The best mortgage rates are still at historic lows heading into 2016. According to the St. Louis Federal Reserve, average 30 year fixed mortgage rates are still under 4%. With these rates, home ownership has never been more attainable. Low mortgage rates are only one aspect of choosing a lender, but finding the best rates is the first step in whittling down your list. I’ve purchased two homes in the past five years, and can personally attest to the fact that the home buying process can be nerve-wracking, but tremendously worthwhile in the end.
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Mortgage Rate Comparisons
As a starting point to your search, the table below gives you a quick snapshot of mortgage rates in your state. You can choose your loan amount, loan type, and whether you’re purchasing or refinancing your home to get rolling. Using this tool, I found a low 3.4% APR on a $200,000 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage in my home state of Tennessee from AimLoan.com. If I wanted an adjustable-rate mortgage for the same amount instead, I could get a low 2.8% APR from AimLoan.
If you’re not purchasing a home, but looking to make some improvements, take a look at this Best Home Equity Loan Rates guide.
Current Rate Climate
While current numbers don’t match the historically low rates of 2012 and the first half of 2013, they’re still nothing to sneeze at. Average 30-year mortgage rates started 2014 at an average of 4.42% and dropped to just under 3.9% by the end of the year. That’s where they remain heading into 2016.
Right now, the best rates for the most credit-worthy borrowers on a conventional 30-year mortgage are hovering around 3.8%.
If you’re in the market for a mortgage, is it time to act? Experts say you’ll probably be in good shape even if you wait a bit longer. Rates are likely to remain low, though there is the possibility of a noticeable bump if the Federal Reserve raises rates significantly.
Finding the Best Mortgage Rate
If you’re ready to get going in your search for the best mortgage rate, here are four tips that will ease your search. If you’re unsure of the type of mortgage you’ll need, make sure you read my summary of the different kinds of mortgages further down in this post.
Tip #1: Compare Rates
When you find the home of your dreams, chances are your real-estate agent will direct you to certain preferred lenders that he or she has worked with before. Take that recommendation with a grain of salt. Remember, your agent’s primary concern might be to close your deal quickly, but securing a mortgage is a complicated process, particularly if you’re a first-time buyer. Speed isn’t everything, and you need to look around for the best deal.
Whether you want to keep your business with a local lender or are considering working with a big-name company, be sure to look at rates online so you have a good comparison. This mortgage rate tool can help you find the best rates to aid your search.
Tip #2: Polish your credit score
Keeping your credit in top shape is paramount, especially if you’re applying for a conventional loan. The higher your score, the better your interest rate and the more loan choices you’ll have.
For example, according to the rate calculator at myFICO, I could pay as little as $1,305 a month on a $300,000 home loan in Ohio with a credit score higher than 760. My interest rate would be a hair under 3.3%. With a score of about 680, I’d be paying $1,372 a month at an interest rate of about 3.6%. And with a score of 620, I could be paying as much as $1,581 a month at an interest rate of more than 4.8%. With the lower credit score, I’d be paying $99,146 more in interest over the life of the loan.
Tip #3: Beef up your down payment
It can be painful to save enough for a down payment, but paying more up front can help you nab a better interest rate and save you money as you pay down your loan. It may also save you the cost of mortgage insurance, which many lenders will charge if you have a lower-than-normal down payment.
If I put the recommended 20% down, or $40,000, on a $200,000 home in Tennessee, I’d pay as little as $730 a month in mortgage payments, according to this Bank of America calculator. This assumes a 3.7% APR, solid credit, and a fixed 30-year loan. If I could only scrape together $25,000, I’d suddenly be paying $798 a month. And then there’s $70 a month in mortgage insurance, which I’d have to pay since I couldn’t put 20% down. That brings my monthly payments to just under $870.
Tip #4: Consider how long you’ll be in your house
If you know you’ll be in your home for a relatively short time before selling, looking at adjustable-rate mortgages can make more sense. That’s because you can take advantage of the ARM’s low initial interest rates, then sell the home before your rate begins to reset. Be absolutely sure you will only be in your home a short while. Many homeowners were banking on ARMs, but suffered rate increases when the value of their homes fell in 2008 and they were unable to sell.
If ARMs seem like too much of a risk to you, look seriously at a shorter-term fixed rate mortgage. Your monthly payments will be larger, but you will nab a much lower interest rate. Ultimately, you’ll pay much less over the life of the loan with the added bonus of building equity much faster.
Finding the Best Mortgage Lenders
Taking out a mortgage can be a time-consuming, confusing, and even emotional process. For that reason, we encourage you to look beyond getting the best mortgage rates when choosing your lender. The top mortgage lenders will not only give you a competitive rate, but make the process as seamless as possible. Here are a few tips that can help you find the best mortgage companies.
Tip #1: Do your homework online
Harness the power of the Internet to give you a wider perspective than you can gain from family and friends. You can find reviews of the best home loan lenders with just a few clicks. As with all online reviews, remember to consider trends. A few very bad (or very good) reviews may be an anomaly, while dozens of good or bad reviews probably get you closer to the truth.
A particularly good place to look is J.D. Power and Associates’ annual mortgage lender customer-satisfaction survey. The 2014 survey, based on the experiences of thousands of real customers, found Quicken Loans had the most satisfied customers, followed by Bank of America, Chase, U.S. Bank, and USAA. Criteria included how satisfied customers were with application and approval; whether the closing process was relatively quick; and whether the lending agent was reliable and easy to understand.
Tip #2: Ask friends and family
Local lenders may not have as many online reviews, so asking around can be crucial in helping you find the best mortgage companies in your area. Conduct a quick survey of your family and friends, especially if they’ve recently purchased or refinanced a home. Ask whether they felt they understood the lending process, whether their agent was prompt and courteous, and whether they feel they got the best rate they could.
Of course, it may so happen that your real-estate agent steers you to a reputable company. Happily, this was the case with my most recent home purchase. My husband and I researched the lender our agent recommended and found nothing but good reviews. We’ve been satisfied customers ever since closing.
Tip #3: Take note of how you’re initially treated
If you call a lender for information and don’t receive it quickly, consider that a red flag. Similarly, any lender who is unwilling or unable to clearly answer your questions — or acts like it’s a pain to do so — will probably be less than pleasant to deal with further down the line. Several of our calls to prospective lenders went unreturned, and we crossed those companies off our list immediately. Your mortgage might be the biggest financial transaction of your life, and you should feel comfortable with your lender.
Common Types of Mortgages
Obtaining a mortgage doesn’t always mean you’ll be coughing up 20% down and forking over the same payment for 30 years. Take a look at today’s most common types of mortgage so you understand what’s the best for you — and obtain the best mortgage rate in the process.
A fixed-rate mortgage is by far the most common type of home loan. It’s also the easiest to understand. Though the proportion of principal versus interest on your bill will change over the course of the loan, you still pay the same amount every month. Your interest rate is locked in when you close on the loan, so you aren’t vulnerable to sudden increases in interest rates.
Of course, while you aren’t vulnerable to interest-rate increases, you’ll lose out if rates decline — you’ll be stuck paying that higher rate. It can also be harder to qualify for a fixed-rate mortgage if your credit score is less than stellar, particularly if interest rates are high. Down payments are typically high, too, with most lenders requiring 20% of the loan to avoid pricey mortgage insurance.
Fixed-rate mortgages are most often offered for 10-, 15- or 30-year terms, with the latter being the most popular choice. Longer terms generally mean lower payments, but they also mean it will take longer to build equity in your home. You’ll also pay more interest over the life of the loan.
We opted for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage when we bought our most recent home. Because we closed at the beginning of 2013, when rates were at historic lows, we were reasonably confident about locking in our rate. Though we still have to pay mortgage insurance because we didn’t quite have a 20% down payment, we’re able to afford it, and we don’t mind taking a while to build equity since we believe we’ll be staying put for a long time. It’s also easy to budget for the same payment every month.
Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs)
ARMs make home-buying more accessible for more people. Typically, they offer lower down payments, lower initial interest rates, and lower initial payments, making it easier for a wider range of people to qualify for better homes. The interest rate remains constant for a certain period of time — generally, the shorter the period, the better the rate — then rises and falls periodically according to a financial index.
The main downside is obvious: If your ARM begins to adjust when interest rates are climbing, your escalating payments could start to squeeze your budget. It can also make annual budgeting tricky, and if you want to refinance with a fixed-rate loan, the cost can be quite steep. Ultimately, with an ARM, you’re accepting some of the risk that your mortgage lender would absorb with a fixed-rate loan.
There are several kinds of ARMs. One-year ARMs typically offer the best mortgage rates, but they’re also the riskiest because your interest rate adjusts every year. At slightly higher rates, hybrid ARMs offer a longer initial fixed-rate period. Common hybrid loans include 5/1 mortgages, which offer a fixed rate for five years and then and an annually adjustable rate for the next 25 years.
FHA and VA loans
FHA and VA loans are government-backed mortgages. FHA loans require much smaller down payments than their conventional counterparts. In fact, you may qualify for an FHA loan with as little as 3.5% down. They may also be available to those with less-than-perfect credit. However, you’ll likely be on the hook for mortgage insurance each month in order to help the lender blunt some of the risk. That makes FHA loans a good option for those with a steady, healthy income without enough savings for a huge down payment. My husband and I purchased our first home using an FHA loan and roughly 10% down. Though we did have to pay mortgage insurance, we received a good interest rate and could easily handle the payments with our income — and of course, we were happy to start building equity instead of paying rent month after month.
VA loans are also available with low (or even no) down-payment options, minus the mortgage insurance required on FHA loans. However, the VA typically charges a one-time funding fee that varies according to down payment. You must have a military affiliation to get a loan — active-duty members, veterans, guard members, reservists, and certain spouses may qualify.
Technically, interest-only mortgages are a type of ARM. These mortgages are compelling because they allow home buyers to pay only interest for a certain period at the beginning of the loan, keeping payments as low as possible. They can be a good choice for someone who expects a significant increase in income down the pike.
If this sounds like a sweet deal, it’s because interest-only mortgages come with tremendous risk. They can goad buyers to purchase much more home than they would otherwise be able to afford. Your payment is lower initially, because you are only paying interest, and not principal. Once the interest-only payment period is up, your payment will jump significantly when you begin to pay the principal of the loan, plus you can experience a rate increase. With these risks, you’ll probably want to steer clear of interest-only mortgages as your primary option.
Balloon mortgages offer low, fixed interest rates for a short term — typically five to 10 years. In fact, you may only pay the interest on the loan for that term. The catch? The remainder of the loan, likely a very significant sum, is due when the term is up. While most people intend to refinance with a more traditional mortgage to avoid making the lump-sum payment, depending on doing this is a big risk. If your home has declined in value or you’re deemed uncreditworthy, you might be out of luck — and at risk of foreclosure. For this reason, balloon mortgages are best avoided except in very special cases.
Starting Your Search for the Best Mortgage Rates
You’ll need a good understanding of the best type of loan for you as well as prevailing mortgage rates. And be sure to pick a lender with a reputation for good customer service. Ready to begin? Get started by using our online search tool to find the best mortgage rates in your area.
Once you’ve found and purchased the home of your dreams, you’ll need to protect your investment. Check out our guides to the Best Home Insurance and the Best Home Warranty Companies to keep your home safe from everything from natural disasters to pesky appliance breakdowns.
Remember, securing the best mortgage isn’t simply about finding a lender who offers you the best rate. The best mortgage lenders will guide you through the complex process with ease and treat you with respect. This makes finding the best rates from top mortgage lenders a little bit tougher than finding, say, the Best Credit Card or the Best Savings Account.