Sep 19, 2008

Why Do Interest Rates Matter So Much?

I'm no math whiz, so I can sympathize with first-time home buyers  who are confused about what the hullabaloo over the federal takeover of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae means. The details are probably more complicated than most of us can handle when thinking about factors like choosing the right house, making a good offer, and having the proper inspections.

Luckily, if you're buying a house, it isn't necessary to understand the complicated relationship of these behemouth organizations to the real estate market and Wall Street. But even if you're completely disinterested in the details, you do need to know one thing: the takeover does affect interest rates, which reached a 7-month low this week. (If you're curious, the reason this is so is explained here.)

If you're a first-time buyer, this has a huge impact: it makes your house cheaper. Okay, not literally. But while the seller's price tag doesn't change, what comes out of your pocket does. For example, if you paid a rate of 6.25% for a $300,000, 30-year fixed rated mortgage, your monthly principal and interest payment would be almost $1,850 (and you'd pay a whopping $364,974.58 in interest over that 30 years). But if your rate is 5.75% on the same mortgage, your monthly payment is only around $1,750. And you'll only end up paying $330,258.68 in interest -- no small sum, but still much less.

So while the price a seller advertises is an important factor in determining home affordability, low interest rates are nothing to scoff at, either. You have Fannie and Freddie to thank for that.

Alayna Schroeder