While the mortgage rate you’ll get is determined by specific factors like your credit score, historical mortgage rate trends can give you a sense of how economic conditions influence the rates that are available on the market today. From the 1970s to present, mortgage rates have risen and fallen, with the current 30-year fixed rate near a historic low.
“In the past four decades mortgage rates, like many other interest rates, have tumbled from double-digit levels to continually set new lows amid a backdrop of low inflation and ever-easier monetary policy has prevailed,” says Greg McBride, CFA, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.
Historical mortgage rate trends
Overall, the average annual 30-year mortgage rate has trended downward since 1972, according to data from Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey.
Mortgage rate trends in the 1970s
The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage started off the decade at about 7.3 percent in 1971, according to Freddie Mac. By the end of 1979, in a time of heightening inflation, that rate rose to 12.9 percent. While inflation doesn’t directly influence mortgage rates, if it rises too fast and wages don’t keep up, borrowers have less purchasing power overall.
Mortgage rate trends in the 1980s
The 30-year fixed mortgage rate reached a pinnacle of 18.4 percent in October 1981, according to Freddie Mac, seesawing down to the 9 percent range by 1986 and closing the decade at 9.78 percent. The 1970s oil embargo against the U.S., which drove up inflation quickly, contributed to the increased borrowing costs.
Mortgage rate trends in the 1990s
The 1990s saw a dramatic shift in the 30-year rate’s movement, as it plunged to an average of 6.91 percent in 1998, according to Bankrate data. This was spurred by the dot-com bubble, an era when investors rushed to buy stocks from technology companies that were overvalued. When these stocks plummeted, investors turned their focus to fixed-income investments, such as bonds. As bond prices rose and yields fell, mortgage rates, which follow the 10-year Treasury yield, also declined.
Mortgage rate trends in the 2000s
The 30-year rate took another tumble in the latter half of the 2000s when the housing market crashed due to the prevalence of subprime loans. According to Bankrate’s data, the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate dropped from about 8 percent at the start of the decade down to 5.4 percent by 2009, when the Federal Reserve implemented quantitative easing, buying mortgage bonds in bulk to drive down interest rates and usher in an economic recovery.
Mortgage rate trends in the 2010s
The 2010s witnessed the 30-year mortgage rate continue to trend downward, beginning in the 4 percent range, dipping under the 4 percent mark and then ending the decade back in that range, Bankrate data shows. These rates were brought on in part by the Federal Reserve’s pull-back on bond-buying.
Mortgage rates in 2020 and 2021
2020 saw new lows for mortgage rates, with the 30-year fixed rate diving to just under 3 percent, according to Bankrate data, and averaging 3.38 percent for the year. Amid the pandemic, fearful investors were attracted to safer products such as Treasury and mortgage bonds, pushing yields — and rates — lower, explains McBride.
“The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 spurred mortgage rates to new record lows, as the economy was faced initially with a rapid contraction that was the worst since the Great Depression and followed up by unprecedented accommodation by the Federal Reserve,” McBride says.
While rates ticked up slightly in 2021, that trend has since reversed, and the 30-year fixed rate continues to hover at a low point: 3.2 percent as of early August 2021. You can view current 30-year mortgage rates on Bankrate.
How historical mortgage rates affect buying a home
Broadly speaking, lower mortgage rates fuel demand among homebuyers and can increase an individual’s buying power. A higher rate, on the other hand, means higher monthly mortgage payments, which can be a barrier for a buyer if the cost becomes unaffordable. In general, a borrower with a higher credit score, stable income and a sizable down payment qualifies for the lowest rates.
How historical mortgage rates affect refinancing
As was the case in 2020 — and even still, today — low mortgage rates can also motivate borrowers to refinance to lower-cost loans, or out of an adjustable-rate loan to a fixed-rate mortgage.
Generally, it’s best to refinance if you can shave off one-half to three-quarters of a percentage point from your current interest rate, and if you plan to stay in your home for a longer period of time. If you plan to sell your home soon, the cost to refinance might not be worth it.
If you are in a good position to refinance, shop around to find the lowest possible rate and fees based on your credit and finances, and be sure to lock your rate.
Summary: Historical mortgage rate trends
Over the last 50 years, mortgage rates have reached both peaks and valleys, from the high of 18 percent in the 1980s to today’s low-3 percent rates. Below is a summary of the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate by year:
|Sources: Bankrate, Freddie Mac|
|Year||30-year fixed-rate average|