Mortgage interest rates may be really low but only a few will qualify

You may hear a lot of ads for refinancing your mortgage because of historically low interest rates. But, only a small number of people searching for prime mortgages will qualify for the really low rates:

Have a look at a key detail about the criteria for mortgage quotes from which Freddie derives its weekly mortgage interest survey:

The survey is based on first-lien prime conventional conforming mortgages with a loan-to-value of 80 percent…

But the second criterion is even more significant. Let’s say that you have a house worth $200,000 and a mortgage balance of $175,000 that you want to refinance. Your loan-to-value ratio would be 87.5%, so you wouldn’t be included in this average. You might manage to achieve a low rate, but someone with so little equity shouldn’t expect to necessarily achieve rates near this average.

So those qualifying for these ultra-low rates must have pretty spotless credit histories and a pretty significant chunk of equity. That excludes anyone underwater or even slightly above water. And unfortunately, they’re the ones who would benefit most by refinancing. According to real estate analytics firm CoreLogic, about three-quarters of underwater borrowers have mortgage interest rates above 5.1%.

So the low interest rates only really help people who don’t need the help as much? Not much relief then for people looking to lower their payments and perhaps stay in their once-overvalued houses.

This reminds me of an issue that has kind of disappeared from the national news: what about plans to adjust mortgages? As long as the jobs situation remains difficult, have government programs and mortgage lenders made changes so that a good number of people can stay in their homes?

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