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Now Is A Good Time To Bail Out Of Those Adjustable-Rate Mortgages

Homeowners who financed their home or condominium purchase with an adjustable-rate mortgage should be shopping now to refinance into the safe haven of a fixed-rate loan, experts advise.

On June 14th the Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee voted to raise the federal-funds rate—which is what banks charge each other for overnight loans—by a quarter of a percentage point to a range of 1% to 1.25%.

This is the second time the Fed has raised rates in 2017, and at least one more rate hike is forecast for this year because the nation’s job market is improving and inflation is on the rise, economists say.

Rates on one-year adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) are modified annually based on short-term interest rates. So, if your ARM rate currently is 4%, the three quarter-point Fed hikes in 2017 likely would push the loan rate to 4.75% when it adjusts in 2018. That rate jump would boost the monthly payment on a $200,000 loan by $84.

With interest rates on the rise, holding on to an ARM loan is not a good idea. The Fed is forecasting three more rate hikes in 2018, and three or four increases in 2019. If each increase is a quarter of a percentage point, theoretically that 4% ARM loan could be adjusted upward three times to 6.5%, driving up monthly payments by more than $250 on that $200,000 mortgage by 2020. Because 30-year fixed-rate mortgages are pegged to 10-year U.S. Treasury bond interest rates, they are only indirectly affected when the Fed increases its short-term federal-funds rates.

However, on June 15th—the day after the Fed’s rate hike-benchmark 30-year fixed mortgages rose to an average of 3.91% from 3.89% a week earlier, reported Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey. A year ago, 30-year fixed loans averaged 3.54%. Fifteen-year fixed mortgages averaged 3.18% on June 15th up from 3.16% a week earlier. A year ago, 15-year fixed loans averaged 2.81%.

Thirty-year fixed mortgage rates generally have moved below 4% in recent weeks. On March 9th, the benchmark rate hit 4.21%, the highest mark of 2017, reported Freddie Mac. With interest rising at the end of 2016, homeowners seized the opportunity to refinance their mortgages, locking in fixed-rate loans.

Some 883,836 refinanced loans totaling $246 billion were originated in the fourth quarter of 2016, reported ATTOM Data Solutions’ U.S. Residential Property Loan Origination Report. That’s a 20-percent increase in loans, and a 27-percent hike in dollar volume from the previous year.

More than 3.3 million refinances and over 2.7 million home purchases were originated in all of 2016, according to the report.

As inflation moves steadily toward the Fed’s annual 2 percent target, Fed Chair Janet Yellen said rate hikes will probably come at a faster pace in 2018 and 2019.

Some economists have predicted that 30-year home-loan rates could rise as high as 4.5 percent by the end of 2017. However, if inflation heats up, rates could exceed that level. Thirty-year fixed-rate loans could hit or surpass 5 percent in 2018, some analysts say.

Because lenders expected the Fed to raise interest rates in mid-June, the hike may already be priced into the current yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury bonds. A likely scenario is that rates will trend gradually higher during summer and autumn.

If you are planning to buy a home or condo before higher rates price you out of the market, there are a few facts you should know:

• History is on your side. On the positive side, home-loan rates still are historically low. The annual average rate from 1972 through 2011 was higher than current rates. In 1999, benchmark 30-year mortgage rates were 8.15 percent. In June of 2003, lenders were charging an average of 5.21 percent. That’s an interest rate borrowers may see again in 2018.

• Lower down payments available. New programs at Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae allow the secondary mortgage market gurus to purchase loans from lenders with lower 3-percent to 5-percent down payments, opening homeownership to more first-time buyers.

• More lenient credit scores. The average FICO score for home buyers obtaining mortgages backed by Freddie Mac currently is 750, a relatively high score. However, if a borrower is approved for a Federal Housing Administration-insured (FHA) loan, the score averages only 700.

For more housing news, visit Don DeBat is co-author of “Escaping Condo Jail,” the ultimate survival guide for condominium living. Visit

“The book is Escaping Condo Jail by Sara Benson and Don DeBat. I would say that anybody thinking about buying a condo, or even anybody serving on a condo board, or anybody who has any connection to a condo, this is must reading—all 600 and something pages. Thanks a lot for a great book!”


Steve Sanders, “Your Money Matters” WGN TV, December 22, 2014

By Don DeBat

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