Thinking about taking out a mortgage? Don’t obsess over the Fed

For most people, trying to parse the intentions of the Fed should play nearly no role in a decision of when to take out a mortgage or other loan. You should make your borrowing decisions based on current market rates and whether they make a given home purchase or refinancing decision affordable or not. Assume that neither you, nor your mortgage broker, nor your Uncle Ned, who watches a lot of Wall Street sharpies on CNBC, has any predictive capacity to know whether rates will be higher or lower a month from now.

Why would this be? Doesn’t the Fed set interest rates? Well, yes. But there are a lot of complexities that stand between that basic fact and the reality of what it will cost you to take out a home loan.

The Fed indeed sets a target for overnight bank lending rates, and buys and sells securities in order to keep market rates at that level. It has kept that rate near zero since the end of 2008, and is now making noises about raising it later this year, perhaps as soon as September.

That’s all well and good, but there are two things to remember. 1) Mortgages are usually based on long-term interest rates, not short-term interest rates, and 2) The Fed is not on some preordained path; rather, its policy will adjust depending on how the economy evolves.

The first point is crucial. When lenders make you a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, they are essentially making a bet on the value of money for quite a long time. And in practice, that rate is set not by the whims of the banker at your local strip mall, but by the $21 trillion global bond market.

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