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On Wednesday, Sept. 17 the Federal Reserve stated it was planning to keep interest rates near zero until at least 2024. In addition, the Fed set a new bar for economic conditions that must be met before interest rates are raised: labor market conditions return to the “maximum employment” and inflation rises to 2 percent and “is on track to moderately exceed 2 percent for some time.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic is causing tremendous human and economic hardship across the United States and around the world. Economic activity and employment have picked up in recent months but remain well below their levels at the beginning of the year. Weaker demand and significantly lower oil prices are holding down consumer price inflation. Overall financial conditions have improved in recent months, in part reflecting policy measures to support the economy and the flow of credit to U.S. households and businesses,” according to the FOMC statement.

“The path of the economy will depend significantly on the course of the virus. The ongoing public health crisis will continue to weigh on economic activity, employment, and inflation in the near term, and poses considerable risks to the economic outlook over the medium term,” the FOMC statement continued.

According to Freddie Mac, mortgage interest rates are generally holding steady, with the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaging 2.87 percent with an average 0.8 point for the week ending Sept. 17. A year ago, the average was 3.73 percent. The 15-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 2.35 percent with an average 0.8 point, a decrease from last week’s 2.37 percent and down from last year’s 3.21 percent. As for the 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid ARM, it averaged 2.96 percent with an average 0.3 point, down from last week’s 3.11 percent and from last year’s 3.49 percent.

Here’s what the industry is saying:

“Despite the recession, the very low mortgage environment has spurred many first-time homebuyers to jump into the real estate market. In August, first-time homebuyer activity rose 19 percent from July to the highest monthly level ever for Freddie Mac. The first-time homebuyer driven rebound in the housing market has come at a critical time for the economy.” — Sam Khater, Chief Economist, Freddie Mac

“The Federal Reserve recommitted today to keep short-term rates low and re-upped their plans to buy MBS and longer-term Treasuries at the same pace as in recent months. The Fed’s new framework to keep rates low until inflation visibly rises beyond their 2 percent target will mean that liftoff from zero will occur later than in the last cycle—allowing the unemployment rate to fall even further than the 50-year low we saw in February.

“Recent key economic data—specifically retail sales and industrial production—indicate that the pace of the economic recovery slowed in August, likely due to the end of some of the fiscal supports to households and businesses. However, the housing market continues to be quite strong, with home sales and home prices growing, and the pace of construction quickening. Lower rates are definitely helping to support the current stretch of strong home purchase demand, while also continuing to generate robust refinance volume.” — Mike Fratantoni, Chief Economist, Mortgage Bankers Association

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