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Adjustable-Rate Mortgages Hit New Low

NEW YORK ( RateWatch) -- Loan rates keep falling, and consumers who have long spurned adjustable-rate mortgages may want to take a second look.

The average rate for a five-year adjustable-rate mortgage hit a low of 3.41% at the end of June. That's the lowest mark that rate has hit since RateWatch began tracking the Credit Power Index in January 2007.

The Credit Power Index assesses the interest rate climate for consumers by tracking deposit and consumer loan product rates, using the methodology found here. The overall index -- which accounts for certificates of deposit at four terms as well as personal unsecured loans, home equity loans, new auto loans and adjustable-rate mortgages -- fell for the sixth straight month as rates continue to slowly improve for consumers.

But the real story was the five-year ARM component of the index. The national average rate of 3.41% is a basis point lower than the low set back in October; the rate had fluctuated in the intervening six months before settling at its new low at the end of last month. While most would-be homebuyers are well aware mortgage rates have hit rock bottom lows along with the home prices, the low point for ARMs should serve as a reminder that even lower monthly payments are possible for those willing to assume the risk of a higher rate five years down the road.

Of course, this milestone comes after ARM rates have dropped steadily for years. So have these plummeting rates been enticing consumers to get on board?

The fact rates continue to drop -- the average has dropped even further this week, to 3.246% -- suggests demand has stayed low. Still, there are signs of increased activity. The Mortgage Bankers Association recorded a week-to-week spike of 13% in mid-June mortgage applications, an increase the organization attributed to falling rates. And according to Inside Mortgage Finance, ARMs have become particularly attractive as of late; in the first quarter of 2011, they accounted for 12% of originations, the highest share since the second quarter of 2008.

But some say that thinking of the mortgage market in simple terms of decreasing rates and increasing demand ignores a key reality: Despite the low rates, banks have greatly raised their standards for home loan qualification.

"The common theme we're hearing is that consumers can't get a loan, even if they're putting 70% down," says economist Lance Roberts, CEO of Houston-based investment management firm StreetTalk Advisors. "And many homeowners are underwater and can't move, and that lack of mobility is tying up the market."

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