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With interest rates at their lowest rate in decades, does it make sense to postpone a home purchase or refinance in hopes of a cheaper deal?

You never know for certain, but you may have more to lose by waiting than you could gain.

Mortgage rates, especially those on the standard 30-year fixed-rate loan, tend to be guided by rates on securities like 10-year U.S. Treasury notes. That’s because mortgages are bundled into securities that compete with other fixed-income securities for investors’ dollars.

With 10-year Treasury yields at record lows around 2.36%, the 30-year fixed mortgage ought to be around 3.75 to 4%, according to the Wall Street Journal. Instead, the survey finds they average around 4.3 %.

Mortgage lenders, of course, prefer not to reduce rates if they don’t have to, and right now they don’t. There are plenty of applicants who are eager for new loans at the historically low rates. In fact, the real problem for lenders is not that they can’t find enough applicants, it’s that many applicants don’t qualify for loans under today’s stricter standards.

If you’re shopping for a mortgage, what would waiting for a lower rate save? For every $100,000 borrowed, a loan at 4.3% would cost $495 a month, while one at 4% would cost $477, and one at 3.75% just $463.

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That’s a savings, no doubt about it, but rates are already so low that they’re more likely to go up than down. And if you’re in the market to buy a home, there’s always a risk the price would be higher if you wait, or that the perfect home you see today won’t be on the market in a few months.

Under today’s conditions, some practical steps make sense.

First, if you are buying a home, your offer should specify that you are obligated to make the purchase only if you can get a mortgage at or below a given rate. If you set the rate too low you may scare off the seller, who won’t want to take the property off the market for a deal that might not go through. Setting the rate too high could obligate you to take out a loan you don’t want.

Use the Mortgage Loan Calculator to figure the payments at various loan rates, to zero in on the maximum you are willing to pay.

Then use the shopping tool to find the best deal you can. Call the best candidates to find out about fees, as even minor fee differences can tip the balance on your choice of a loan when rates are this low.

Finally, get the longest lock-in period you can. That’s the number of days, typically 30, 60 or 90, for which a lender will guarantee a mortgage rate. Your purchase contract should also provide as much time as possible until closing. Because lenders are especially jittery these days, you want to leave plenty of time for snags like last-minute questions about your credit history or income.

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