Record Low Rates Inaccessible to Many

Fixed-rate mortgages have been at all-time lows for nearly six weeks, increasing home buyers’ purchasing power and helping to trim home owners monthly mortgage payments—at least for those who qualify.

An increasing number of home buyers and refinancers say they are shut out of the cheaper borrowing conditions due to banks’ tightened lending standards, according to new data released last week by the Federal Reserve.

One Washington home owner with a top-notch credit score says he has been trying to refinance his mortgage but has been told “no” by banks because his mortgage is underwater. He told The New York Times that interest rates will at some point rise again, “and I should have been able to get those low rates. It’s not fair.”

“While low rates are supposed to encourage Americans to take more risks, ordinary Americans have been unwilling or unable to take advantage of them,” The New York Times notes in a recent article.

“There’s definitely winners and losers in this kind of extremely low interest rate environment,” Ed Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research, told The New York Times. “In this case, any borrower that has access to the capital markets and doesn’t have to fill out a loan application at a bank is definitely going to have a tremendous advantage.”

Many policy makers say a housing recovery will be put on hold until banks start lending more.

“The real problem is that relatively few borrowers meet the tougher standards of today even if they could benefit from refinancing, and that is the frustration,” Guy Cecala, publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance, told The New York Times. Cecala says that in 2003 there was nearly $4 trillion in mortgage originations (which includes home purchases and refinancing activity). However, in 2011, despite the lower mortgage rates, total originations were $1.4 trillion.

Source: “In Era of Cheap Money, Consumers Are Shut Out,” The New York Times (June 8, 2012)

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