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What's causing the rise in mortgage ratesIf you're considering applying for a mortgage and have taken a peek at interest rates, you've probably noticed something that's hard to miss: Rates are rising.

If you go back to as recently as 2016, a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged in the 3.5 percent range through most of the year, according to archived data maintained by Freddie Mac. And in years prior, 30-year FRMs occasionally reached even lower levels.

Today, the tide has turned a bit. As of mid-February, 30-year FRMs have increased every week in 2018, now averaging 4.22 percent, based on the most recent Primary Mortgage Market Survey from Freddie Mac.

The reversal raises a simple question: Why? The answer, admittedly, isn't quite as clear cut.

Economic stimulation

Like the residential marketplace itself, the forces behind mortgage shifts are numerous and variegated, and the relative influence of each variable can change. One of the chief effects is the economy. In bad times, when gross domestic product is low or unemployment is high, mortgage interest rates tend to be more affordable in an effort to stimulate borrowing and investment on the part of businesses and individuals who have the means to buy. This is part of the reason why in the aftermath of the recession, fixed-term mortgage loans for the most part stayed in the 4 percent range, reaching 5 percent only on a handful of occasions in 2010.

When the economy strengthens, like it did in 2017 and continues to do thus far in 2018, mortgage rates frequently rise, in part to prevent the economy from burning too hot.

Actions by Federal Reserve

The Federal Reserve is the central banking authority in the U.S., charged with implementing monetary policy for the country. One of its main functions is determining short-term interest rates. The Fed doesn't unilaterally establish where interest rates will be, but participates in actions, like lending, that move them along.

Generally speaking, when the Fed raises the benchmark on interest rates, mortgage rates follow suit. While this isn't always the case, the actions by the central bank do have an influence. In February, the federal interest rate stood between 1.25 percent and 1.50 percent. Economists polled by the Wall Street Journal predict the Fed will adjust rates higher three or four times in 2018, noting the number could change.

Developments on the world stage

There's no denying that the U.S. has the largest economy in the world. California alone has a GDP that's on par with some of the world's leading countries.

But what’s going on in the U.S. doesn't occur in a vacuum. Because of the American free market economic system, what happens at the global level has an impact at home. Influences may include, but aren't limited to, political developments, employment availability, the cost of living and even fuel prices. Furthermore, much like the U.S. when the economy performs well, mortgage rates also rise when the global economy is robust. As noted by the Wall Street Journal, numerous countries had a stellar 2017, evidenced by new records among several major stock indexes, like Japan's Nikkei and Germany's DAX.

Everyone wants an affordable mortgage with the lowest rates possible. And even though their interest rates are higher, would-be buyers recognize they're still low. In fact, just 6 percent of buyers said they'd put off applying for a mortgage if rates surpassed 5 percent, according to a poll commissioned by Redfin. And even though rates are higher, borrowers are keeping up with their payments, as serious delinquencies (overdue by 90 days or more) fell in 48 of 50 states in November, based on the most recent statistics available from CoreLogic.

The mortgage approval process is a highly personal one and can be complicated if you're new to it. At Residential Mortgage Services, we guide our clients from beginning to end so they know exactly what to expect. High-quality, friendly service at RMS isn't just our specialty - it's our priority.