What do rising interest rates mean for homebuyers?

What interest rate hikes mean for home buyers

As the U.S. economy continues to chug along at a steady pace, interest rates have been rising -- making it more expensive to buy and own a home.

The 30-year fixed mortgage rate hit 4.4 percent during the week of Feb. 22, the highest measure in nearly four years, according to Freddie Mac.

So when mortgage rates spike, how does that translate into dollars?

Let's say you decide to purchase a $300,000 home with a down payment of 20 percent, or $60,000, and apply for a $240,000, 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage. If that loan carries a rate of 3.66 percent -- the rate in February 2016 -- you would pay $1,099 per month, or $395,640 in total over the loan term -- excluding taxes and insurance.

But at the current rate of 4.4 percent for the same loan, you would pay $1,202 per month, or $432,720 in total. That's an increase of more than $37,000 over the loan term.

What does a Fed rate hike mean for your wallet?

Why are interest rates climbing? A strong U.S. economy, rising wages and an upbeat outlook for growth in the wake of the GOP tax cut are all factors. Those economic indicators translate into expectations that inflation may rise, causing the Federal Reserve to hike rates to keep prices stable.

The upside is that savers will eventually be rewarded with higher yields on their accounts. But the rate hikes also translate into costlier loans, which can discourage would-be home buyers.

It's a tough obstacle, especially because many buyers are struggling to find homes in markets where inventory is low and housing is expensive by historical standards. The government reported new home sales dropped 7.8 percent in January, and some analysts say that reflects rising rates.

"Bottom line, it seems that the jump in mortgage rates in January had an immediate impact on contract signings," said Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer with financial planning firm Bleakley Advisory Group, in a note to clients about the January dip in new home sales.