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Imagine paying over 18% interest on a 30-year fixed mortgage. It’s almost unthinkable. But that was the reality for home buyers in October 1981 – a year when the average rate was almost 17%.

Unlike today, in the early 1980s, the Federal Reserve was waging a war with inflation. In an effort to tame double-digit inflation, the central bank drove interest rates higher. As a result, mortgage rates topped out at 18.45%.

In this Just Explain It, we’ll take a look at how mortgage rates affect home loan payments, and show you what you can do to save money.

Back in the early 1980s, high interest rates had a negative effect on the housing market. Affordability dropped to an all-time low as rates climbed to record levels. Simply put, mortgage rates priced most Americans out of the market, and it took years for home sales to rebound. Today, rates are historically low for a number of reasons, thanks in large part to the Federal Reserve which has gone to great lengths to keep rates down to facilitate economic recovery. 

According to the Census Bureau, the average cost of a home in 1981 was $82,500. With an interest rate of 18.45%, buying a home was expensive. A monthly payment, after putting 20% down, would have been $1,019. That's the equivalent of $2,500 today, adjusting for inflation. And that doesn’t include property taxes, home insurance, etc.

The average cost of a home today is $322,700. If the same 18.45% rate were applied - along with a 20% down payment - the monthly cost would be $3,986. The total payments after 30 years would be about $1.43 million, with roughly $1.18 million of that going towards interest alone.

In both cases, 82% of your payments over 30 years would go towards interest.

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Yahoo Finance | Zelkadis Elvi |Just Explain it | 2013


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