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Historical Mortgage Rates From The 1970s To 2020: Averages And Trends For 30-Year Fixed Mortgages

Kevin Graham5-minute read

August 20, 2020

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Mortgage rates in 2020 have dropped due to the Federal Reserve lowering rates in response to COVID-19. As of July 2020, the average rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) is 3.18%. Compare this to the 4.68% seen at the start of 2019 and you can see how much difference a year makes.

Let’s look at the rise and fall of mortgage rates through the decades.

1970s

Thanks to Freddie Mac, there’s solid data available for 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rates beginning in 1971.

Rates in 1971 were in the mid-7% range, and they moved up steadily until they were at 9.19% in 1974. They briefly dipped down into the mid- to high-8% range before climbing to 11.20% in 1979. This was during a period of high inflation that hit its peak early in the next decade.

1980s

In both the 1970s and 1980s, the United States was pushed into a recession caused by an oil embargo against the country. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) instituted the embargo. One of the effects of this was hyperinflation, which meant that the price of goods and services rose extremely fast.

To counteract hyperinflation, the Federal Reserve raised short-term interest rates. This made money in savings accounts worth more. On the other hand, all interest rates rose, so the cost of borrowing money increased, too.

Interest rates reached their highest point in modern history in 1981 when the annual average was 16.63%, according to the Freddie Mac data. Fixed rates declined from there, but they finished the decade around 10%. The 1980s were an expensive time to borrow money.

1990s

In the 1990s, inflation started to calm down a little bit. The average mortgage rate in 1990 was 10.13%, but it slowly fell, finally dipping below 7% to come in at 6.94% in 1998.

According to a paper published by the Economic Policy Institute, one big reason for the economic growth and declining inflation seen later in the decade was the arrival of the internet in the mainstream consciousness. The increased investment in research and development of new technologies spurred a ton of economic growth.

2000s

Mortgage rates steadily declined from 8.05% in 2000 to the high-5% range in 2003. However, it wasn’t all milk and honey in this decade.

The housing crash happened in part because property values declined steeply until they hit their lowest point in 2008. This left many homeowners owing more on their homes than the property was worth. To provide some relief and to stimulate the economy, the Federal Reserve cut interest rates to make borrowing money cheaper.

Short-term rates, or the rates at which financial institutions borrow money, ended up being slashed to the point where they were at or near 0. This made it extremely cheap for banks to borrow funds so they could keep mortgage rates low.

As a result of this change, mortgage rates fell almost a full percentage point, averaging 5.04% in 2009.

2010s

Riding the wave of low bank borrowing costs, mortgage rates entered the new decade around 4.69%. They continued to fall steadily and were in the mid-3% range by 2012. In 2013, rates went up to 3.98%. A big reason for this was that the bond market panicked a little bit when the Federal Reserve said it would stop buying as many bonds.

When there are fewer buyers available, the yields on mortgage bonds have to go up to attract purchasers. This also causes mortgage rates to rise. Rates went up to 4.17% in 2014. In 2015, mortgage rates fell back to 3.85% as the market calmed down.

Although they were a little higher to end the year, rates in 2016 averaged 3.65%. With global turmoil, investors flocked to the safety of the U.S. bond market to guarantee the steadiness of their investments.

Rates began to rise after the 2016 presidential election. They reached their peak at the end of 2018/start of 2019. Rates on a 30-year FRM ran between 3.95% on the low end and 5.34% on the high.

2020

Rates declined throughout 2019. When January 2020 came around, the average rate for a 30-year fixed was about 3.7%.

Then COVID-19 hit the United States. In response, the Federal Reserve dropped the federal funds rate to between 0 – 0.25%. This caused other short-term and long-term rates to drop.

This move was made to encourage borrowing on home loans, as well as other loans. It also led to a large increase in refinance and mortgage applications. By June 23, Freddie Mac reported an average mortgage rate for a 30-year FRM sitting at 3.6%. As the year progresses, many forecast the rate to remain steady.

How Historical Mortgage Rates Affect Home Purchases

Lower mortgage interest rates encourage home buying. Low rates mean less money paid to interest. This translates to a lower payment. Mortgage lenders determine how much you can borrow by comparing your income to your payment. With a lower monthly payment, you may be able to afford more house.

Not everyone has the chance of buying at record lows. Home buyers hunting while rates are high could consider an adjustable rate mortgage (ARM). The interest rates on ARMs adjust over a period of time. You may be able to get into a lower rated ARM now, then change the loan before it adjusts. Talk to your lender about the possibility to convert your ARM to an FRM if rates go lower.

Historical Mortgage Rates And Refinancing

Refinancing is the process of swapping your old loan for a new loan. Homeowners can take advantage of lower rates to decrease their monthly payment. This extra money could go toward the principal, paying other debts or building up your savings.

A cash-out refinance is a refinancing option if you have enough equity in your home. The way a cash-out refinance works is you take out a loan for more than you owe on the home. You can use the extra to pay off other debts or make home renovations. If rates are lower than when you took out your first mortgage, your payment may not change much.

The incentive to refinance is low when rates are high. Not only could your monthly payment increase, but you will also have to pay closing costs. If you're thinking of taking advantage of low rates, make sure you'll stay in the house long enough to breakeven on your closing costs. Divide the loan costs by your monthly saving and see how long it will take to recoup closing costs.

By looking at historical data, you're preparing yourself for the future. When rates turn and hit their lowest level, you'll know to make your move.

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Kevin Graham

Kevin Graham is a Senior Blog Writer for Rocket Companies. He specializes in economics, mortgage qualification and personal finance topics. As someone with cerebral palsy spastic quadriplegia that requires the use of a wheelchair, he also takes on articles around modifying your home for physical challenges and smart home tech. Kevin has a BA in Journalism from Oakland University. Prior to joining Rocket Companies, he freelanced for various newspapers in the Metro Detroit area.