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Mortgage Rates Rise Again — but Don't Anybody Panic

Doug Whiteman
Mortgage Rates Rise Again — but Don't Anybody Panic

After falling back last week, mortgage rates have turned around and are rising again. They've been trending higher since early October, and a recent flurry of mortgage applications suggests borrowers are getting spooked that more increases may be on the way.

But it's time for homebuyers to take a deep breath, because rates remain better than they've been in decades, says Corey Burr, senior vice president with Sotheby's International Realty in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

"Don’t try to time a purchase like one might try to buy a stock," Burr says. "Find a great house, negotiate a great price and borrow wisely by taking advantage of the current rates."

If you see an good mortgage rate, you may want to explore locking it — so it won't slip away.

This week's numbers

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Rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages have popped up to an average 3.75% this week, from 3.69% last week, mortgage giant Freddie Mac said Thursday. The loans in the Freddie Mac survey come with an average 0.6 point.

Mortgage rates have risen in four out of the last five weeks.

"The modest uptick in mortgage rates over the last two months reflects declining recession fears and a more sanguine outlook for the global economy," explains Sam Khater, the chief economist at Freddie Mac.

But borrowers shouldn't ignore the fact that rates are still down sharply lower from a year ago, when 30-year mortgages were more than a full percentage point higher — at an average 4.94%.

Use this calculator below to see the kind of monthly payment you can expect from today's low mortgage rates.

Still time to refi

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If you took out a home loan even just last year, you might still be able to lower your monthly payment dramatically by doing a refinance into a new loan at a lower rate.

Homeowners who refinanced their mortgages in the spring are now saving an average of about $140 a month, or $1,700 a year, Freddie Mac said recently.

Refinances are up a staggering 188% versus last year at this time, the Mortgage Bankers Association says. In other words, lenders are handling almost three times as many refi applications as they were during the fall of 2018.

Refinance applications jumped 13% last week, compared to a week earlier.

"If the payback period is reasonable and the homeowner plans to stay in the property longer than the breakeven point, it makes sense to refinance," says Burr, of Sotheby's. "If the analysis shows it’s not worth it, keep a standing call into a lender to notify you if rates drop enough to have a refinance make sense."

The outlook for mortgage rates

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Applications for loans to buy homes rose 5% last week.

Those so-called purchase applications have been increasing at an impressive pace — one of the best in two years, says Freddie Mac's Khater.

"Given the important role residential real estate plays in the economy, the steady improvement of the housing market is a reassuring sign that the economy is on solid ground heading into next year," he says.

Low mortgage rates have helped spark demand for homes. The market is likely to stay strong because mortgage rates are expected to remain at attention-getting levels.

During the remainder of this year, Freddie Mac is predicting that 30-year mortgage rates will average just 3.7%. The forecast calls for rates to bump up ever-so-slightly next year, to an average 3.8%.

This week's other mortgage rates

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First-time buyers are helping to drive the demand for homes.

Rates on other flavors of home loans also have marched higher this week.

The average for 15-year mortgages has climbed to 3.2%, from 3.13% last week.

Those shorter-term home loans are a popular option for refinancing. Last year at this time, 15-year fixed-rate mortgages were averaging 4.36%, Freddie Mac says.

And, rates also have ticked up on 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgages, or ARMs, which are level for five years and then can adjust up — or down — every year thereafter.

ARMs are currently being offered at an average initial rate of 3.44%, versus 3.39% last week. A year ago, those ARM starter rates stood at an average 4.14%.

Check today's best mortgage rates where you are.