Why mortgage rates aren't falling

With the Fed holding rates for the foreseeable future, you may think this is a great time to refinance your mortgage or buy a new home. But because of the "credit crunch" you are no doubt sick of hearing about, rates are actually higher than they were this time last year.

Holden Lewis, who covers interest rates and the Fed for Bankrate.com, has just published an article talking about why rates have risen instead of falling. In a nutshell, it's because the banks aren't interested in lending to you unless you are willing to take on the higher risk in today's housing market compared to a year ago.

What can you do about it? Credit unions may be your best bet to find a reasonable rate, as they are less dependent on the secondary market which is having so many problems. But because they don't advertise as much, you may never hear about it.

I was looking to refinance a HELOC on my condo in the DC area, and one big online bank said they would only look at mortgages with a 60% loan to value. In other words, I'd have to have a 40% down payment, more than double what most lenders expect.

Another online bank told me if I didn't get my application in that day, not to bother, because the whole division was being shut down.

My local credit union was willing to go up to 95% of loan to value and used an appraisal I'd done for another bank (so I wasn't out another $300.)

Their documentation requirements seemed a little more rigorous then what I'd experienced in the past, but nothing unusual (paystubs, mortgage statements, etc.)

While rates are still low by historical perspectives, it's always worth looking around to see if you can get a better rate, and don't hesitate to ask your bank to match a rate you saw at another lender.

You can keep track of the rates in your area at the AOL Real Estate Finance page or the WalletPop Mortgage page.

Brett Widness is an editor with AOL's real estate channel and a licensed agent in Virginia.
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