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Why the Federal Reserve Affects Mortgage Rates

If the Fed is able to cut interest rates later this year, homebuyers should see some improvement in mortgage rates.

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Over the past two years, the Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes have had an adverse effect on the housing market, helping to drive mortgage rates into unaffordable territory.

On June 12, the Federal Open Market Committee said it would pause its rate-hiking cycle once again, leaving its benchmark interest rate in the 5.25% to 5.5% range.

The central bank also revised its outlook for rate cuts to just one in 2024. Previous projections called for three rate cuts.  

Inflation, though slowly improving, is still far from the central bank’s 2% annual target rate, giving the Fed worry that cutting rates could accelerate economic growth. Keeping rates steady is preferable to hiking them again, but an elevated federal funds rate isn’t great if you’re looking to take out a mortgage

The Fed may still lower interest rates later this year. Economic data, especially inflation data, will play a major role in determining when -- and by how much -- borrowing rates are cut.

Here’s what to know about how the government’s interest rate policy affects mortgage rates.

What does the Federal Reserve do?

The Fed was established by the 1913 Federal Reserve Act to set and oversee US monetary policy to stabilize the economy. Consisting of 12 regional banks and 24 branches, it’s run by a board of governors who are voting members of the Federal Open Market Committee. The FOMC sets the benchmark interest rate at which banks borrow and lend their money. 

In an inflationary environment like today’s, the Fed uses interest rate hikes to make borrowing money more cost-prohibitive and slow economic growth. Banks typically pass along rate hikes to consumers in the form of higher interest rates for longer-term loans, including home loans. 

Read more: How Jobs Data Could Affect Mortgage Rates in 2024

How does the federal funds rate impact mortgage interest rates? 

While the Federal Reserve doesn’t directly set mortgage rates, it influences them by making changes to the federal funds rate, the interest rate that banks charge each other for short-term loans. The Fed’s decisions alter the price of credit, which has a domino effect on mortgage rates and the broader housing market. 

“When the Fed raises interest rates to slow the economy, rate-sensitive sectors like tech, finance and housing typically feel the impact first,” said Alex Thomas, senior research analyst at John Burns Research and Consulting.

It’s important to keep an eye on what the Fed does: Its decisions can affect your money in multiple ways, including the annual percentage rate on your credit cards, the yield on your savings accounts and even your stock market portfolio.

Read more: What Inflation Data Means for Mortgage Rates

What factors affect mortgage rates?

Mortgage rates move around for many of the same reasons home prices do: supply, demand, inflation and even the employment rate. Additionally, the individual mortgage rate you qualify for is determined by personal factors, such as your credit score and loan amount.

Economic factors that impact mortgage rates

  • Policy changes from the Fed: When the Fed adjusts the federal funds rate, it spills over into many aspects of the economy, including mortgage rates. The federal funds rate affects how much it costs banks to borrow money, which in turn affects what banks charge consumers to make a profit. 
  • Inflation: Generally, when inflation is high, mortgage rates tend to be high. Because inflation chips away at purchasing power, lenders set higher interest rates on loans to make up for that loss and ensure a profit.
  • Supply and demand: When demand for mortgages is high, lenders tend to raise interest rates. The reason is because lenders have only so much capital to lend out in the form of home loans. Conversely, when demand for mortgages is low, lenders slash interest rates in order to attract borrowers. 
  • The bond market: Mortgage lenders peg fixed interest rates, like fixed-rate mortgages, to bond rates. Mortgage bonds, also called mortgage-backed securities, are bundles of mortgages sold to investors and are closely tied to the 10-Year Treasury. When bond interest rates are high, the bond has less value on the market where investors buy and sell securities, causing mortgage interest rates to go up. 
  • Other economic indicators: Employment patterns and other aspects of the economy that affect investor confidence and consumer spending and borrowing also influence mortgage rates. For example, a strong jobs report and a robust economy could indicate greater demand for housing, which can put upward pressure on mortgage rates. When the economy slows and unemployment is high, mortgage rates tend to be lower.

Personal factors that impact mortgage rates

The specific factors that determine your particular mortgage interest rate include:

When will the Fed start cutting interest rates? 

Housing market authorities predict mortgage rates could potentially start to inch lower in the later months of the year. Yet the Fed won’t consider cutting rates until it feels confident that inflation is steady near its target annual rate of 2%.

Remaining Fed meetings in 2024

July 30-31

Sept. 17-18

Nov. 6-7

Dec. 17-18

Most experts predict the Fed won’t start cutting rates until the fall at the earliest -- and when it does, it will be a slow process. That means we’re not likely to see average rates drop below 6% for a while. 

Is now a good time to shop for a mortgage?

Even though timing is everything in the mortgage market, you can’t control what the Fed does. 

However, you can get the best rates and terms available by making sure your financial profile is healthy while comparing terms and rates from multiple lenders.

Regardless of what’s happening with the economy, the most important thing when shopping for a mortgage is to make sure you can comfortably afford your monthly payments. 

“Buying a home is the largest financial decision a person will make,” said Odeta Kushi, deputy chief economist at First American Financial Corporation. If you’ve found a home that fits your lifestyle needs and budget, purchasing a home in today’s housing market could be financially prudent, Kushi noted.

However, if you’re priced out, it’s better to wait. “Sitting on the sidelines may allow a potential buyer to continue to pay down their debt, build up their credit and save for the down payment and closing costs,” she said.

The bottom line

When the Federal Reserve adjusts the benchmark interest rate, it indirectly affects mortgage rates. The Fed’s decision to hold rates steady won’t have a dramatic or immediate impact on home loan rates. Instead, mortgage rates will respond to inflation, investor expectations and the broader economic outlook. The general consensus, though, is that mortgage rates should start going down at the end of 2024. 


If you’re shopping for a mortgage, compare the rates and terms offered by banks and lenders. The more lenders you interview, the better your chances of securing a lower mortgage rate.

Katherine Watt is a CNET Money writer focusing on mortgages, home equity and banking. She previously wrote about personal finance for NextAdvisor. Based in New York, Katherine graduated summa cum laude from Colgate University with a bachelor's degree in English literature.
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