How Are Mortgage Rates Determined?

How mortgage loan rates are determined and what causes them to move is an absolute mystery to most folks – and those who think they know are usually wrong. As a former mortgage banker I can tell you that a lot of people in the mortgage industry can’t even give you an accurate answer to that question. So what’s the mystery and misinformation all about? Let’s take a simple look, in plain English, at what moves mortgage rates and (just as importantly) what does not.

Ask a bunch of your friends what mortgage rates are based on and they will tell you they are not sure but it has something to do with Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve. Some of your more financially savvy friends may tell you that rates are based on the 10 year treasury yield. Both answers are incorrect. The simple truth is that mortgage rates are based on the mortgage backed securities (MBS) market. I know – this is starting to sound scary. I promise to keep it simple – here’s a quick explanation of what a mortgage backed security is. Banks and mortgage lenders take large bundles of their mortgage loans and pool them together to be sold as investments. These debt obligations trade as bonds (mortgage backed securities). An investor can invest in a pool of mortgage loans and receive income based on how those loans perform (do they pay on time etc…). The mortgage backed securities market is a segment of the overall bond market. The MBS market reacts and moves based on economic news and indicators similar to how the overall bond market works.

To take this one step further, here’s the technical explanation for those of you who are knowledgeable in matters of finance. MBS rates, and consequently mortgage rates, are directly determined by variances (or spreads) between it (MBS Rates) and a financial derivative instrument called interest rate swaps. These swaps are used by investors to manage, hedge, or speculate on risk. The rate on a swap rate is a fixed interest rate that one would receive in exchange for the uncertainty of having to pay the short-term LIBOR (London Interbank Offered Rate) rate over time. Additionally, mortgage rates are influenced by relative spreads between interest rate swaps and treasury notes.

So why does everyone think that the Federal Reserve controls mortgage rates? Your guess is as good as mine. The most likely cause is that misinformed people in the media just keep talking about the fact that the fed lowered interest rates and mortgage rates will follow suit – and we keep listening. The fact of the matter is that the actions of the Federal Reserve do have an impact on mortgage rates but it is indirect and often extremely delayed. When the fed announces that they are lowering short term interest rates, this has an immediate impact on some types of consumer loans such as home equity loans and credit cards. It also has a negative affect on the interest rates on saving vehicles like money market accounts and certificates of deposit (because those rates go down as well). It does not however, have an immediate or direct impact on mortgage rates. The indirect impact on mortgage rates of the fed easing (lowering) short term rates is that it causes investors to flee investments like money markets and CDs and put more money into the stock and bond markets. When people buy more bonds (including mortgage backed securities) this causes bond prices to rise. When bond prices rise, the yields of those bonds go down. Lower yields on mortgage backed securities equal lower rates. This chain of events that started with the fed lowering rates and ended with mortgage rates going down could take months to unfold and dozens of other economic events could intervene and keep that chain of events from happening as predicted.

The other common misconception is that mortgage rates are tied to the long term Treasury notes. Not true. If you look at long term charts for mortgage rates and long term treasuries side by side you will see that they trend together over a long period of time. As mentioned above, the spread between interest rate swaps and treasury notes do influence mortgage rates – but it is inaccurate to say that there is a direct link between the two.

We’ve just covered the basics on how long term mortgage loan rates such as the 30 year fixed rate are determined. Short term mortgages like 5 year ARMs and 7 year ARMs can be based on a number of different indices.

Online Mortgages: Online Mortgage Applications and Obtaining Low Mortgage Rates Online

Mortgage Loans

There are several different types of mortgage loans. Some of the main types of amortized loans represent the adjustable rate mortgage and the fixed rate mortgage. Many mortgages are available online as well as online mortgage quotes.

Fixed Rate Mortgage

Fixed rate mortgage interest rate and the monthly payment is always fixed for the duration of the mortgage loan. Some of the common mortgage terms are 10, 15, 20, and 30 years. In the recent years some lenders have been offering terms that are amortized for 40 and 50 year mortgage terms.

Adjustable (Variable) Rate Mortgage

Adjustable or variable rate mortgage interest rate is fixed for an agreed period of time. After the expiration of this time, it will periodically adjust upwards or downwards according to market index levels. Those indices include the Prime Rate, the London Interbank Offered Rate, and the T-Bill (Treasury Index).

Mortgage Rates : Bad Credit Good Credit Game

Lenders refer to the borrowers’ credit reports and credit scores when approving a mortgage application. The better (higher) the score, the better rates a borrower can obtain. Lower credit scores, however mean higher risk to the lender, therefore mortgage lenders will require higher interest rates in order to compensate for the increased risk.

Balloon Type Mortgages

A balloon, or partial amortization loans are the ones in which the mortgage monthly payments are calculated over a certain period of time. The outstanding principal balance is payable at by the end of the mortgage term. This type of payment of the principal is also called a balloon payment. A balloon mortgage loan can either be of fixed or an adjustable interest Rate.

Online Mortgage Applications and Obtaining Low Mortgage Rates Online

Mortgages online can typically be obtained at lower online rates. Many people save thousands of dollars when applying for a mortgage online or when getting an online mortgage quote.

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.