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As the Fed's Powell sounds alarms, mortgage rates tank below 3%

MoneyWise logoMoneyWise 2 days ago Doug Whiteman
a man holding a glass of wine: Mortgage rates tank below 3% amid Powell warnings © Bill O'Leary / POOL / EPA-EFE / Shutterstock Mortgage rates tank below 3% amid Powell warnings

More gloomy talk from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has been greeted by another historic drop in mortgage rates, which have returned to an all-time low under 3% in a daily survey.

In two days of testimony to Congress this week — including an appearance on Tuesday in which he wore a mask and had a pump-bottle of hand sanitizer nearby — the leader of America's central bank said the economy faces an "extraordinarily uncertain" recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Infections have been rising rapidly, and many states have halted their reopening plans.

But while Powell rings his alarm bells, the Fed's policies that have pushed mortgage rates deep into the bargain bin appear to be working some magic on the economy. The housing market is rebounding and could lead the U.S. out of its COVID-19 recession, experts say.

How low have mortgage rates gone?

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Mortgage rates dipped on Tuesday to an average 2.94% for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, and that ties an all-time low reached earlier this month, says Mortgage News Daily.

For rates these days, it's "all about the coronavirus," says Matthew Graham, chief operating officer of MND.

"If it looks like the economy can slowly lurch back to business, rates will feel pressure to move higher," he writes. "If it looks like coronavirus retains the upper hand, rates could continue inching toward more all-time lows."

Today's dirt-cheap mortgage rates have helped light a fire under the housing market. Pending home sales — that is, the number of houses under contract — shot up by a record 44.3% from April to May, following two months of declines related to the pandemic.

"This has been a spectacular recovery for contract signings, and goes to show the resiliency of American consumers and their evergreen desire for homeownership," says Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors.

"This bounce back also speaks to how the housing sector could lead the way for a broader economic recovery," Yun adds.

Fed chief Powell welcomes the signs of recovery, but he says the economy is still fragile.

"We have entered an important new phase and have done so sooner than expected," he told lawmakers in remarks prepared for hearings Monday and Tuesday. "While this bounce back in economic activity is welcome, it also presents new challenges — notably, the need to keep the virus in check."

Can you get a mortgage rate under 3%?

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Worrisome news about the coronavirus is keeping investors anxious and is contributing to the latest declines in interest rates. The government's top infectious diseases expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, warned Congress on Tuesday that new cases of the virus could hit a stunning 100,000 per day.

Mortgage rates tend to follow the interest, on yields, on Treasury bonds. The yields have been sinking as money has flowed out of stocks and into bonds as a safer investment amid all of the uncertainty over the COVID-19 outbreak.

So that's how mortgage rates have fallen back to record territory in the Mortgage News Daily survey. But lenders aren't uniformly offering super-low rates, Graham warns.

"Different borrowers will see different pricing," he says. "This sort of goes without saying, but it's much more pronounced than it has been before coronavirus."

The rate you get depends on your own circumstances, like your credit score. Plus, rates can vary widely between lenders, by up to 1 percentage point or more, a recent LendingTree study found. In other words, one lender might offer you a 30-year loan at 2.95%, another might offer you a similar mortgage at much stiffer 4%.

To find the lowest rate available to you, you have to shop around. Gather rate offers from several lenders and compare them side by side to find the best deal.

Don't forget to use the same approach when you buy or renew your homeowners insurance. You can easily go online and get a bunch of home insurance quotes to compare rates — and find your perfect policy.

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