WASHINGTON – Mortgages are cheaper today than they’ve been in a half-century. If only most people had the job security, the credit rating and the cash to qualify for one or refinance.
The average rate for a 30-year fixed loan sank to 4.69 percent this week, beating the low set in December and down from 4.75 percent last week, Freddie Mac said Thursday. Rates for 15-year and five-year mortgages also hit lows.
Rates are at their lowest since the mortgage company began keeping records in 1971. The last time they were any cheaper was the 1950s, when most long-term home loans lasted just 20 or 25 years.
Almost no one expects falling rates to energize the economy, though. Sales of new homes collapsed in May after an enticing tax credit expired.
“As long as prospective homebuyers are still concerned about their jobs and financial well-being, many will be reluctant to take the plunge, even though affordability has never been better,” said Greg McBride, senior financial analyst with Bankrate.com.
Rates have fallen over the past two months as investors have become nervous about Europe’s debt crisis and the global economy and have shifted money into safe Treasury bonds. The demand has caused Treasury yields to fall. Mortgage rates track those yields.
While mortgages are getting cheaper, low interest rates hurt Americans who are trying to save. Puny rates for savings accounts and CDs are especially hard on people who are living on fixed incomes and earning next to nothing on their money.
Americans normally rush to refinance when rates plummet. But refinancing activity now amounts to less than half the level of early 2009, when long-term rates hovered around 5 percent, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.
Besides, many people who want to refinance – and are able to – have already done it, said Michael Fratantoni, vice president of research and economics at the trade group. And refinancing costs can total several thousand dollars.
“Rates haven’t dropped low enough to justify a second refinancing,” Fratantoni said. “The group of people who could potentially benefit is much smaller than it was 15 months ago.”
Another factor: Many Americans owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth and can’t refinance through the usual channels.
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