Mortgage rates fell through 2020. Millions of homeowners responded to low mortgage rates by refinancing existing loans and taking out new ones. Many people have bought homes that they might not have been able to afford if the rates were higher.
In January 2021, rates briefly fell to all-time low levels, but tended to rise throughout the month and into February.
Looking ahead, experts believe that interest rates will rise further in 2021, but modestly. Factors that could influence the rates include how quickly COVID-19 vaccines are distributed and when lawmakers can agree on another cost-effective relief package. More vaccinations and government stimulus could lead to improved economic conditions, which would increase rates.
Although mortgage rates are likely to rise this year, experts say the increase will not happen overnight and it will not be a dramatic jump. Rates are expected to stay near their historically low levels throughout the first half of the year, rising slightly later in the year. Even with rates rising, this will still be a good time to finance a new home or refinance a mortgage.
Factors that influence mortgage rates include:
- The Federal Reserve. The Fed took swift action when the pandemic hit the United States in March 2020. The Fed announced plans to move money through the economy by lowering the Federal Fund’s short-term interest rate between 0% and 0.25%, which is as low as they go. The central bank has also committed to buying mortgage-backed securities and treasury bills, thereby supporting the housing finance market. The Fed has reaffirmed its commitment to these policies for the foreseeable future on several occasions, most recently at a policy meeting in late January.
- The 10-year Treasury note. Mortgage rates move at the same pace as the yields on 10-year government treasury bills. Yields fell below 1% for the first time in March 2020 and have slowly risen since then. Currently, yields have hovered above 1% year-to-date, pushing interest rates up slightly. On average, there is typically a 1.8 point “spread” between Treasury yields and benchmark mortgage rates.
- The economy in the broad sense. Unemployment rates and changes in gross domestic product are important indicators of the overall health of the economy. When employment and GDP growth are low, it means the economy is weak, which can lower interest rates. Thanks to the pandemic, unemployment levels hit historic highs early last year and have yet to recover. GDP has also been affected, and although it has rebounded somewhat, there is still a lot of room for improvement.