An estimated six of 10 homeowners with mortgages have rates that exceed the 4.8 percent rate currently available on 30-year fixed mortgages, the least risky form of home loans.

Mortgage rates in the United States have dropped to their lowest levels since the 1940s, thanks to a trillion-dollar intervention by the federal government. Yet the banks that once handed out home loans freely are imposing such stringent requirements that many homeowners who might want to refinance are effectively locked out. The scarcity of credit not only hurts homeowners but also has broad economic repercussions at a time when consumer spending and employment are showing modest signs of improvement, hinting at a recovery after two years of recession. … Only half as many refinancing applications were reported last week than were reported at the beginning of January, the peak level for the year. The total dollar volume of refinancing activity in 2009 will be about $1 trillion. In 2003, another year when rates fell, it was $2.8 trillion.
By David Streitfeld, Dec. 13, 2009 NYT

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12/13/09 nyt Interest Rate History Chart