A recent surge in mortgage borrowing has made an about-face, even with interest rates still in historically low territory.
The number of applications to purchase homes and refinance existing mortgages is falling, according to a new survey by the country’s largest mortgage trade association.
While the decline in purchase loans could be explained by sky-high home prices and a low supply of properties for sale, the drop in refi applications is more puzzling. Millions of homeowners could still save thousands of dollars a year by refinancing, despite increases in mortgage rates.
Refi activity shrinks amid a rising economy
For the week ending Sept. 24, overall mortgage activity dipped 1.1% from the previous week, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported on Wednesday. Refi activity was down 1% from the previous week and was essentially flat from a year earlier.
Demand has fallen as economic optimism fuels stronger mortgage rates. The MBA’s survey found the average rate on the nation’s most popular loan, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, has reached 3.10%, the highest level since early July.
“The increase in rates — mostly later in the week — led to a decrease in both purchase and refinance applications,” says Joel Kan, the association’s vice president of economic and industry forecasting.
Other rate watchers also are tracking increases. Mortgage giant Freddie Mac reported the averages on 30- and 15-year mortgages inched up last week to 2.88% and 2.15%, respectively, in its closely watched survey. Mortgage News Daily on Wednesday reported a 30-year average rate of 3.15%.
Even so, mortgage rates remain far lower than they were before the pandemic. And while more than three-quarters of homeowners did not refinance to take advantage of cheap rates during the 12 months that ended in April, nearly half who did are now saving $300 or more each month, according to a Zillow study.
Saying goodbye to low rates?
With the U.S. economy on an upswing, today’s low mortgage rates are likely to rise faster than many had been expecting.
Businesses are open, employers are creating millions of new jobs, and — despite rising COVID-19 infections in many parts of the country — the pandemic no longer seems to be an economic catastrophe.
If you’re waiting to refinance because you’re hoping rates will go back down, you might want to rethink that strategy.
Interest rates have been going up as foreign investors pour money into the U.S. financial markets amid a slowdown in economic growth around the world.
About a week ago, the Federal Reserve released new economic projections indicating it could start hiking interest earlier than expected. The Fed also signaled it may be ready to scale back its purchases of Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities, efforts that have helped keep mortgage rates low.
A recent Freddie Mac forecast put the 30-year rate at around 3.4% by year-end, then rising to 3.8% by the end of next year.
How to find a low rate while you can
If you are one of the millions of homeowners who qualify for a refinance but haven’t picked up the phone, you could potentially be forgoing hundreds of dollars a month that could go toward paying off high-interest debt like credit card balances, or be used for investing in the stock market.
To make sure you’re getting the lowest rate on a refi, shop around to at least five lenders to find the best loan for your budget.
The cheapest mortgage rates go to those with the best credit profiles. Take a look at your credit score, which you can easily do for free, and see if it needs some work before you start submitting loan applications.
If you’re not able to refinance, there are other ways to cut the cost of homeownership. When your homeowners insurance policy comes up for renewal, be sure to gather quotes from multiple insurers. That, too, could save you hundreds of dollars.
This article provides information only and should not be construed as advice. It is provided without warranty of any kind.