According to Freddie Mac, fixed mortgage rates remain well below what they were this time last year. This is good news for both homebuyers and homeowners, who are interested in lowering their existing mortgages by reworking their current loans. Unfortunately, not everyone has been able to take advantage of the low rates. Before you call a lender, be sure you understand what it will take to qualify for a new mortgage loan.

Primary Mortgage Market Survey

The federally-backed mortgage giant Freddie Mac recently released its monthly Primary Mortgage Market Survey to the delight of many in the real estate business. According to the PMMS, 30-year fixed rates currently average about .54 percent lower than what they were in September 2011; while 15-year rates average around .44 percent lower than what they were this time last year.

For Homebuyers

Low mortgage rates are good news for buyers, who are looking to secure affordable home loans. What's more, low rates have combined with incredibly low home prices to create a so-called buyer's paradise throughout much of the United States. That said, because banks have tightened lending restrictions, many prospective buyers have been left out in the cold. To get a mortgage loan these days, you need good credit, a steady income and enough money to put toward a down payment amounting to approximately 20 percent of the home's value.

For Homeowners

Low mortgage rates are also good news for homeowners, who are interested in saving money by reworking their existing loans. Many people are saving a bundle on costly interest charges by switching from 30-year loans to 15-year options. Likewise, numerous homeowners are lowering their monthly mortgage payments by switching from 15-year mortgages to less expensive 30-year plans.

Unfortunately, in some parts of the country, home values have dropped substantially, thanks to economic problems and poor home sales. This has left many homeowners without the equity necessary to qualify for a refinance loan. Typically, lenders want homeowners to have around 20 percent equity or an 80 percent loan-to-value ratio; however, some lenders will offer loans to applicants with less equity as long as they have good credit and are willing to pay higher interest rates.