This comprehensive mortgage industry study investigates multiple data sources to reveal important mortgage industry trends and statistics.
The mortgage industry plays an integral role in the U.S. economy. In 2020, 36% of people who bought a home paid for it entirely with cash. Everyone else got a mortgage. Mortgages are the only reason many of us can afford to own a home. They also fuel much of the residential construction sector, since nine out of 10 new homes are financed with mortgages.
Our study uncovers surprising facts about the growth of total mortgage debt and its relationship to home equity and rental property vacancies. We reveal the main factors that determine the cost of a mortgage and how these have changed over time. We also look into the new wave of technological innovation that is reshaping the mortgage landscape. But first, let’s start with a brief look at the state of the mortgage industry and its history.
The size of America’s housing and mortgage market
What is the average mortgage balance?
The national average mortgage in 2020 was $208,185. Although the percentage of American consumers with a mortgage (44% in 2020) has hardly changed, the average mortgage balance has increased by nearly 13.5% since 2007 ($183,469).
63% of homeowners in the U.S. still have a mortgage
Mortgages are not just for first-time-homeowners. The majority of all American homeowners (63%) have a mortgage on their home.
How much mortgage debt do Americans owe?
After a brief dip between 2008 and 2015, mortgage debt is again on the rise. As of January 2021, American households owed an all-time high total of $10.04 trillion in mortgage debt. If you include mortgage debt from all sources, including for-profit businesses and financial institutions the total mortgage debt is $15.12 trillion.
Top mortgage lenders by volume
The list of top mortgage lenders has historically been dominated by large banks. However, nonbank lenders have mixed things up in the last few years. According to the latest data collected under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) official data, Quicken Loans was the largest mortgage originator in 2019. In fact, three out of the top five mortgage originators are nonbank financing companies.
1.) Quicken Loans — 541,000 originations
2.) United Shore Financial Services — 339,000 originations
3.) Wells Fargo — 232,000 originations
4.) JPMorgan Chase — 186,000 originations
5.) Fairway Independent Mortgage — 147,000 originations
If you look at the top 10 mortgage lenders, there are more nonbank lenders than bank lenders. Even when you measure overall volume, nonbank lenders are closing the gap.
How much equity do American households have in real estate?
It’s not all bad news. American household’s equity in real estate is higher than ever. And that includes the peak of the real estate bubble of 2006. In the fourth quarter of 2020, U.S. households owned $21.103 trillion in equity.
What is the size of the U.S. Housing Market?
If you combine mortgage debt and housing equity you get a total value of $36.9 trillion, which is nearly $10 trillion more than its previous peak in 2006.
Mortgage industry delinquency rates
Mortgage delinquency drops but still high when compared to credit cards and personal loans
Historically, mortgage delinquency rates have been low when compared to credit cards and personal loans. That all changed during the recent financial crisis. Delinquency rates continue to drop and are set to hit their lowest since 2005. However, they are still well above previous rates.
Mortgage down payments and origination fees
Most borrowers need a down payment. Members of the military, veterans, and borrowers who are eligible for a loan guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are the only exception. The VA still backs zero-down loans.
That doesn’t mean you need a 20% down payment to afford a home. The national median loan-to-value (LTV) ratio is 95%, which means the median down payment is around 5%.
How much do you need as a down payment?
The minimum downpayment for most people is 3% or 3.5% of the home’s purchase price. In 2020, the median price of a new home was $333,975. (https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/MSPUS) So the minimum downpayment is between $10,019 and $11,689. The median down payment on a new home is around $21,147. However, LTV ratios vary considerably by location. The map below shows the median down payment percentage in key real estate markets.
How much should borrowers expect to pay in origination fees and mortgage points?
Origination fees and mortgage points vary by lender and mortgage type. They also depend on the creditworthiness of the borrower. As you can see in the graph below, origination fees and discount rates in the last 25 years have ranged between 2% and 0.2% of the mortgage amount.
Origination fees include a variety of costs, such as underwriting fees, commitment fees, and document preparation fees.
There are two types of mortgage points: discount points and origination points. Discount points are a form of prepaid interest. The more you pay in discount points the lower your interest rate will be. Typically, every discount point you pay on a mortgage will drop the rate by 1/8 to 1/4 of a percent. Origination points are just another type of origination fee designed to cover the costs of processing a mortgage.
You can also pay fewer fees upfront if you’re willing to accept a higher rate on your loan.
What credit score do you need to qualify for a mortgage?
Minimum credit score requirements vary wildly by lender and mortgage type. According to a report by the New York Fed and Equifax, the median credit score for a mortgage origination is 753. However, you can have a much lower score and still qualify.
For example, the average credit score for borrowers with an FHA mortgage in 2020 was 672. However, 8.96% had a score below 620 and the minimum credit score is 500 (source).
Mortgage interest rates
Interest rates are a key factor in the mortgage market. That’s because they’re one component of the homeowner’s monthly mortgage payment. The other component is a portion of the principal balance of the loan.
In the early 1980s, mortgage rates were as high as 18%. From that shocking level, rates trended more or less steadily downward until they bottomed out at historic lows in the 3% range in 2012.
Rates began to rise again the next year as the U.S. economy recovered from the Great Recession.
In recent years, mortgage interest rates have fluctuated in the 3% and 4% range. (source)
However, when the COVID-19 hit the U.S economy in 2020, we saw the mortgage rates went down to an all-time low at 2.68% in December 2020.
A brief history of mortgages
Home mortgages in the United States have a complicated and, at times, colorful history.
One way to understand how the mortgage market has evolved is to track the federal government’s involvement in the mortgage sector.
Before the Great Depression in the 1930s, most mortgages were arranged privately rather than through banks. The federal government wasn’t involved in mortgage lending, and fewer than half the households in the country owned a home. A 50% down payment was typically needed to buy. And most mortgages had to be paid back sooner than the 15 or 30 years that are usually allowed today. Some mortgages had a term of just five years. Not surprisingly, most people couldn’t afford to buy a home with these difficult requirements.
Mortgages and the Great Depression
During the Great Depression, about half of U.S. mortgages were delinquent. That means half the people who’d managed to get a mortgage before the Great Depression weren’t able to make the payments to keep their home. A lot of banks failed. The federal government set up new agencies to supervise banks and other mortgage lenders.
Greatest Generation to Baby Boomers
By the end of World War II in 1945, banks were the prime source for home mortgages. Most buyers obtained a long-term, fixed-rate mortgage. Two government agencies—the VA and Federal Housing Administration (FHA)—introduced loan guarantees that enabled more people to buy a home. By 1970, 64% of households owned a home.
In 1968, the federal government created a quasi-governmental mortgage finance agency, now known as Fannie Mae. A second agency, now known as Freddie Mac, was established in 1970.
Fannie and Freddie don’t directly originate mortgages. Instead, they purchase mortgages from lenders and either keep them in their portfolio or resell them to investors in the form of mortgage-backed securities. By the year 2000, Fannie and Freddie were behind 50% of home mortgages, with the FHA and VA also still involved in the mortgage market (source).
Xennials to Millenials
In the 2000s, lenders introduced new mortgage products to enable more people to buy a home. Many of these new homeowners had poor credit and made very small down payments. The new mortgages often allowed borrowers to pay only the interest on the loan. Some of the mortgages allowed a “minimum” payment, with the unpaid interest added to the loan balance.
These high-risk mortgages raised the homeownership rate. But they also caused severe disruptions in the mortgage and housing markets when buyers couldn’t afford their mortgage payments and home prices dropped.
In 2008, the problems were so severe that the federal government had to step in and fully take over Fannie and Freddie, which had suffered huge financial losses (source).
In 2010, Congress enacted the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which included new federal laws that were intended to encourage lenders to make less risky mortgages. Since then, most home buyers (about 90%) have chosen a traditional 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage (source).
The rise of Fintech in the mortgage market
Since the financial crisis of 2008, financial technology (FinTech) has become an important driving force for both startups and established financial and technology companies trying to replace or enhance the usage of financial services provided by existing financial companies.
What is a FinTech lender?
It’s a pretty vague term that has become somewhat of a marketing buzzwword. We are defining it as any lender that has a mortgage application process that can be performed entirely online. According to a New York Federal Reserve report, the share of the mortgage market by FinTech mortgage lenders has increased from 2% ($34 billion) of the market in 2010 to 8% ($161 billion) in 2016 (source).
FinTech lenders process mortgage applications faster (10 days as opposed to 50 days) and have lower default rates — 25% lower (source). They also tend to be more agile and flexible when it comes to adapting to changing financial circumstances.
Mortgage rates and affordability
A 1% increase in the interest rate of a 30-year mortgage can determine the affordability of a home purchase. The table below shows the effect on the monthly payments and total cost of a $300,000 mortgage.
The total cost difference of $192,183 may be what catches your eye when looking at a 3% and a 6% mortgage. However, it is the monthly payment difference of $534 that is more likely to determine whether a household can afford to buy a home.
The graph below shows the correlation between mortgage rates (i.e. monthly payments) and new home sales from 1971 to 2021.
Mortgage rate changes can price many households out of the mortgage market. This effect is particularly strong in regions where the home prices are high in comparison to median family incomes.
Mortgage industry statistics: the Housing Affordability Index
A useful index to determine housing affordability is the traditional housing affordability index. It shows what percentage of a population can afford to buy the median-priced home in a given region. As you can see from the map below, the majority of the United States counties provide reasonably affordable housing. It also shows hot spots where housing is less affordable in the United States. In some densely populated areas, residential properties are too expensive for the average household to purchase a home.
Large swaths of the West Coast are unaffordable. In this map, California is a predominantly red state. Employment hubs like San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles have particularly prohibitive housing costs. Compare the average housing affordability of the United States, 53, to HAI of California, 26. This means that only 26% of Californians can afford a median-priced home in their state. On the national level, 53% of Americans have the necessary income to qualify for a median-priced home in their state.
The average sales price of a home grew by 1500% in the last 50 years
When determining housing affordability the price of housing is, obviously, the major factor. Historically low mortgage rates mean nothing if you can’t afford the price of even the most modest houses.
In 2020 Q4, the average sales price of a home was $393,300. That is nearly 15 times more than the average sales price in 1968, $26,600. Of course, you expect house prices to rise. After all, most people also view their home as their largest investment. But when prices increase at such an alarming rate it can push large sections of the population outside the housing market.
However, there are two things to consider when looking at the data above. First, it shows the average sales price not the median. The average price of homes can be distorted by homes that sell for very high or low prices. Second, you need to take into account inflation to get a real understanding of how prices have really changed. Sure. Maybe the average price of a house in 1968 was $26,600. But the median household income was also $7,700. A gallon of gas cost 34 cents. And you could buy a dozen eggs for 53 cents.
The graph above shows the inflation-adjusted house prices from 1975 to 2020. As you can see, even considering inflation house prices are still much higher historical averages. This could indicate we are are in another housing bubble similar to the one in 2005/2006. But there is another factor to consider.
New homes are 47% larger than 40 years ago
Inflation and housing bubbles are not the only drivers of house prices. A taste for larger and larger homes has also played a role. The graph above shows the correlation between the median footage of new homes and their sales price. The size of homes is a major factor that is often ignored. Today, the median-sized new home is 609 feet larger than in 1978.
When you also factor in inflation, the price per square foot has remained relatively stable. In 2017 the price per square foot of a new home was only 4% more (about 3%) more than in 1979. Which doesn’t sound as much of a real estate bubble.
Of course, this only shows the overall price for the entire United States. Things get messier when you look at prices at the regional level.
The Northeast and the West show the greatest price increases: $63 and $19 in the last 40 years. However, in the Midwest, the price per square foot dropped by nearly $20. In the South, prices have tracked the overall United States prices.
The housing market and foreign investors
One of the reasons prices are so high, particularly in big cities, is foreign investment. Since 2008, for instance, Chinese real estate investors have spent tens of billions of dollars on commercial properties in the United States. Often, they’ve overpaid to acquire hotels, office buildings, and empty lots to build new residential spaces.
But all of that came crashing down in the second quarter of 2018. For the first time in a decade, Chinese insurers and conglomerates sold more than they acquired. Between April and June, they purchased a little less than $130 million worth of real estate, while offloading $1.29 billion worth.
Baby Boomers and generational housing bubbles
Baby boomers, people who were born between 1946 and 1965, own 33.4 million homes: four out of every 10 in the nation.
High homeownership rates are usually considered a positive economic marker. However, in recent years economists are concerned about the increased prevalence of mortgage debt among older homeowners. In the past, paying off your mortgage before retiring was an honored and common rite of passage. In 2015, only 36.9% of Boomers owned their homes free and clear, according to a recent Fannie Mae study. The same study shows that the oldest Boomers (65-69), who have already retired, were 10% less likely to own their homes without a mortgage than pre-Boomers. Another study by FannieMae, values the total inventory of homes owned by Boomers and pre-Boomers at $13.5 trillion, or 75% of the U.S. annual economic output (source).
The concern is that Boomers will no longer be able to afford their homes and start unloading tens of millions of homes on a housing market that doesn’t have the buyers to meet that supply. A glut of unsellable properties could trigger a dramatic drop in house prices and create the greatest real estate crash in American history.
Not all economists are worried. Lawrence Yun, the chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, claims these gloom and doom predictions are unwarranted. According to Yun, population growth, foreign-born investors, and the gradual speed at which the oversupply will occur will balance the housing market and there will be no measurable price declines (source).
Adjustable Rate Mortgages
Market rate fluctuations are also a factor for some buyers in their choice of a fixed-rate loan or adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM). When rates rise, buyers tend to shift from the safer fixed rate to the risker ARM. This decision is driven by the monthly payment, which can be more affordable with an ARM—if market rates don’t increase sharply in the future.
The volume of mortgage refinancing is especially sensitive to market rate fluctuations. When rates for new 30-year mortgages drop, as they did in early 2015 and mid-2016, homeowners rush to refinance. When rates rise, homeowners lose interest in refinancing, unless they want to trade an ARM for a fixed-rate loan or remove a borrower, perhaps due to a divorce or other financial life changes.
Is getting a mortgage and buying a house the only path to financial success?
Homeowners can accumulate wealth by paying off an initial purchase-money mortgage over time until they own their home free and clear. Historically, this opportunity has turned out well for many homeowners over the long term. Still, some people argue that renting a home and investing in other assets is a better strategy to become wealthy.
A 2012 study published by the Journal of Housing Research found that “renting creates higher wealth than ownership in the majority of cases”—if individuals diligently reinvest the difference in their housing cost. For many, that’s a tough “if” to ask (source).
Federal law makes it illegal for lenders to discriminate in mortgage lending.
The borrower’s race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital or familial status, age, handicap, or receipt of income from a public assistance program cannot be used to approve or deny a mortgage application or influence the type of mortgage or rate that a borrower is offered. (source) States also have laws that protect certain groups of people from such discrimination.
Despite fair housing laws, research suggests that discrimination persists.
One study of 2015 data found mortgage application denial rates of 27.4% for black applicants, 19.2% for Hispanic applicants, and 11% for white and Asian applicants.
“Throughout the boom, bust and recovery phases of the housing cycle, blacks have been denied home loans at higher rates than most other racial groups, (the exception being Native Americans, and even then only in the last few years) and Hispanics have been denied at higher rates than non-Hispanics,” the Pew Research Center concluded.
Hispanics and Asians were most often rejected for having too much debt relative to their income while blacks were turned down due to having a poor credit history.
The volume of applications from blacks declined from 1.1 million, or 5%, of applications, in 2005 – a peak year for applications overall – to just 132,000, or less than 4%, in 2015 (source).
Mortgages for Millennials
Millennials, born between 1981 and 1997, are an important demographic group for today’s mortgage lenders and housing markets. These 70 million people are currently in their prime years to buy a first home or trade up to one with a bigger mortgage.
In 2017, the homeownership rate for Millennials was 36%. Millennial buyers are choosing townhomes (or even tiny homes) as an affordable alternative to detached houses. They also like homes with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, outdoor space, multipurpose rooms, and quartz countertops. (source)
As a group, Millennials say student debt has made it harder for them to purchase a home (source).
Still, Millennials are growing as a percentage of home buyers.
In October 2020, 53.1% of total closed mortgages to buy a home were made to Millennials, up from 43% in December 2017. Many Millennials are choosing a conventional 30-year mortgage (source). (https://hollywalther.com/2020/10/15/millennials-responsible-for-53-percent-of-new-home-loans/)
Homeownership rates rise
Homeownership steadily declined from 2004 to 2017 and has recently spiked. What has caused this?
Two causes stand out. First, the recent financial crisis made it hard for many to qualify for mortgages. Even households who could afford and qualify for a mortgage may have been wary about investing in real estate. But interest rates have dropped to historically low levels, which has allowed the homeownership rate to jump back to 2007 levels. The second reason is that people are less interested in moving to the suburbs. Many prefer to live closer to where they work and have a wider selection of entertainment and cultural opportunities. However, downtown properties are scarce and expensive. This trend has encouraged the conversion of commercial buildings and zones into apartments that can satisfy the demand for rental properties. Recently though, an increase in remote working may also be playing a role in workers moving to lower-cost areas where they can afford to buy.
Mortgage rate outlook
Mortgage rates are now incredibly low. The recent cuts by the Fed have played a role, but mortgage rates tend to track the 10-year U.S. Treasury rate, delinquency patterns on existing mortgages, and the perceived risk of an economic downturn (source). Although the stock market has performed well recently, Treasury bonds will probably not rise much until we see actual positive economic growth.
Rates for 30-year mortgages will probably continue around 3% and 15-year mortgages should stay close to 2.5% due to the low 10-year treasury rate. However, the demand for refinancing is so high that interest rates have not dropped as much as expected.
What will happen if the Fed decides to cut its interest rate into negative territory?
If the Fed decides to cut its interest rate to negative, it could change the entire banking paradigm. Instead of getting paid interest for keeping your money in a deposit account, such as a CD or a savings account, you may have to pay for the privilege. On the flip side, you could get paid for getting an auto loan, a home equity line of credit, or a student loan because you are charged negative rates.
However, mortgages are not tied directly to the Fed’s interest rate. Mortgage rates track the 10-year Treasury yield. Nevertheless, mortgage rates and the Fed’s rate typically often mirror each other because they both are a reflection of predictions on whether or not the economy is slowing down.
Banks are not likely to be interested in issuing loans to high-risk borrowers at negative interest rates. Lower-risk borrowers — people with high incomes and excellent credit — may score loans with negative interest rates. This has already happened in countries like Switzerland.
In this sense, negative interest rates will probably widen the inequality gap for people with good and poor credit profiles.
What are some other factors that help determine mortgage rates?
The Fed can influence the cost of borrowing money for the banks, but there is more involved when determining the mortgage rates of consumers. Interest rates are determined by multiple factors, such as your credit score, the state you live in, the loan amount, the down payment, the loan term, the interest rate type (e.g., fixed vs. variable), and the loan type (i.e., conventional, FHA, USDA, VA loans).
Should people consider buying or refinancing a house now or should they wait?
There isn’t much room for mortgage rates to drop lower, so if you now qualify for a mortgage refinance and you can save money with it, you should absolutely consider it.
As far as buying a home, it is a little more complicated. On the one hand, it is an excellent time to get a mortgage. Rates are at historically low levels, and it looks they will stay there for the foreseeable future. However, there is a lot of uncertainty in the real estate market. House prices are at historic highs in many markets, but we are in the middle of a major recession. So, some analysts are concerned we could be in a bubble. Interestingly, the latest Gallup survey shows that only 50% of Americans feel it is a good time to buy a house. That is the lowest percentage since Gallup started asking in 1978 as Americans are usually bullish about the housing market.
Unsecured loans and home equity loans
At SuperMoney we are seeing a tightening of credit models among alternative / non-bank unsecured lenders who appear to be preparing for a down cycle. However, consumer financing demand continues to grow.
As both the unsecured lending market tightens and cash out refi market becomes less viable, we expect a shift of consumer demand towards home equity lines of credit and home equity loans in 2020. Startups like Figure are driving operational efficiency to secured lending and could stand to benefit from the market shift.
We expect to see more widespread adoption of shared equity appreciation products in 202-. Companies like Hometap, Unison and Noah are helping consumers tap into home equity by sharing a percentage of your home appreciation instead of charging interest. This can be helpful to first-time homebuyers in need of a down payment or existing homeowners looking to tap into their equity.
Shopping around for a mortgage
Borrowers who shop around and compare offers from multiple lenders can save a lot of money when they get a mortgage. The range of interest rates in 2017 according to Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey went from 3.89% to 4.30%. That is a particularly narrow spread — only 1976, 1977, and 1972 had a narrower spread in the survey. Still, it represents a $25,678 difference over the life of a $300,000 mortgage with a 30-year term.
The year with the most dramatic spread was 1980, which had a 4.17% difference between the low and high mortgage rates. Using that spread and the same $300,000 mortgage, the difference in total cost over the life of the loan would exceed the principal of the mortgage: $356,968.
The graph below shows the difference in total cost between the high and low rates and the average total cost.
Mortgage rates, monthly payments, and the importance of applying with several lenders
The variability in interest rates can also determine whether the monthly payments of a mortgage are affordable. For example, in 2008, monthly payments varied by nearly $300 depending on whether your mortgage rates were on the high or low end of the spectrum.
It’s clear that shopping around for the lender with the best possible rate is a good investment of your time. However, most people only check their rates with one lender.
A Consumer Financial Protection Bureau study found about half of the people who got a mortgage to buy a home seriously considered more than one lender or mortgage broker before they applied. But 77% stopped shopping after they applied with one lender.
However, rates and fees vary significantly from one lender to another. Comparing rates and terms from several lenders could save you hundreds of thousands of dollars. The savings are even more dramatic if you bought your mortgage when interest rates were high and you can refinance it at lower rates. SuperMoney’s mortgage comparison tools make it easy to compare the rates and terms of leading mortgage lenders.
Andrew is the managing editor for SuperMoney and a certified personal finance counselor. He loves to geek out on financial data and translate it into actionable insights everyone can understand. His work is often cited by major publications and institutions, such as Forbes, U.S. News, Fox Business, SFGate, Realtor, Deloitte, and Business Insider.