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By Leslie Cook
Updated: December 21, 2020 8:48 AM ET | Originally published: December 19, 2020
Money; Getty Images

Mortgages rates dropped to the 15th record low of the year this week. Buyers jumped back into the market as purchase applications increased, as did owners looking to refinance. Concerns over the cost of materials and lack of skilled labor led to a slight decline in builder confidence. Housing starts, although still strong, saw a slight slowdown from previous months. Meanwhile, the housing market looks to end 2020 with more home sales than last year, with expectations for next year to be even better.

Today's Mortgage Rates

The average rate for a 30-year fixed-rate purchase mortgage was 3.055% on Thursday. On Wednesday, the average rate was 3.103%.

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

Mortgage Rates for December 19 & 20, 2020
Loan type Average Rate
30-Year Fixed Loan 3.055%
15-Year Fixed Loan 2.3%
30-Year FHA Loan 3.141%
30-Year VA Loan 3.254%
30-Year Jumbo Loan 3.607%
Source: Money | Date: Dec. 17, 2020 | Rates assume a credit score of 700
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How do I get the best mortgage rates?

Mortgage rates vary from state to state. On Thursday, borrowers in Washington, D.C. were quoted the lowest mortgage rates — at 2.958%. People looking for mortgages in Nevada saw the highest average rate at 3.235%.

Nationwide, borrowers with the highest credit scores, 740 and above, were quoted rates averaging 2.826%, while those with credit of 620 or below were shown rates of 4.565%.

You may be able to negotiate a lower 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 most recent survey also shows that the offered rate for a 30-year refinance for someone with a 740 credit score was 3.164% on Thursday. Last December, the average mortgage rate (including fees) was 3.88%.

Refinance Rates for December 19 & 20, 2020
Loan type Average Rate
30-Year Fixed Loan 3.164%
15-Year Fixed Loan 2.584%
30-Year FHA Loan 3.47%
30-Year VA Loan 3.496%
30-Year Jumbo Loan 3.542%
Source: Money | Date: Dec. 17, 2020 | Rates assume a credit score of 740

A homeowner with a $200,000 mortgage balance currently paying 3.88% on a 30-year could potentially cut their monthly payment from about $940 to about $861 by financing at the current lower rates. To determine if it's worth it to refinance your mortgage, also consider the closing fees you paid on your current mortgage, how much your new lender is charging and how long you have left on your loan term. (Our picks for the best lenders for refinancing are here).

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5 Key Housing Stats From This Week

Interest Rates Set a New Record

Mortgage rates reached a new all-time low this week, coming in at 2.67%. It's the 15th time interest rates have set a record low this year, according to Freddie Mac's Primary Mortgage Market Survey. Low rates have led to a yearlong boom in refinance loans and helped push homebuyer demand to record levels.

New Residential Construction Ticks up

Housing starts ticked up 0.4% in November, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. New single-family construction starts reached an annualized rate of 1.2 million units, an increase of 16% from the same month last year. More homes getting built is good news for a housing market suffering from a severe inventory shortage.

There are still concerns, however, about the pace of construction. The number of housing completions ticked down slightly from October as the cost of materials and lack of skilled labor is putting a strain on builders.

Builder Confidence Declines

Builder confidence took a step back in December, according to the National Association of Home Builders Housing Market Index, which decreased four points from a record high of 90 the previous month. Despite the drop builders maintain a positive outlook for the housing market over the next six months.

Builders cite the high cost of materials, a lack of land, and not enough skilled labor as areas of concern moving forward. If builders can't ramp up production fast enough, next year could bring affordability pressure, particularly for first-time homebuyers.

Home Buying and Refinancing Picks Up

Homebuyers took advantage of record-low mortgage rates during the second week of December. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, the volume of purchase applications increased 2% over the previous week and was 26% higher year-over-year. Homeowners also stayed active, with refinance applications increasing 1% week-over-week and more than doubling the number of applications made during the same week last year.

Applications for newly built homes were also strong in November, increasing 35% year-over-year. However, applications were down 16% from October. The monthly decrease wasn't entirely unexpected, as sales usually dip during this time of year.

2021 May Be Even Better Than 2020 for The Housing Market

The housing market was one of the bright economic spots of 2020 in the face of the pandemic related recession. Listing site Zillow expects this year to end with 5.7 million existing homes sold, an increase of 5.9% over 2019. The expectation for 2021 is 6.9 million existing homes sold, which would be a 21.9% increase over this year. It would also mark the largest year-over-year sales gain since the 1980's, and make 2021 the strongest year for the housing market since 2005.

More from Money:

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