Do you have a mortgage?
Oh, yes, we refinanced.
Oh, perfect. When?
About 5%. A couple of months ago.
Yes. We had to do it because we had an adjustable rate mortgage and it exploded, so we had to.
So, did you get a fixed rate at 5%? I think this might be the most valuable piece of information.
(Laughter.) Thirty years fixed rate at a little over 5%.
Needless to say when the guy in charge of monetary policy says he has a exploding ARM it is news so I checked out the public records. While the details are certainly not juicy it leads me down another path of thought which I will get to.
Bernanke bought in May 2004 for $839,000. He had a 5/1 ARM for $671,200 at 4.125% that adjusted to 12 month Libor in June of each year after his fixed period ended. To calculate his rate you take 12 month Libor on that date and add 2.250%, it can't adjust more than 2% in any one year due to restrictions on the note. He also had a purchase money second $83,900 but for some reason I can't find the interest rate on that one, nor do I see an ARM rider for it so it could very well be fixed. Both notes indicate they are amortizing loans.
So what does this all mean? Well according to the terms I see for Bernanke's first and the little information on historic LIBOR I can find (here)... his rate actually went down. So if his rate went down on his first and his second is fixed (an assumption on my part since I see no ARM rider on the second) then ask yourself why refinance now? You would only do so if you expect rates to rise in the future or you don't think fixed rates will ever be this good again. Winter time is a low demand time for mortgages so rates drop to encourage activity, also the Fed is ending it's MBS purchases so rates are expected to rise.
Based on his actions I think Bernanke does not expect rates to get better than this at the very least. One can't read how much worse he might think rates might get based on his refinance but he clearly fixed his rates now so the risk for lower rates in the future based on his personal financial decision is low. I was a little doubtful that the Fed would actually end their MBS purchases since the housing market is only this "good" due to the artificially low rates caused by those purchases. But now I am much more convinced that the Fed will at least let the MBS portion of the market to stand on its own two feet in the near future. They could always jump back in if rates jump higher than they want.