Most people assume that when the prime rate goes up, mortgage interest rates quickly follow. While there is not a direct correlation between the two, the prime rate can indirectly influence many mortgage loan rates.
The prime rate is based largely on the federal funds rate, tracking about 3% higher than the Federal Reserve rate, and is the commercial short-term interest rate. It is often referred to as the rate that non-bank entities and consumers with the best credit ratings can borrow money from banks.
The Wall Street Journal surveys 30 major banks and re-calibrates the rate every time three-quarters of those banks change their rates. Because of this frequency, the WSJ Prime Rate is one of the most widely accepted current prime rates.
Which Rates Are Affected by Changes In the Prime Rate
While credit card, auto loan, home equity and other short-term loan rates are directly affected by the prime rate, most long-term loans such as 30 year fixed-rate mortgage loans are only indirectly influenced by changes in the prime rate. The exception is adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs), which are directly affected by changes in the prime rate.
How The Prime Rate Affects Mortgage Interest Rates
Mortgage rates are generally determined by economic factors rather than the federal funds rate or the prime rate. The supply and demand for new homes and the supply of money by the Federal Reserve both influence the mortgage interest rate.
When the Federal Reserve increases the supply of money circulating in the economy, market interest rates are pushed lower to encourage economic activity. When the supply of money is decreased, the rates will rise.
A high demand for new homes, especially with low supply, will generally push mortgage rates up, while a lower demand for homes will push the rates down.
While seldom used as a mortgage index, the prime rate does indirectly influence mortgage rates. The prime rate is an important national benchmark which reflects the “mood” of the economy. As the prime rate moves up in response to a federal funds increase, short-term consumer loan rates, home equity loans and adjustable rate mortgages follow suit. Fixed mortgage rates will historically move up as well, although there is usually a delay, or “lag-time” between changes in the prime rate and changes in the 30-year fixed mortgage interest rate as they are not directly tied together.
While the Federal Reserve rate and prime rate directly affect short term loans, they also indirectly influence fixed mortgage rates eventually. If you are considering buying a new home and are following the prime rate increases wondering if mortgage interest rates will follow, you can expect that they will eventually move up, especially if there is a high demand for housing.
With new home prices going up in 2018, a high demand for housing, and the prime rate increasing to over 5% last year, it’s better to act now instead of waiting, to avoid paying a lot more for a new home later.