Thanks to digital technology, the United States' mortgages and home financing have rapidly transformed in recent years. The widespread impact of the pandemic influenced the digitization of many sectors, leading to a mass shift towards online operations.
In 2020, mortgages were at record-low interest rates, spurring demand and increasing mortgage applications. Digital infrastructure was crucial for facilitating the deluge of applications and helping lenders keep up with high volumes.
However, before the 2020 spike in mortgage demand and the continuing automation of the industry, mortgages evolved in a series of significant steps.
First, we evaluate how mortgages started before they became the way they are today by looking back at the history of home financing and considering their historical fluctuations. Next, we discuss the factors that influence mortgage rates and are critical to making decisions today.
Then, we compare the features of modern platforms with traditional processes and see how technology benefits new applicants and lenders. We also provide user-friendly tips to maximize digital media and make them work for you.
The Roots of Home Financing in the United States
Homeownership was not always as democratized and accessible as it is today. Before the 20th century, purchasing a home was reserved for the elite. Home purchases required cash payments, which ordinary citizens could not afford. In addition, these purchases required private financing agreements that ran on shorter terms—ergo, less affordable.
In the 1930s, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage emerged. It was an innovation sponsored by government initiatives, revolutionizing homeownership in the country. For the first time, mortgages were available to a broader demographic. The creation of Fannie Mae in 1938 and the establishment of the Federal Housing Administration or FHA were crucial to laying the foundations for the mortgage market of modern times.
After the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was established, there were still many challenges in the modern mortgage market. The 20th century was paper-intensive, requiring applicants to provide extensive personal and financial documentation before approval. The process depended on in-person interactions with lenders' personnel. It was customary to have lengthy approval times and a lack of transparency.
Late in the 20th century, the digital era spurred various innovations that inspired change in the home financing landscape. With the creation of the internet, people became open to digital applications, and slowly, the idea of automated systems took hold.
The rise of increasingly sophisticated tools and platforms began to address the slow and non-transparent components of the mortgage industry. The emergence of online tools also made mortgages more accessible, requiring less intensive documentation and in-person interactions.
Some of the processes improved by digitization include applications and pre-approval, underwriting, transparency and status reporting, comparison shopping, and affordability. In the past, paper-based mortgage applications required in-person meetings with mortgage brokers and bank visits.
Digitization also enhances the transparency of mortgage applications. With the paper-intensive method, borrowers were clueless regarding the status of their applications, sometimes for long periods, contributing to uncertainty and anxiety.
The limited visibility of the old days is long gone and replaced by digital platforms that provide real-time updates on the status of digital applications. Borrowers today know where they stand through simple alerts, updates, and notifications on their digital accounts.
A Timeline of Mortgage Rates
Mortgage rates often buck conventional wisdom and move unpredictably. These are a few key events that show their fluctuations over decades in response to multiple economic factors.
The All-Time High Rates of 1981
Historically, 1981 reflected the worst mortgage rates on record. The average mortgage rate during this period was 16.83%. At this rate, a $200,000 mortgage would have a monthly principal and interest cost of $2,800. The monthly fee at such rates would add about $1,300 or $15,900 annually compared to the long-term average.
However, 16.83% was merely the average that year, so some paid higher. On October 9, 1981, rates averaged 18.63%, the highest record of any weekly rate. It is also quintuple the annual rate of 2019.
The Mortgage Slump of 2008
In 2008, a $200,000 mortgage would cost a monthly payment of approximately $1,200, excluding insurance and taxes. This period was the time of the mortgage meltdown, during which real estate financing was available for 6.03%, according to figures from Freddie Mac. After the crisis of 2008, mortgage rates steadily declined.
The All-Time Low of 2016
According to Freddie Mac, the typical mortgage in 2016 was priced at 3.65%. Before recent years, 2016 registered the lowest annual mortgage rate since 1971. Thus, a $200,000 mortgage would cost a mere $915 monthly, covering principal and interest. This cost is $553 less than the long-term average monthly cost.
It's important to note that 2012 registered even lower mortgage rates during one November week, averaging 3.31%. However, the rest of 2012 was higher, leading to an annual average of 3.65% for thirty-year mortgages.
The Mortgage Rate Drop-off of 2019
Predictions in 2018 stated that mortgage rates would top 5.5% the following year. Those predictions did not materialize, and the rates reflected the opposite. Rates dropped in 2019—from 4.54% on average in 2018 to 3.94% the following year.
A 3.94% mortgage rate would cost $948 for a $200,000 loan. Compared to the 8% long-term mortgage average, the low rate in 2019 would produce $6,240 in annual savings or $520 in monthly savings. People thought the rates were as low as possible by this time, but the succeeding years proved this wasn't the case.
The Historic 30-Year Low of 2021
In the years 2020 and 2021, during the COVID pandemic, mortgage rates again did the unexpected: they plummeted lower. For the first time, the 30-year fixed rate is below 3%. It also kept falling until it reached a record low of 2.65% in early 2021. For that entire year, the average mortgage rate was 2.96%.
The rates of 2021 marked the most appealing opportunity for homeownership, especially for those entering the housing market for the first time. Existing homeowners also took the rate plunge as a chance to refinance their mortgages.
To illustrate the favorable rates, a $200,000 home loan at 2.65% would have cost $806 monthly, excluding insurance and taxes. The savings would add up to $7,600 yearly or $662 monthly versus the 8% long-term average cost.
These meager rates were not meant to last because of COVID-era policies. As soon as economies showed signs of recovery from the economic disruptions of the pandemic, the interest rates began to rise.
The Mortgage Rate Spike of 2022
Rising inflation, a drawback on the Fed's mortgage stimulus, and higher benchmark rates caused mortgage rates to rise sharply in 2022. Freddie Mac reported a jump in the average 30-year rate from 3.22% in January 2022 to 7.08% by the end of October that year. The spike is the equivalent of an increase of 400 basis points within ten months.
By the end of 2022, the average mortgage rate became 5.34%, a far cry from 2.96% in 2021. Rates are likely to decrease, depending on whether inflation in the US is eventually kept in check or the country enters a recession.
Battling Inflation in 2023
Mortgage rates in 2023 have been climbing higher. The Fed's rate hikes started aggressively in March 2022, and since then, the benchmark interest rate has risen about five percentage points. In the first weeks of 2023, the average 30-year rate jumped to 6.48%, reaching 7.49% in October 2023. As of October 18, 2023, the 30-year mortgage rate rose to 8.24%.
Are mortgage rates settling lower towards the end of the year, or will they increase further? The Fed expects interest rates to be somewhat level or will not see significant spikes soon. If implemented, a quarter-point increase could be the year's final one. The Fed anticipates borrowing costs to remain high for extended periods.
What affects your mortgage interest rate?
Many factors determine average mortgage interest rates, some of which are beyond the borrower's control and some that are.
Factors like the Federal Reserve's rate hikes and adjustments affect the federal funds rate. These determine the benchmark interest rate that banks set when they lend money. Mortgage rates, as a result, move with the Fed rate decisions.
The bond market also loosely influences mortgages. Long-term bond yields affect mortgages as investors look for income-producing assets, especially the 10-year US Treasury Bond. As bond prices decrease, home loan rates increase. The two are inversely related.
The overall state of the economy can push rates up or down. In a strong economy, mortgage rates increase as unemployment lowers and consumer demand is heightened. Conversely, a weak economy causes mortgage rates to drop as demand slows.
During periods of high inflation, lenders and banks may choose to increase borrower rates to slow the inflation rate. In addition, inflation causes the prices of goods and services to rise, eroding the dollar's purchasing power.
Borrowers can, however, monitor the factors that are within their control. For example, borrowers with a 670 or higher credit score tend to qualify more easily for better mortgage interest rates. The benchmark requirement for most lenders is a credit score 620 to qualify for a conventional type of mortgage.
Another factor within the borrower's control is the loan-to-value or LTV ratio. A conventional home loan would charge private insurance when the LTV exceeds 80% of the appraisal value. This finding means they require a 20% down minimum to avoid higher mortgage rates. Moreover, FHA mortgage insurance premiums typically expire after the first 11 years with at least a 10% down payment.
Higher down payments can shave points off your mortgage borrowing rate. FHA loans and most mortgages require at least 3 to 3.5% down. However, providing 10 to 20% down may qualify you for a conventional loan with low or no private mortgage insurance, thus drastically cutting your costs.
The residence type can also affect mortgage rates. The interest rates for a primary home or residence can be lower than that of an investment property or second home. The rationale for this is that the primary mortgage lender is the first in line for compensation in the event of property foreclosure.
The loan term will also affect the mortgage rate. Longer-term loans like 20-year or 30-year mortgages would charge higher than 15-year loan terms. You must weigh this carefully, as a longer loan term provides an advantage through more affordable monthly payments.
Keep in mind adjustable-rate mortgages as they offer lower introductory rates versus 30-year fixed-rate mortgages. Such rates, however, are subject to change after the initial fixed-rate period. Even if you get a low ARM rate initially, it could rise significantly after five years to a decade.
The DTI, or debt-to-income ratio, influences mortgage rates as well. Lenders prefer a DTI below 43%, even though they can approve mortgages to borrowers with a 50% DTI or lower.
Loan amounts tend to increase rates at both ends of the spectrum when they're tiny, like in the case of a $500,000 loan and in the event of a huge mortgage, because of the risk lenders take on.
Jumbo loan rates, however, have somehow reversed their policy and gone below the conforming rates in 2023, creating opportunities for borrowers. By definition, a jumbo mortgage loan is a loan over $726,200.
Making That Decision: Locking in Your Mortgage Rate
After understanding the factors influencing mortgages and how to get better terms on your loan, it's crucial to know when to pull the trigger. This situation is where digital apps and platforms come in. Borrowers need to keep an eye on rate changes daily.
Financial apps are the best tools to obtain this information. Moreover, digital tools can help you know and improve your credit score, create budgets, and set up robust personal finances.
When locking in that rate, make the most of the information at your fingertips, get a mortgage rate quote, and do not hesitate to consult a financial advisor if you need help. With more information, you will be able to get the most favorable arrangement, especially rates, and also check with your lender what type of loan you qualify for.
Financial Management Tools For Mortgage Payments
Online mortgage platforms play a vital role in everything from application, screening, setting up recurring payments, reviewing transaction history, and making additional payments towards the principal.
Borrowers can now include their mortgage payments in their monthly or annual financial plans and budgets by simply integrating them with their financial apps. Many budgeting software applications and financial management tools have built-in features that automatically link to mortgage accounts.
Mortgage payment apps
Financial apps have become invaluable for conveniently managing mortgage payments using phones and other mobile devices. These apps make it easier to keep track of payments, with features like loan amortization calculators, direct mobile payments, and regular notifications or reminders so you never miss a payment.
Rate monitoring features
Apps or platforms that offer rate monitoring services help borrowers track mortgage interest rates. These platforms notify borrowers about favorable rate changes to help them decide their financial course. Through rate monitoring, they can also take advantage of opportunities for refinancing and reducing monthly mortgage or loan payments.
How Mortgage Management Tools Give You an Edge
There are numerous advantages to adopting digital tools, both for lenders and borrowers. These benefits allow for a more robust, secure, and convenient mortgage process.
Better payment accuracy
Digital systems enhance payment accuracy and reduce errors in payments. They help borrowers set up auto-pay features, ensuring timely mortgage payments and the correct amount. Regularity, promptness, and accuracy of payments help improve credit scores.
Cost savings and sustainability
Digital mortgage management reduces printing, transport, postage, and document storage costs. Paperless systems are also more environmentally sustainable.
In-person transactions or bank visits are greatly minimized by using digital mortgage apps. Borrowers benefit by saving time and effort by making payments anytime and from any place through their mobile devices.
Ease of communication
Digital payment apps make it easier for lenders and borrowers to reach out. Communication is highly streamlined. Lenders can provide updates on the status of mortgage applications. Borrowers can access updates and supply documents with ease. Thus, digital platforms or apps enhance the lender-borrower relationship, albeit remotely.
Promotion of education and financial literacy
The digitization of financial processes has created an opportunity to generate better financial literacy among borrowers. Apps can have news feeds or blog sections that provide users with concise and easily understandable information that helps them navigate the complex world of personal finance and loans.
Moreover, these digital tools are hands-on educators. Through their features, they promote learning by doing. They empower users to be self-reliant in tracking rate information, financial news, amortization schedules, and other vital information that helps them plan their finances more effectively.
How Digitization Improves Mortgage Processes
The mortgage industry was initially slow to take on digital transformation. However, the COVID-19 pandemic changed all that. There was no choice but to rely on digital technology to continue doing business.
Accelerated digitization has led to significant changes in mortgage processes. Digital mortgage solutions have allowed lenders to outsource vast chunks of their business to third-party service providers or outsourcing companies.
Such companies offer specialized systems, programs, and software tools to quickly handle various mortgage process steps. Moreover, these service providers act as experts in each automated step and provide a final product that lenders can utilize immediately.
Among the steps in the mortgage process impacted by digitization are application processing, data entry and file storage, title support, mortgage appraisals, closing of mortgages, post-closing process, and mortgage underwriting.
Leveraging AI and Big Data in the Mortgage Process
For banks and lenders, the massive impact of the pandemic caused a sizable shift towards online operations. Utilizing Big Data and AI, institutions have revolutionized the entire mortgage process, solving many problems as they employ these new technologies. Big data has helped to tackle digital fraud and integrate user data to make credit checks and eligibility screening faster and more inclusive.
While digitization has increased access to mortgage products, it has also increased mortgage fraud risk. Lenders must become more wary of threats like identity theft, air loan scams, straw buyers, and occupancy fraud.
Complementary technologies like Big Data help lenders verify applicants' identities, prove occupancy, and vet their eligibility. Leveraging advanced technology enables different classes of lenders—alternative or traditional—to assess authentic borrowers from fraudulent personas and applications, thus increasing security and protecting their businesses and customers.
Mortgage Underwriting Automation
One of the most fascinating shifts in mortgage underwriting is the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) tools and their use to enhance the entire process. Lenders from the 20th century would be stumped in today's marketplace. Even exceptional bankers and mortgage brokers in the past would be shocked at what today's AI and algorithm mortgage tech can do.
AI and ML are transforming how mortgage underwriting scorecards are built. They are displacing human underwriters. AI is equipped with natural language comprehension and can thus consider more sources of information to assess mortgage risk. AI can think of new ways to vet applicants without human input.
These cutting-edge algorithms utilize new data sources, including location data and email or SMS, to verify addresses. They can also use these parameters to verify income automatically. More recent models are trying to employ data from social media through the application of Natural Language Understanding Algorithms.
These algorithms quantify and analyze a person's social media clout—scoring for popularity and likability. Such tools can predict who is less likely to default on a loan, typically those who score high on the set parameters. As the industry moves steadily towards exclusively using algorithmic methods to underwrite loans, AI will become more invaluable than ever.
For non-digital lenders, the transition to automation may take time and effort. Still, it may be necessary for survival these days, especially with a growing number of customers looking for mobile-based solutions.
Also, technology is a low-cost way of scaling a business, so these lenders will benefit from the added customers and market share.
Tips For Optimizing Your Digital Home Financing Experience
If you're interested in digital home financing and mortgage application, here are some practical tips to help set up a digitized home financing system that leverages new technology effectively:
Monitor interest rates
To know whether it's the right time to get a loan or mortgage, it's crucial to monitor interest rates, as they are a critical factor in embarking on any mortgage decision, including refinancing, to get better terms.
Carefully choose your mortgage lender
While digital lending tools abound, selecting a reputable online lender with a solid online presence and an easy-to-use digital platform is critical. Do careful research with attention to consumer reviews to choose the ideal partner. Remember, this is a long-term decision that dramatically affects your finances.
Explore online mortgage calculators
Borrowers should use online mortgage calculators to predict and quantify potential monthly payments. With these calculators, borrowers can also indicate the impact of various interest rate scenarios and how additional payments can change the loan duration.
Prepare an emergency fund
Those who plan to take on a mortgage should also maintain an emergency fund that covers mortgage payments plus several months' living expenses. This financial buffer provides a safeguard against unexpected challenges.
Use fintech apps to manage mortgage loans
Financial management apps simplify budgeting and monitoring of finances. Loan or financial apps also integrate with your mortgage account. Some specialized apps allow you to apply online for a home loan and track most of the steps of the mortgage cycle remotely.
These apps also have features that help create budgets, track spending, and establish financial goals that integrate mortgage payments.
Set up auto-pay
An essential feature of finance apps, auto-pay is crucial for keeping your mortgage payments on time and avoiding penalties. Automatic payments also help you take advantage of potential discounts offered by lenders for availing of their auto-pay features.
Use Digital Tools For a Successful End-to-End Mortgage Experience
Mortgages are essential long-term decisions that should not be taken lightly, and digital tools can make them better, more convenient, and easier to manage. Digital transformation has undeniably made the mortgage market more dynamic for lenders and borrowers.
Today, online systems have revolutionized homeownership, making the journey more transparent, efficient, and accessible for borrowers. They also make the business highly scalable for lenders.
The 21st-century mortgage landscape is dramatically more inclusive, with online applications and automated underwriting creating a speedy process that allows more people to avail of opportunities. It has also given real-time information—once exclusive to a few players—to the masses, thus opening up financial literacy and awareness.
Moreover, borrowers are better empowered to take charge of their mortgage payments, automating many functions and adjusting their financial decisions if needed. A better two-way dialog exists between lenders and borrowers through enhanced communication, providing ways to adapt and weather challenges throughout long-term loans, typically taking 15 to 30 years.
The future of home financing in the digital age is only poised to become even more streamlined and advanced as tools like AI and Big Data add to accessibility and security and improve the underwriting process. With innovation ahead, we can expect more improvements, including the possible addition of blockchain for new transactions and payments. The implications are far-reaching, and we are just getting started.
Borrowers can make the most of this dynamic technology by using the power of convenience and information to make the most favorable decisions within their economic environment. Questions like, “Will mortgage rates go back down in the coming year?” or “ When is the best time to lock down a rate?” can be answered by browsing through the information in your financial app.
The end-to-end mortgage process, from initiation or application to approval, has become a matter of technology. With easy-to-use tools, homeownership is no longer an inaccessible puzzle but an attainable dream.
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