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Reference Question of the Week – 1/27/07

   February 2nd, 2008

Federal Reserve Board logoHere's another recent-past question which, like the snowfall amounts question, was tricky just because of the timeframe.

This time, two men needed to know what the 30-year mortgage interest rate on their home was in March of 2007.

I don't own a house, so the whole world of mortgages and escrow and everything else is a bit of a mystery to me. But lucky for me in this case, these men knew exactly what they needed, and where it could be found.

Only, we couldn't find it. Normally, they said, they look in the Boston Globe, which lists interest rates for any given day. However, we didn't have the Boston Globe in print back this far, yet it was too recent to be on microfilm - once again, the timeframe in question fell in that nebulous area between "current" and "historical" data.

But the Globe is just one outlet for this rate, which is set by the Federal Reserve Board. Instead of trying to sift through the Globe's website for this information, we went right to the source.

A Google search for "historical interest rates site:.gov" produced as the first result the Fed's selected interest rates historical data page. We scrolled down to the 30-year interest rate and clicked on "Business Day," which is a page that lists the rates for every business day back to 7/3/2000.

Happily, this was what they were looking for. In fact, they liked the listing so much that they moved to one of the public computers and kept researching other dates.

I kept looking on this website, too, and found a similar listing but for weekly release dates for the interest rates. This listed has more than just interest rates, and the listings go all the way back to June 17, 1996.

Not knowing much about home ownership and investing, I'm not sure what this information can be used for - but if I ever discover a use, now I know where to find it.

fed, federal reserve bank, federal reserve board, interest, libraries, library, public, rate, rates, reference question

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2 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 1/27/07”

  1. another librarian Says:

    Hi. We are a couple of librarians who noticed your post and are horrified that you think this is the correct answer.
    If the gentlemen were looking for what they paid for their own mortgage loan, this is an unknowable thing unless they told you the terms of their particular mortgage. It could vary based on the loan balance, their credit, and other factors. The government does NOT set mortgage rates; they are set by the market.
    The 30 year interest rates you are seeing are for interest paid on a 30 year treasury bond. This number will probably be quite a bit lower than a mortgage rate. It is possible that the gentlemen’s mortgage was based on the current treasury bill or prime lending rate + a certain percentage, but you didn’t say that was the case here. If they thought that tne 30 year number you gave them was their actual interest rate they will be working with very erroneous assumptions. Also, the conventional mortage (weekly) rate at the bottom of this page might be helpful, but would not indicate what they paid for thier own loan. Either you didn’t explain the question correctly, or you gave them the wrong information.
    But this IS a good source for historical rates set by the government. We use it all the time.

  2. Brian Herzog Says:

    Honestly, I’m not sure – I may have misstated the question. I told the patrons, as in the post above, that I didn’t personally know much about this topic. But they knew exactly what they were looking for, so the process of finding it was definitely a collaborative one.

    To double-check what we were looking at, we compared what they wanted from a couple issues of the Boston Globe that the library did have to the corresponding dates on the website, and they matched. If I mis-described what it was, then that was my fault.

    I am far from an expert in any field, so while I’m always willing to help someone find information, I also leave it to them to interpret it – and in this case, I trusted that the patrons knew what they were talking about, even if I confused it after the fact.