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While the inflation rate doesn’t directly impact mortgage rates, the two tend to move in tandem. Rising inflation can shrink purchasing power as prices of goods and services increase. Higher prices can then influence the Federal Reserve’s interest rate policy, affecting the cost of borrowing for lending products like mortgages.
Homebuyers looking for a home loan and homeowners who want to refinance a mortgage need to know that mortgage rates may rise as inflation increases. Therefore, understanding the difference between the inflation rate, interest rates, and what affects mortgage rates matters for all home finance consumers.
Inflation Rate vs Interest Rates
Inflation is a general increase in the overall price of goods and services over time.
The Federal Reserve, the central bank of the United States, tracks inflation rates and inflation trends using several key metrics, including the Consumer Price Index (CPI), to determine how to direct monetary policy. A target inflation rate of 2% is considered ideal for maintaining a stable economic environment over the long run.
When inflation is on the rise and the economy is in danger of overheating, the Federal Reserve may raise interest rates to cool things down.
Interest rates reflect the cost of using someone else’s money. Lenders charge interest to borrowers who take out loans and lines of credit as a premium for the right to use the lender’s money.
Higher rates can make borrowing more expensive while also providing more interest to savers. People borrowing less and saving more can have a cooling effect on the economy.
When the economy is slowing down too much, on the other hand, the Fed can lower interest rates to encourage borrowing and spending.
What Affects Mortgage Rates?
Inflation rates don’t have a direct impact on mortgage rates. But there can be indirect effects because of how inflation influences the economy and the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy decisions. Again, this relationship between inflation and mortgage rates is related to how the Federal Reserve adjusts interest rates to cool off or jump-start the economy.
The Federal Reserve does not set mortgage rates, however. Instead, the central bank sets the federal funds rate target, the interest rate that banks lend money to one another overnight. As the Fed increases this short-term interest rate, it often pushes up long-term interest rates for U.S. Treasuries. Fixed-rate mortgages are tied to the 10-year U.S. Treasury Note yield, which are government-issued bonds that mature in a decade. When the 10-year Treasury yield increases, the 30-year mortgage rate tends to do the same.
So in terms of what affects mortgage rates, movement in the 10-year Treasury yield is the short answer. Higher yields can mean higher rates, while lower yields can lead to lower rates. But overall, inflation rates, interest rates, and the economic environment can work together to sway mortgage rates at any given time.
A simple way to see the relationship between inflation rates and mortgage rates is to look at how they’ve trended historically . If you track the average 30-year mortgage rate and the annual inflation rate since 1971, you’ll see that they often move in tandem.
They don’t always move perfectly in sync, but it’s typical to see rising mortgage rates paired with rising inflation rates.
Inflation Trends for 2022 and Beyond
In March 2022, the U.S. inflation rate hit 8.5%, as measured by the Consumer Price Index. This increase represents the largest 12-month increase since 1981 and moving well beyond the Federal Reserve’s 2% target inflation rate.
While prices for consumer goods and services were up across the board, the most significant increases were in the energy, shelter, and food categories.
Rising inflation rates in 2022 are thought to be driven by a combination of things, including:
- Increased demand for goods and services
- Shortages in the supply of goods and services
- Higher commodity prices due to geopolitical conflicts
The coronavirus pandemic saw many people cut back on spending in 2020, leading to a surplus of savings. In addition to government stimulus, these savings created a pent-up demand for purchases once the economy got back on track. However, the supply chains have not been able to catch up to demand.
Supply chain disruptions and worker shortages are making it difficult for companies to meet consumer needs. This has resulted in rapidly rising inflation to levels not seen in decades.
In March 2022, the Fed started to raise interest rates to tame inflation and will likely continue to raise interest rates throughout the year. Many analysts believe that inflation is peaking and will steadily decline throughout 2022. However, there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the economy that makes forecasting price trends difficult.
Is Now a Good Time for a Mortgage or Refi?
There’s a link between inflation rates and mortgage rates. But what does all of this mean for homebuyers or homeowners?
Rising inflation and higher interest rates have caused mortgage rates to spike at the fastest pace in decades, though mortgage rates are still near historic lows. As the Fed continues to pursue interest rate hikes, it could lead to even higher mortgage rates. It simply means that if you’re interested in buying a home, it could make sense to do so sooner rather than later.
Buying a home now could help you lock in a better deal on a loan and get a reasonable mortgage rate, especially as home values increase.
The higher home values go, the more important a low-interest rate becomes, as the rate can directly affect how much home you can afford.
The same is true if you already own a home and are considering refinancing an existing mortgage. However, when refinancing a mortgage, the math gets a bit trickier. You might need to determine your break-even point — when the money you save on interest payments matches what you spend on closing costs for a refinanced mortgage (a refi).
To find the break-even point on a refi, divide the total loan costs by the monthly savings. If refinancing fees total $3,000 and you’ll save $250 a month, that’s 3,000 divided by 250, or 12. That means it’ll take 12 months to recoup the cost of refinancing.
If you refinance to a shorter-term mortgage, your savings can multiply beyond the break-even point.
If your current mortgage rate is above refinancing rates, it could make sense to shop around for refinancing options.
Keep in mind, of course, that the actual rate you pay for a purchase loan or refinance loan can also depend on things like your credit score, income, and debt-to-income ratio.
Inflation appears to be here to stay, at least for the near term. Buying a home or refinancing when mortgage rates are lower could add up to a substantial cost difference over the life of your loan. From a savings perspective, it’s essential to understand what affects mortgage rates and the relationship between the inflation rate and interest rates.
SoFi offers fixed-rate mortgages and mortgage refinancing. Now might be a good time to find the best loan for your needs and budget.
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