How your mortgage interest rate is determined
Mortgage and refinance rates vary a lot depending on each borrower's unique situation.
Factors that determine your mortgage interest rate include:
- Overall strength of the economy — A strong economy usually means higher rates, while a weaker one can push current mortgage rates down to promote borrowing
- Lender capacity — When a lender is very busy, it will increase rates to deter new business and give its loan officers some breathing room
- Property type (condo, single-family, townhouse, etc.) — A primary residence, meaning a home you plan to live in full time, will have a lower interest rate. Investment properties, second homes, and vacation homes have higher mortgage rates
- Loan-to-value ratio (determined by your down payment) — Your loan-to-value ratio (LTV) compares your loan amount to the value of the home. A lower LTV, meaning a bigger down payment, gets you a lower mortgage rate
- Debt-To-Income ratio — This number compares your total monthly debts to your pre-tax income. The more debt you currently have, the less room you'll have in your budget for a mortgage payment
- Loan term — Loans with a shorter term (like a 15-year mortgage) typically have lower rates than a 30-year loan term
- Borrower's credit score — Typically the higher your credit score is, the lower your mortgage rate, and vice-versa
- Mortgage discount points — Borrowers have the option to buy discount points or 'mortgage points' at closing. These let you pay money upfront to lower your interest rate
Remember, every mortgage lender weighs these factors a little differently.
To find the best rate for your situation, you'll want to get personalized estimates from a few different lenders.
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Are refinance rates the same as mortgage rates?
Rates for a home purchase and mortgage refinance are often similar.
However, some lenders will charge more for a refinance under certain circumstances.
Typically when rates fall, homeowners rush to refinance. They see an opportunity to lock in a lower rate and payment for the rest of their loan.
This creates a tidal wave of new work for mortgage lenders.
Unfortunately, some lenders don't have the capacity or manpower to process a large number of refinance loan applications.
In this case, a lender might raise its rates to deter new business and give loan officers time to process loans currently in the pipeline.
Also, cashing out equity can result in a higher rate when refinancing.
Cash-out refinances pose a greater risk for mortgage lenders, so they're often priced higher than new home purchases and rate-term refinances.
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How to get the lowest mortgage or refinance rate
Since rates can vary, always shop around when buying a house or refinancing a mortgage.
Comparison shopping can potentially save thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars over the life of your loan.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
1. Get multiple quotes
Many borrowers make the mistake of accepting the first mortgage or refinance offer they receive.
Some simply go with the bank they use for checking and savings since that can seem easiest.
However, your bank might not offer the best mortgage deal for you. And if you're refinancing, your financial situation may have changed enough that your current lender is no longer your best bet.
So get multiple quotes from at least three different lenders to find the right one for you.
2. Compare Loan Estimates
When shopping for a mortgage or refinance, lenders will provide a Loan Estimate that breaks down important costs associated with the loan.
You'll want to read these Loan Estimates carefully and compare costs and fees line-by-line, including:
- Interest rate
- Annual percentage rate (APR)
- Monthly mortgage payment
- Loan origination fees
- Rate lock fees
- Closing costs
Remember, the lowest interest rate isn't always the best deal.
Annual percentage rate (APR) can help you compare the 'real' cost of two loans. It estimates your total yearly cost including interest and fees.
Also pay close attention to your closing costs.
Some lenders may bring their rates down by charging more upfront via discount points. These can add thousands to your out-of-pocket costs.
3. Negotiate your mortgage rate
You can also negotiate your mortgage rate to get a better deal.
Let's say you get loan estimates from two lenders. Lender A offers the better rate, but you prefer your loan terms from Lender B. Talk to Lender B and see if they can beat the former's pricing.
You might be surprised to find that a lender is willing to give you a lower interest rate in order to keep your business.
And if they're not, keep shopping — there's a good chance someone will.
Fixed-rate mortgage vs. adjustable-rate mortgage: Which is right for you?
Mortgage borrowers can choose between a fixed-rate mortgage and an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM).
Fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) have interest rates that never change, unless you decide to refinance. This results in predictable monthly payments and stability over the life of your loan.
Adjustable-rate loans have a low interest rate that's fixed for a set number of years (typically five or seven). After the initial fixed-rate period, the interest rate adjusts every year based on market conditions.
With each rate adjustment, a borrower's mortgage rate can either increase, decrease, or stay the same. These loans are unpredictable since monthly payments can change each year.
Adjustable-rate mortgages are fitting for borrowers who expect to move before their first rate adjustment, or who can afford a higher future payment.
In most other cases, a fixed-rate mortgage is typically the safer and better choice.
Remember, if rates drop sharply, you are free to refinance and lock in a lower rate and payment later on.
How your credit score affects your mortgage rate
You don't need a high credit score to qualify for a home purchase or refinance, but your credit score will affect your rate.
This is because credit history determines risk level.
Historically speaking, borrowers with higher credit scores are less likely to default on their mortgages, so they qualify for lower rates.
For the best rate, aim for a credit score of 720 or higher.
Mortgage programs that don't require a high score include:
- Conventional home loans — minimum 620 credit score
- FHA loans — minimum 500 credit score (with a 10% down payment) or 580 (with a 3.5% down payment)
- VA loans — no minimum credit score, but 620 is common
- USDA loans — minimum 640 credit score
Ideally, you want to check your credit report and score at least 6 months before applying for a mortgage. This gives you time to sort out any errors and make sure your score is as high as possible.
If you're ready to apply now, it's still worth checking so you have a good idea of what loan programs you might qualify for and how your score will affect your rate.
You can get your credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com and your score from MyFico.com.
How big of a down payment do I need?
Nowadays, mortgage programs don't require the conventional 20 percent down.
In fact, first-time home buyers put only 6 percent down on average.
Down payment minimums vary depending on the loan program. For example:
- Conventional home loans require a down payment between 3% and 5%
- FHA loans require 3.5% down
- VA and USDA loans allow zero down payment
- Jumbo loans typically require at least 5% to 10% down
Keep in mind, a higher down payment reduces your risk as a borrower and helps you negotiate a better mortgage rate.
If you are able to make a 20 percent down payment, you can avoid paying for mortgage insurance.
This is an added cost paid by the borrower, which protects their lender in case of default or foreclosure.
But a big down payment is not required.
For many people, it makes sense to make a smaller down payment in order to buy a house sooner and start building home equity.
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Choosing the right type of home loan
No two mortgage loans are alike, so it's important to know your options and choose the right type of mortgage.
The five main types of mortgages include:
Fixed-rate mortgage (FRM)
Your interest rate remains the same over the life of the loan. This is a good option for borrowers who expect to live in their homes long-term.
The most popular loan option is the 30-year mortgage, but 15- and 20-year terms are also commonly available.
Adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM)
Adjustable-rate loans have a fixed interest rate for the first few years. Then, your mortgage rate resets every year.
Your rate and payment can rise or fall annually depending on how the broader interest rate trends.
ARMs are ideal for borrowers who expect to move prior to their first rate adjustment (usually in 5 or 7 years).
For those who plan to stay in their home long-term, a fixed-rate mortgage is typically recommended.
A jumbo loan is a mortgage that exceeds the conforming loan limit set by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
In 2024, the conforming loan limit is $726,200 in most areas.
Jumbo loans are perfect for borrowers who need a larger loan to purchase a high-priced property, especially in big cities with high real estate values.
A government loan backed by the Federal Housing Administration for low- to moderate-income borrowers. FHA loans feature low credit score and down payment requirements.
A government loan backed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. To be eligible, you must be active-duty military, a veteran, a Reservist or National Guard service member, or an eligible spouse.
VA loans allow no down payment and have exceptionally low mortgage rates.
USDA loans are a government program backed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They offer a no-down-payment solution for borrowers who purchase real estate in an eligible rural area. To qualify, your income must be at or below the local median.
Bank statement loan
Borrowers can qualify for a mortgage without tax returns, using their personal or business bank account. This is an option for self-employed or seasonally-employed borrowers.
These are mortgages that lenders don't sell on the secondary mortgage market. This gives lenders the flexibility to set their own guidelines.
Non-QM loans may have lower credit score requirements, or offer low-down-payment options without mortgage insurance.
Choosing the right mortgage lender
The lender or loan program that's right for one person might not be right for another.
Explore your options and then pick a loan based on your credit score, down payment, and financial goals, as well as local home prices.
Whether you're getting a mortgage for a home purchase or a refinance, always shop around and compare rates and terms.
Typically, it only takes a few hours to get quotes from multiple lenders — and it could save you thousands in the long run.
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Current mortgage rates methodology
We receive current mortgage rates each day from a network of mortgage lenders that offer home purchase and refinance loans. Mortgage rates shown here are based on sample borrower profiles that vary by loan type. See our full loan assumptions here.