While interest rates for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages have been hovering around the 4% mark for around a year — and 15-year fixed loans have dipped below 3% in recent months — nearly 7 out of 10 American homeowners are still paying at least 5% interest on their home loans.
The L.A. Times reports on a new study showing that, through the first half of 2012, 69% of U.S. homeowners were paying 5% or more, with 33% of those homeowners stuck with mortgages higher than 6%.
Homeowners who are underwater on their loans — owing more on their mortgages than their properties are now worth — high interest rates are a particularly bad problem.
The study found that 84% of underwater homeowners are paying at least 5% interest. A full half of underwater borrowers are paying at least 6%.
So not only are these people paying more than their house is worth, they are saddled with significantly higher interest rates than what they could get if they were able to refinance.
But in spite of this, the study found that 84.9% of underwater borrowers have continued to make payments on their loans. However, many of these homeowners will continue to live on the precipice of foreclosure and will unlikely be able to sell their homes, which means they can not relocate for new job or education opportunities.
The Federal Reserve has pledged to buy up billions in mortgage-backed securities in an attempt to keep interest rates low, with the hope that it will spur home-buying and refinancing. But others point out this doesn’t really do anything to assist people stuck with negative equity on their homes.
“The constraint that is keeping people out of the housing market is absence of equity,” the director of the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate tells the L.A. Times. “The drop in house prices means that many borrowers are underwater on their houses… and high unemployment has prevented potential first-time buyers from accumulating down payments.”
In order to get underwater homeowners back up to par, some economists say there needs to be a concerted effort to help these people refinance.
The Times claims that if there are more efforts to refinance underwater loans, lenders stand to make a tidy profit. Because even though interest rates are at very low levels, they would likely be even lower if all those banks that closed in recent years were still around to compete. Refinancing would also get people out of mortgages they can barely afford — and are in constant risk of defaulting on — and into loans that are significantly less risky to investors.