As painful as it can be to see interest rates topping 7% when they hovered over 2% in late 2020, waiting for them to come down again could bite would-be homeowners. Although today’s rates mean homebuyers can expect to spend more on interest over their loan’s lifetime, they’re actually close to the 50-year average — and besides, if they plummet again, the market will once again be flooded by buyers who have been sitting on the sidelines.
Still, interest rates are a big deal when it comes to how much home you can comfortably afford — and the ongoing health of your personal finances. In this article, we’ll walk through a little bit of mortgage rate history and context, as well as offering ways to decide whether you’re ready to buy or not, regardless of the market.
Why Are Mortgage Rates So High?
Since Americans just witnessed a historic mortgage interest rate drop in 2020, today’s 7% and 8% rates seem astronomical. (And, to be fair, coupled with a median national home sales price over $400,000, they can pack a powerful punch: After interest, a 30-year mortgage could easily cost twice the amount of the loan.)
Still, it’s important to remember that when you look at the big picture, today’s rates are actually not that big a deal. Yes, they’re the highest they’ve been since the year 2000, but they’re about on par (or slightly under) the rates buyers saw in the 1990s — and less than half of the 17% and 18% interest rates buyers paid in the early 1980s.
The rise and fall of mortgage rates is tied to complicated economic factors, including inflation, the Federal interest rate, and the yield of 10-year Treasury bonds. It’s not totally predictable, but one thing’s for sure: It will continue to undulate over time. What’s more, attempting to time the market to purchase a house might not be the best financial move, even if it does save you money on interest.
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First-time homebuyers can
prequalify for a SoFi mortgage loan,
with as little as 3% down.
How Low Will Mortgage Rates Drop This Year?
While no one can fully predict the future, experts do weigh in with their predictions for the mortgage interest rate. In 2024, projections suggest a mortgage interest rate drop to about 6%, or slightly lower — but still, we’re likely to stay far from the 2% and 3% free-for-all we saw a few years ago.
How Your Interest Rate Impacts Your Buying Power
So how much do interest rates really impact how much house you can afford? Glad you asked! Let’s do some math.
Say you’re going to buy a $400,000 home — which is just a little less than the U.S. median sale price right now. You’ve saved up a 20% down payment, or $80,000, and plan on taking out a 30-year mortgage.
With a fixed interest rate of 7%, your monthly payment would be about $2,129 per month, before additional costs like homeowners insurance and property taxes. At 6.5%, that payment goes down to $2,023, and at 6% it drops to $1,919. (So a percentage point drop equates to $210 per month in savings, or $2,520 per year.)
However, it’s over the long term that interest really has the opportunity to add up. In the exact same scenario, over the 30-year lifetime of the loan, you’d pay approximately the following amount in total interest:
• 7%: $446,428
• 6.5%: $408,142
• 6%: $370,682
As you can see, just a single percent difference can save you nearly $100,000 in the long run. So while it’s not possible to perfectly time the market, it is worth shopping around for the lowest possible interest rates you can qualify for.
(Keep in mind, too, that you can always pull your own customized numbers using a mortgage calculator.)
💡 Quick Tip: Don’t have a lot of cash on hand for a down payment? The minimum down payment for an FHA mortgage loan is as low as 3.5%.1
Should You Wait to Buy a Home?
The question of whether you’re ready to buy a home — or if it makes more sense to wait — is one that depends on far more than the going market interest rate. Here are some ways for first-time homebuyers to decide what might be the right move, right now.
Reasons to Buy
These are good reasons to consider going ahead with the homebuying process, high interest rates or no:
• You’re financially (and emotionally) ready. Your credit score is in tip-top shape, you’ve saved up a down payment, and you’re planning to stay in your new home for at least five years — which means you could feasibly refinance once interest rates drop substantially and still break even on closing costs. (A home affordability calculator can help you figure out just how much house you can reasonably afford.)
• The market looks good to you. These higher interest rates mean the housing market is moving far more slowly than it used to, so the amount of available inventory may give buyers who are ready to buy more time to shop around and find something they really like. This dynamic can also drive home prices down, creating more value for you as the property appreciates over time.
• It’s time to move. Regardless of the housing market, life goes on — and if you’re expanding your family or relocating, you may not have a choice about moving. If the opportunity is presenting itself and you’re financially ready, this could be a great time to get started on building equity and generational wealth as a homeowner.
Reasons to Wait
On the other end of the spectrum, there are some good reasons to wait on buying a home, even when interest rates are low:
• You’re not financially (or emotionally) ready. If a monthly mortgage payment would leave you cash-poor, you don’t have a substantial emergency fund saved up, your job security is in question, or you’re not quite sure you’re ready to commit to a given locale, buying a home might not be the right move for you — yet.
• You can’t get prequalified by a mortgage lender. Perhaps you’re in a decent amount of debt or have an iffy credit history. If you can’t qualify for a loan right now, take the time to work on those factors and get ready for the future.
• The market looks meh to you. If you can’t find a home you like, you probably shouldn’t buy one. After all, it’s a major investment — and while we’re not suggesting you have to wait for an absolutely perfect house to come along, you should be happy with your purchase!
Should Interest Rates Influence Your Decision?
While interest rates are of course a relevant factor for would-be homeowners, so long as you’re financially prepared and planning on staying in your new home for at least a few years, higher interest rates shouldn’t deter you. After all, you can always refinance once rates drop.
Waiting for interest rates to drop can be a bit like waiting for Godot: You might get stuck in the in-between. If your finances are in shape and you’ve found your dream home, now could still be the right time to take the leap and become a homeowner.
Looking for an affordable option for a home mortgage loan? SoFi can help: We offer low down payments (as little as 3% - 5%*) with our competitive and flexible home mortgage loans. Plus, applying is extra convenient: It's online, with access to one-on-one help.
Is it better to wait for interest rates to go down?
Not necessarily. While lower interest rates can subtly lower a monthly mortgage payment — and save buyers potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars over the lifetime of a loan — it’s not the only factor to consider if you’re otherwise ready to buy a home. (Plus, qualified buyers can always refinance their purchase down the line when rates drop again.)
Will 2024 be a good year to buy a house?
It’s probably as good a year to buy as any. Many experts expect interest rates to drop a bit this year, from their current position between about 7% and 8% to somewhere between 5.5% and 6.5%. And it’s unlikely that interest rates will plummet back down to 2% or 3% as they did a few years ago.
What month is the best time to buy a house?
November and December tend to be favorable times to buy a home for buyers looking for the best deal possible. That’s because the holidays and winter weather may keep some buyers from shopping during this time, which means sellers might be more motivated to make a deal. You won’t get to see your new home in the height of its summer beauty for months — but you’ll get to find out whether it’s well insulated!
Photo credit: iStock/Andrii Yalanskyi
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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.