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Silver lining in the Dow's drop: record low mortgage rates

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Richard Drew/AP

(Read caption) Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange Monday. One silver lining in the plunge in the Dow average is that investors are moving into government bonds, sending mortgage rates to record or near-record lows.

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If there's a silver lining to the general gloom about the economy and the stock market, it's this: Interest rates are at or near 50-year lows.

As investors pull out of stocks, they're piling into safer Treasury bonds. That's why, as the Dow average fell 115 points Monday to its lowest level in seven months, the rates on 10-year Treasury notes also fell.

Interest rates fall when bond-buying surges. The 10-year bond now stands at 3.18 percent, its lowest level since May 2009.

That means cheaper loans, particularly mortgages. If you haven't refinanced your home loan recently, this is an excellent time to look into what you might save.
"Whether they move lower or stay where they are, these are great rates," says Frank Nothaft, chief economist for Freddie Mac, which purchases or guarantees home loans. "These are probably the lowest rates in 50 years or pretty close to it."

Last week, the average 30-year fixed mortgage was 4.79 percent, not far above the record low of 4.71 percent in the first week of December, according to Freddie Mac, which has records stretching back to 1971.

The rate for a 15-year fixed mortgage last week did reach a record – 4.20 percent – the lowest since Freddie Mac began tracking those rates in 1991.

And that was before the latest declines in Treasury notes, which often forecast mortgage-rate moves.

In the long run, whether this week's figure turns out to set the precise record or not is probably less important than the overall level.

"You're going back half a century if you find rates that are anywhere comparable," says Greg McBride, a senior financial analyst at Bankrate.com, a leading online aggregator of information on financial products from mortgages to certificates of deposit. According to its separate survey, 30-year mortgage rates hit a record low of 4.96 percent in the week of May 19.

Bankrate's records go back to the 1980s. But using data from the National Bureau of Economic Research, which has pieced together mortgage data back to 1949, the website concludes that the last time mortgage rates were this low was 1956 – Elvis Presley's breakthrough year and the first time the Dow average closed above 500.

Homebuyers or those looking to refinance their homes can go to Bankrate's website to compare mortgage rates in their area.


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