smart spending

10 years that shook America's finances

Year 2001Year 2002Year 2003Year 2004Year 2005Year 2006Year 2007Year 2008Year 2009Year 2010

Year 2003: Mortgage rates fall, housing prices climb

  • At the beginning of the year, the 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage falls below 6 percent for the first time in 37 years. It remains at 6 percent or below until the end of July. And in mid-June, the average rate on a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage falls to a record low of 5.28 percent.
  • Low rates provoke the biggest mortgage refinancing boom in history. Homeowners take out $2.5 trillion in refis in 2003 compared to $1.7 trillion the year before (and $234 billion in 2000). Toward the end of the year, house price appreciation accelerates.
  • The Federal Reserve moves short-term interest rates just once in 2003, but it's significant. The central bank cuts the federal funds rate to 1 percent from 1.25 percent. It's the lowest federal funds rate in 45 years.

    With inflationary expectations low, the Fed judged that "a slightly more expansive monetary policy would add further support for an economy, which it expects to improve over time." What follows is a housing boom, then a bust. Later, some observers partly blame the Fed for keeping the federal funds rate at 1 percent for a year.
  • In October, the $20 bill gets a facelift. Andrew Jackson's portrait is enlarged and removed from an oval frame, a background image of an eagle is added to the front and the bill is given an overall cleaner look. Most noticeably, the redesigned bill is colorful, with pastel hues of peach, green and blue.

-- Holden Lewis


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