Interest rates and what they mean

As you start shopping for a home loan, your first questions of each lender will probably be:

“What’s your interest rate? How much are you charging?”

Interest rates are usually expressed as an annual percentage of the amount borrowed. If you borrowed $120,000 at 10% interest, you’d owe interest of $12,000 for the first year. With most mortgage plans you’d pay it at the rate of $1,000 a month. You would also send in something each month to reduce the principal debt you owe – and the next month you’d owe a bit less interest.

When your grandparents bought their home (putting at least half the purchase price down, by the way), their interest rate was probably around 4 or 5%. Rates stayed the same for years at a time. Then in the years following World War II, things became more turbulent. As economic changes speeded up, rates began to change several times a year. By the l980s, lenders were setting new rates on mortgage loans as often as once a week – and they still do today. When inflation hit a high in the ’80s, some mortgage loans carried interest rates as high as 17% – and those who absolutely needed to buy, paid that much.

Rates dropped gradually through the 1990s, and by 1998 had reached their lowest rates in decades. Heading toward the millennium, home buyers appear to have the most favorable conditions for mortgage borrowing since their grandparents’ days – and without 50% down payments either.

A Few Points About Interest Rates

1) Less is more

If you’re new to investing or real estate and don’t know the first thing about interest rates, here’s a good tip: the higher the interest rate, the more expensive it’s going to be. High interest rates mean you will have to pay back more on the money you borrow. Another good rule of thumb is that affordability increases if you use an adjustable rate mortgage (it’s easier to qualify this way). Of course, there will be a wide range of prices that you can choose from, depending on what kind of financing you choose.

2) Not even the Fed knows for sure

The Fed holds a considerable amount of power, but they can’t control everything. Mortgage interest rates are affected by many unpredictable political, economic and social events. So there is no guarantee what direction interest rates will go, despite the forecasts of the experts. Therefore, make your financial decision based on where things are today including your budget, your needs and your future plans.

3) Locking in rates assures your lowest interest

If you do decide you want to lock in at a certain interest rate, you will need to complete a loan application and send it to your lender as soon as possible. This must be done so that your commitment doesn’t runout before your loan is approved. Follow up and be se sure that the lender is receiving all of the necessary documentation. Get a property appraisal, which usually costs about $300, through your loan agent as soon as possible.

4) Don’t obsess and miss a good real estate deal

Although rising interest rates can create more problems for home buyers, waiting and hoping for low rates is not necessarily a smart move. You may end up paying a higher price. Also, refinancing is always an option in the event that interest rates come down.

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