Last week, the average 30-year fixed rate inched closer to 5% than it has been in over three years, hitting 4.72%, according to Freddie Mac. Though most major forecasts didn’t expect rates to jump up so quickly, economic pressures and geopolitical uncertainty have kept them elevated.
“Between inflation rising quickly, the conflict in Ukraine, and new Fed policy, we are going to see instability in mortgage rates throughout the year and that could mean even higher rates,” says Ralph DiBugnara, president of Home Qualified and senior vice president of Cardinal Financial.
Even though rates are up from pandemic-era lows, you shouldn’t necessarily abandon your homebuying plans. From a historical perspective, mortgage rates are still relatively low. Since they’re expected to continue rising this year, now might be a good time to start the homebuying process and lock in a rate.
What is a fixed-rate mortgage?
When you get a mortgage, you’ll need to decide what type of rate you want: fixed or adjustable.
A fixed-rate mortgage locks in your rate for the entire length of your mortgage. This means that even if market rates go up or down, yours will stay the same. Fixed-rate mortgages can be beneficial for borrowers looking for stability; though you might miss out if rates trend lower, you don’t have to worry about your monthly payment increasing if rates go up.
An adjustable-rate mortgage keeps your rate the same for a predetermined amount of time, then changes it periodically. A 5/1 ARM locks in your rate for the first five years, then the rate fluctuates once per year. This is a riskier approach, because you risk your rate going up later.
Adjustable rates can be attractive because they’re often lower than 30-year fixed rates. If you plan to sell your home or refinance your mortgage before the ARM’s introductory fixed period is over, an ARM might be a good choice for you. Just be sure you understand how much your rate and payment could increase when the intro period is over.
If you’re planning to stay in your home for a long time or just prefer the stability of a fixed monthly payment, a fixed-rate mortgage would likely be a better fit for you.
How are mortgage rates determined?
Mortgage rates are determined by a combination of factors — some you can control, and some you can’t.
The main external factor is the economy. Interest rates tend to be higher when the US economy is thriving and lower when it’s struggling. The two main economic factors that impact mortgage rates are employment and inflation. When employment numbers and inflation go up, mortgage rates tend to increase.
Finally, your mortgage rate relies on what type of mortgage you get. Government-backed mortgages (like FHA, VA, and USDA mortgages) charge the lowest rates, while jumbo mortgages charge the highest rates. You’ll also get a lower rate with a shorter mortgage term.
How do I choose a mortgage lender?
A lender should be relatively affordable. You shouldn’t need a super high credit score or down payment to get a loan. You also want it to offer good rates and charge reasonable fees.
Once you’re ready to start shopping for homes, apply for preapproval with your top three or four choices. A preapproval letter states that the lender would like to lend you up to a certain amount, at a specific interest rate. With a few preapproval letters in hand, you can compare each lender’s offer.
When you apply for preapproval, a lender does a hard credit inquiry. A bunch of hard inquiries on your report can hurt your credit score — unless it’s for the sake of shopping for the best rate.
If you limit your rate shopping to a month or so, credit bureaus will understand that you’re looking for a home and shouldn’t hold each individual inquiry against you.