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When History Repeats: The Mortgage Rate Rollercoaster

When History Repeats: The Mortgage Rates Rollercoaster. Image

As mortgage rates reached staggering heights in 2023, one can't help but wonder: When was the last time rates soared this high, and what happened? Let's rewind into the past to understand the present.


The 1980s Mortgage Crisis: A Historical Precedent

During the early 1980s, the U.S. grappled with a severe economic downturn, partly fueled by an oil embargo and rampant hyperinflation. To combat this, the Federal Reserve hiked short-term interest rates, inadvertently causing a surge in mortgage rates. This period saw rates hitting a record high of 18.63% in October 1981, marking it as one of the most expensive times for borrowing in modern history.

The Calming '90s and Early 2000s

When History Repeats: The Mortgage Rate The ebb and flow of mortgage rates over decades.


The 1990s brought a breath of relief as the advent of the internet spurred economic growth and reduced inflation. Mortgage rates, which stood at 10.13% in 1990, gradually fell to 6.49% by 1998. This declining trend continued into the 2000s, reaching the high 5% range by 2003. However, the economic prosperity was short-lived, as the 2008 financial crisis plunged the economy into the Great Recession, leading to further drops in mortgage rates.

The Pandemic Effect

The 2010s maintained this trend of low rates, with an average of 3.65% in 2016. Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Reserve slashed rates to stimulate the economy, resulting in an average mortgage rate of 2.68% by December 2020. These rates remained low throughout 2021, but since March 2022, there's been a significant uptick, with average rates surpassing 6% in 2023, occasionally reaching above 7%.


Mortgage rates may have hit the roof in 2023, a wild swing from the all-time lows we saw just a couple of years ago. This up-and-down isn't new though – it's just the economy going in cycles. Think of it as the heartbeat of the housing market.

Reference: Historical mortgage rates: 1971 to the present.

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