paid, according to Freddie Mac’s weekly Primary Mortgage Market Survey. A year ago, the rate on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 3.68%. A record number of people stand to benefit from refinancing.

“Mortgage rates remain at record lows and while that has fueled a refinance boom, it’s been driven mainly by higher income borrowers. With about 20 million borrowers eligible to refinance, lower- and middle-income borrowers are leaving money on the table by not taking advantage of low rates,” said Freddie Mac Chief Economist Sam Khater. “On the homebuying side, demand continues to surge, and it has created a seller’s market where inventory is at a record low and home prices are rising, beginning to offset the benefits of the low rates.”

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The average rate for a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage was also flat at 2.28% with 0.6 points paid. The 15-year interest rate for the same week last year was 3.15%. The average rate on a 5-year adjustable-rate mortgage saw a significant increase to 3.16% with 0.3 discount points paid, increasing 0.31 percentage points from last week.

Meanwhile, applications for unemployment benefits rose for the second consecutive week.

The Department of Labor reported Wednesday that seasonally adjusted initial jobless claims totaled 778,000 for the week ending November 21. The number of claims increased by 30,000 from the previous week and were far higher than most economists were anticipating. The four-week moving average was up to 748,500.

Continuing claims, tracking people who have received unemployment benefits for two weeks or more, totaled 6.08 million for the week ending November 14. (The continuing claims data is delayed by one week.) Continuing claims decreased by 168,000 from the previous week’s revised level. The seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate, which calculates the number of people receiving unemployment benefits versus the total labor force, decreased by 0.2 percentage points to 4.1%.

The total number of people claiming benefits in all unemployment programs totaled 20,452,223 for the week ending November 7, up 135,297 from the previous week. By comparison, there were 1,487,844 people claiming benefits from all programs during the same week last year.

Home Buying Bump

The total number of mortgage applications increased 3.9% for the week ending November 20, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Seasonally adjusted purchase applications increased by 4% from the previous week. Overall, purchase applications were 19% higher than the same week a year ago.

“Amidst strong competition for a limited supply of homes for sale, as well as rapidly increasing home prices, purchase applications increased for both conventional and government borrowers,” noted Joel Kan, who works in industry and economic forecasting for MBA. “Furthermore, purchase activity has surpassed year-ago levels for over six months.”

Mortgage Refinances Tick Down

Mortgage refinance applications also increased by 3% week-over-week, accounting for over 71% of overall mortgage applications and were 79% higher than what they were for the same week last year.

“Weekly mortgage rate volatility has emerged again, as markets respond to fiscal policy uncertainty and a resurgence in COVID-19 cases around the country. The decline in rates ignited borrower interest,” said Kan. “The ongoing refinance wave has continued into November. Both the refinance index and the share of refinance applications were at their highest levels since April, as another week of lower rates drew more conventional loan borrowers into the market.”

Mortgage Interest Rate Forecasts

On Wednesday, the yield on the 10-year Treasury note was at 0.877%, down from Tuesday’s 0.88%. Yields, which had come close to the 1% on November 10, have been trending down the last couple of weeks. Before March, the note’s yield had never dipped below 1%, even during the Great Recession. The 10-year Treasury is a key benchmark for mortgage rates.

Treasury yields have held at low levels since the Federal Reserve indicated that it expects to keep the short-term Federal Funds rate at its current range of 0% to 0.25% through 2022 or longer. At its most recent meeting ending November 5, the Fed stuck to its commitment to continue purchasing mortgage-backed securities and treasuries to help control market volatility and maintain liquidity.

Factors Affecting Your Personal Mortgage Rate

Not all shoppers can expect to get the very best mortgage and refinance rates. Credit scores, loan term, interest rate types (fixed or adjustable), down payment percentage, home location, and the loan’s size will affect mortgage rates offered to individual home shoppers.

Rates also vary between mortgage lenders. It’s estimated that about half of all buyers only look at one lender, primarily because they tend to trust referrals from their realtors. Yet this means that they may miss out on a lower rate elsewhere. Last year, Freddie Mac reported that buyers who got offers from five different lenders averaged 0.17 percentage points lower on their interest rate than those who didn’t get multiple quotes. If you want to find the best rate and term for your loan, it makes sense to shop around first.

Interest Rates and Your Monthly Payment

More than other factors, your annual percentage rate on your real estate purchase will affect your monthly payments—whether you’re refinancing or buying a new home.

On a $200,000 home loan with a fixed rate for 30 years:

  • At 3% interest rate = $843 in monthly payments (not including taxes, insurance, or HOA fees).
  • At 4% interest rate = $955 in monthly payments (not including taxes, insurance, or HOA fees).
  • At 6% interest rate = $1,199 in monthly payments (not including taxes, insurance, or HOA fees).
  • At 8% interest rate = $1,468 in monthly payments (not including taxes, insurance, or HOA fees).

Refinancing to a lower interest rate could save hundreds of dollars a month if you kept the same loan terms. Shortening the loan term could negate your monthly savings but save thousands over the life of the loan. You can experiment with a mortgage calculator to find out how much a lower rate could save you.

Other factors besides interest affect how much you’ll pay in mortgage payments:

  • Private Mortgage Insurance: PMI adds up to 1% of your home loan’s value to your payment each year. On a $200,000 mortgage loan, PMI at 1% would add $167 a month to your payment. Conventional loans do not require private mortgage insurance when the buyer makes a down payment of at least 20% or refinances less than 80% of the home’s value. FHA loans do not require PMI, but do require what is called a Mortgage Insurance Premium, which is paid throughout the life of the loan if you make a down payment of less than 10%. VA loans do not require PMI, MIP, or a down payment.
  • Closing Costs: Some buyers finance their new home’s closing costs into the loan, which adds to debt and increases monthly payments.
  • Loan Term: Choosing a 15-year mortgage instead of a 30-year mortgage will increase monthly mortgage payments but reduce the amount of interest paid throughout the life of the loan.
  • Fixed vs. ARM: An adjustable rate mortgage’s monthly payment could change from year to year after the loan’s introductory period expires. A fixed rate loan’s payments remain the same throughout the life of the loan.
  • Taxes, HOA Fees, Insurance: A monthly mortgage payment could also include homeowners insurance premiums, city or county property taxes, and Homeowners Association fees. Check with your real estate agent to find out how much they would add to your payments.

What Type of Mortgage Loan Do You Need?

First-time homebuyers can walk into a mortgage brokerage office or visit an online lender without knowing what kind of mortgage they need. But it’s always better to have an idea of what you’re shopping for, especially since you can’t control other factors such as home prices and current rates.

Mortgage loan options include:

  • Conventional Borrowing: Shoppers with higher credit scores and higher down payments can get a conventional mortgage with either a fixed or adjustable rate. Mortgage interest rates can be low for qualified buyers.
  • Subsidized Borrowing: The Federal Housing Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture help first-time homebuyers and shoppers in low-income areas buy homes by subsidizing their mortgage loans. FHA and USDA loans allow shoppers with lower credit profiles (a FICO score of 580) to still get affordable home financing. Subsidized loan restrictions include borrowing maximums and safe housing inspections. These loans are for single-family homes in most cases.
  • Veterans Affairs Loans: Veterans and active-duty service members can buy homes with no down payment and no PMI through the Department of Veterans Affairs’ lending program. Banks make loans that are guaranteed by the VA. VA loans require a funding fee which could range from 1.4% to 3.64% for first-time homebuyers. Repeat VA borrowers or refinances require lower fees. Even with the fee, these loans can save veterans thousands of dollars a year.
  • Jumbo Loans: Homes in high-value housing markets like San Francisco and New York City may not fit within a conventional or FHA loan. Jumbo loans can help because they exceed the conforming loan limits of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Will Today’s Mortgage Rates Save You Money on a Refinance?

You should consider refinancing your home loan if your current mortgage rate exceeds today’s mortgage rates by more than one percentage point. Refinancing fees and closing costs would cut into your savings. You also have to consider whether your credit score would qualify you for today’s best refinance rates.

Many online lenders can give you free rate quotes to help you decide whether the money you’d save in interest charges justifies the cost of a new loan. Try to get a quote with a soft credit check which won’t hurt your credit score.

You could enhance interest savings by going with a shorter loan term such as a 15-year mortgage. Your payments may be higher, but you could save thousands in interest charges over time, and you’d pay off your house sooner.

How to Find the Best Mortgage Lender

Homebuyers have numerous choices for lenders. Your local bank or credit union probably writes mortgage loans with rates close to the current national average. A loan officer in your local branch could guide you through the process.

Online lenders have expanded their market share over the past decade. You could get pre-approved within minutes. Your loan amount combined with current mortgage rates could define your price range for homes prices in your area. Many online lenders also assign a dedicated loan officer to offer continuity as you shop.

Shop around to compare rates and terms, and make sure your lender has the loan option you need. Not all lenders write USDA-backed mortgages or VA loans, for example. If you’re not sure about a lender’s veracity, ask for its NMLS number and search for online reviews.

Should You Buy Discount Points to Lower Mortgage Rates?

Many lenders sell discount points. Buying discount points means you’d pay more up front to lower your mortgage rate which could save you money long-term. A mortgage discount point normally costs 1% of your loan amount and could shave 0.25% off your interest rate.

With a $200,000 mortgage loan, a point would cost $2,000. Buying two points would cost $4,000 which would be due, in cash, when you close the loan. These two discount points would translate into a 0.5% reduction to your interest rate.

Discount points could pay off but only if you keep the home loan long enough. Selling the home or refinancing the mortgage within a couple years would short circuit the discount point strategy. But if you stayed in the loan indefinitely, you’d reach a break-even point after which the discount points would save you more and more over time.

Often, spending cash on a down payment instead of discount points saves more unless you know for sure you’re keeping the loan for years. If a larger down payment could help you avoid paying PMI premiums, put the money toward your down payment instead of discount points.

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The purpose of this disclosure is to explain how we make money without charging you for our content.

Our mission is to help people at any stage of life make smart financial decisions through research, reporting, reviews, recommendations, and tools.

Earning your trust is essential to our success, and we believe transparency is critical to creating that trust. To that end, you should know that many or all of the companies featured here are partners who advertise with us.

Our content is free because our partners pay us a referral fee if you click on links or call any of the phone numbers on our site. If you choose to interact with the content on our site, we will likely receive compensation. If you don't, we will not be compensated. Ultimately the choice is yours.

Opinions are our own and our editors and staff writers are instructed to maintain editorial integrity, but compensation along with in-depth research will determine where, how, and in what order they appear on the page.

To find out more about our editorial process and how we make money, click here.

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