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By Leslie Cook
January 4, 2021
Money; Getty Images

Monthly mortgage payments reached a 2020 low in November, making it the most affordable month to buy a home last year. Meanwhile, mortgage rates finished the year with another decline.

Today's Mortgage Rates

The average interest rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was 3.026% on Thursday — down from 3.052% on Wednesday. (Lenders did not release new rates on Friday in observance of New Year's Day.)

Money's mortgage rates include the data from over 8,000 lenders across the United States and are from the latest data available. These rates include discount points and represent what a borrower with a 20% down payment and a 700 credit score — roughly the national average FICO score — would have been offered.

Mortgage Rates for January 4, 2020
Loan type Average Rate
30-Year Fixed Loan 3.026%
15-Year Fixed Loan 2.283%
30-Year FHA Loan 3.006%
30-Year VA Loan 3.097%
30-Year Jumbo Loan 3.597%
Source: Money | Date: Dec. 31, 2020 | Rates assume a credit score of 700

Freddie Mac's widely quoted Primary Mortgage Market Survey put rates at 2.67% with 0.7 points paid for the week ending December 31. That's 0.01 percentage points above the prior week's historic low. Rates set new record lows 16 times in 2020. The mortgage purchaser's weekly survey reflects borrowers who put 20% down on conforming loans and have excellent credit.

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How do I get the best mortgage rates?

Mortgage rates vary from state-to-state. On Thursday, borrowers in Illinois were quoted the lowest mortgage rates — at 2.946%. People looking for mortgages in Arizona saw the highest average rate at 3.164%.

Nationwide, borrowers with the highest credit scores, 740 and above, were quoted rates averaging 2.823%, while those with credit of 620 or below were shown rates of 4.433%.

You may be able to negotiate a better rate if you shop around or if you have other accounts with the lender. (Money's picks for the best mortgage lenders are here.) Currently, some lenders are hiking up advertised rates to keep demand in check, so you may be offered a lower rate if you reach out directly.

Today's Mortgage Refinance Rates

Money's survey also shows that the offered rate for a 30-year refinance for someone with a 740 credit score was 3.118% on Thursday. Im January 2020, the average mortgage rate (including fees) was around 3.8%.

Refinance Rates for January 4, 2020
Loan type Average Rate
30-Year Fixed Loan 3.118%
15-Year Fixed Loan 2.576%
30-Year FHA Loan 3.343%
30-Year VA Loan 3.094%
30-Year Jumbo Loan 3.517%
Source: Money | Date: Dec. 31, 2020 | Rates assume a credit score of 740

What else is happening in the housing market today?

November was the most affordable month to buy a home last year, according to a report by real estate brokerage Redfin. The median monthly mortgage payment reached a low of $1,094, as record-low mortgage rates gave borrowers the opportunity to lower their monthly payments. The highest average monthly payment for the year was $1,163 in February, just before the pandemic hit the United States.

“It’s easy to forget that the price is just one part of the equation of how much house a buyer can afford,” said Daryl Fairweather, Redfin’s chief economist.

Throughout the year, incredibly high buyer demand pushed home prices up. However, record low mortgage rates helped to offset the price increases. The median list price was a record-high $336,000 in November. At the same time, the average mortgage rate was 2.77%, the lowest on record at the time.

Even though loans are more affordable, being able to take advantage of those low rates became harder as the year progressed. Low interest rates and limited inventory led to tight competition for the homes available. More than 54% of Redfin offers faced competition in November, the sixth straight month in which more than half of purchase offers were involved in bidding wars.

“Although monthly mortgage payments are lower than they were at the beginning of the year, buyers are still facing five to 15 competing offers on desirable homes,” said Shoshana Godwin, a Redfin agent in Seattle. “People have to find a home and get their offer accepted before they can take advantage of low rates.”

Mortgage Term of the Week

Understanding the lingo can be key to avoiding mistakes when you are buying a home or refinancing your mortgage. For more read: Everything You Need to Know About Mortgage Rates in 2020.

Points: A borrower can “buy” points in order to lower the interest rate on a mortgage loan and therefore lower the monthly payment. It is a form of prepaying part of the interest due on the loan.

More from Money:

7 Things to Do Now if You Want to Refinance Your Mortgage in 2021

9 Steps to Take Now That Will Prepare You for Buying a Home in 2021

2021 Real Estate Predictions: How Vaccines, President Biden and More Could Shape Housing Trends

Money's 2021 Real Estate Outlook: What to Expect for Mortgage Rates, Home Prices and More