What You Need to Know About Mortgage Rates

Mortgage rates involve a number of factors and it is helpful to have a better understanding of how they work before choosing a mortgage.

Mortgage Rate vs. Annual Percentage Rate (APR)

To put it simply, the mortgage rate is the rate of interest charged on a mortgage. In other words, it is the cost involved in borrowing money for your loan. Think of it as the base cost. Mortgage rates differ from the annual percentage rate (APR). The mortgage rate describes the loan interest only, while APR includes any other costs or fees charged by the lender. The US Government requires mortgage lenders to provide their APR through the Truth in Lending Act. It allows consumers to have an apples to apples comparison of what a loan will cost them through different lenders. Keep in mind that lenders may calculate APR differently and APR also assumes you will hold the loan for its full amortization so it is still important to carefully compare and consider when selecting a loan.

How is the Mortgage Rate Determined?

First, the Federal Reserve determines a rate called the Federal Funds Rate. The Federal Reserve Bank requires that lenders maintain a percentage of deposits on hand each night. This is called the reserve requirement. Banks will borrow from each other to meet their reserve requirements. When the Federal Funds Rate is high, banks are able to borrow less money and the money they do lend is at a higher rate. When low, banks are more likely to borrow from each other to maintain their reserve requirement. It allows them to borrow more money and the interest rate goes down as well. The interest rates fluctuate with the Federal Funds Rate because it affects the amount of money that can be borrowed. Because money is scarcer, it is more expensive.

Also, when the Fed decreases their rates, we tend to spend more. Because loans are more inexpensive, people are more likely to use them to invest in capital. Also, because interest rates are low, savings accounts are reduced because they are not as valuable. This creates a surplus of money in the marketplace which lowers the value of the dollar and eventually becomes inflation. With inflation, mortgage rates increase so the Fed must carefully monitor their rate to ensure that our economy remains level.

Basically, the Federal Funds Rate is a large determinant of what the mortgage rate will be on a given day. And the Federal Funds Rate is largely determined based on the market including factors such as unemployment, growth, and inflation. However, there is no single mortgage rate at a given moment that every borrower will pay. This is because there are also other factors which determine an individual’s mortgage rate, and why they different people will have different rates.

Individual Determinants

There are several things that a lender can examine when determining your mortgage rate. One key factor is your credit score. A higher credit score makes you less risky to lend to and can significantly improve the rate you have to pay. You can also purchase “points” which are pre-payments on your loan interest. Speak with your lender to discuss points and how they might affect your loan. Finally, the amount of down payment can also change the interest rate. Typically, if you have more money up front, you have to borrow less, and you reduce the risk for the lender and your cost for the loan.

Mortgage rates are generally changing daily. Some lenders will stabilize their rates more than others, but it is always wise to compare rates between lenders at the same time and on the same mortgage type. It is also important to know that when a lender provides you with a rate, it is not a guarantee that tomorrow, the rate will still apply. Until you have chosen a mortgage and lock your rate in place with the lender, fluctuations can occur. As with any financial decision it is important to do your research and understand what you are getting into. It’s always wise to consult with your lender for personalized advice.