U.S. mortgage rates have fallen in the aftermath of the presidential election and latest Federal Reserve increase as potential homeowners face a stagnant economy with slow wage growth.
But, how do you snag the absolute lowest rates for a traditional 30-year fixed rate mortgage, especially if you are a first-time homebuyer?
How to Get a Low Rate
Low mortgage rates can play a large factor in homeowners' ability to save tens of thousands of dollars in interest. Even a 1% difference in the mortgage rate can save a homeowner $40,000 over 30 years for a mortgage valued at $200,000. Having a top notch credit score plays a critical factor in determining what interest rate lenders will offer consumers, but other issues such as the amount of your down payment also impact it.
A high credit score is the key to ensuring that borrowers receive a low mortgage rate. Here's a quick rundown of what the numbers mean - a score of anything below 620 ranks as poor, 620 to 699 is fair, 700 to 749 is good and anything over 750 is excellent. Think carefully before canceling a credit card with a long, positive history, but decrease your debt. One of the biggest factors which impacts your credit score is your credit utilization rate.
Borrowers who have higher credit scores have an "advantage when it comes to saving the most on interest rates and other mortgage fees," said Bruce McClary, spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, a Washington, D.C-based non-profit organization. "Finding the most affordable home means shopping competitively for the best mortgage terms."
Many potential homeowners focus only on the interest rate or the monthly payment. The APR or annual percentage rate gives you a better idea of the true cost of borrowing money, which includes all the fees and points for the loan.
The origination fee or points is charged by a lender to process a loan. This fee shows up on your good faith estimate (GFE) as one item called the origination charge. However, the origination fee can be made up of a few different fees such as: processing fees, underwriting fees and an origination charge.
Homeowners who are able to afford a 20% down payment do not have to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI), which costs another 0.5% to 1.0% and can tack on more money each month. Having at least 20% in equity shows lenders that there is a lower chance of the individual defaulting on the loan.
Why 30-Year Mortgages Remain Good Choice
The 30-year fixed rate mortgage is a good option for many homeowners because it represents permanent payment affordability since the principal and interest portion of the monthly payment never changes, said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst for Bankrate, a New York-based financial data and content company.
"Unemployment is falling and consumer confidence is rising," he said. "This is the sweet spot for prospective home buyers."
Younger homeowners should consider how long they plan to live in their home due to potential lifestyle or career changes. The current data demonstrates that the majority of homeowners who obtain 30-year mortgages live in the home for an average of seven years and tend to refinance or sell during that period, said Marc Stefanski, CEO of Cleveland-based Third Federal Savings and Loan (TFSL).
"A 30-year fixed rate purchase loan still represents good value today for a borrower, but it doesn't always make the best financial sense depending on the length the borrower stays in the mortgage," he said.
Here are the four lowest rates for a 30-year mortgages, according to RateWatch, a Fort Atkinson, Wis.-based premier banking data and analytics service owned by TheStreet, Inc., which surveyed the majority of institutions in the U.S. from May 8 to May 15.