WASHINGTON -- Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages fell to fresh record lows this week, a trend that is boosting home sales and aiding the housing recovery.
Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Wednesday that the average rate on the 30-year loan dipped to 3.31 percent, the lowest on records dating back to 1971. That's down from 3.34 percent last week, the previous record low.
The average on the 15-year fixed mortgage also dropped to 2.63 percent. That's down from 2.65 percent last week and also a new record.
The average rate on the 30-year loan has been below 4 percent all year. It has fallen further since the Federal Reserve started buying mortgage bonds in September to encourage more borrowing and spending.
Home sales and construction are rising, providing a much-needed boost to the economy. Home prices are also increasing, which makes consumers feel wealthier and more likely to spend.
Lower rates have also persuaded more people to refinance. That usually leads to lower monthly mortgage payments and more spending. Consumer spending drives nearly 70 percent of economic activity.
Still, the housing market has a long way to a full recovery. And many people are unable to take advantage of the low rates, either because they can't qualify for stricter lending rules or they can't afford the larger down payments that many banks require.
To calculate average mortgage rates, Freddie Mac surveys lenders across the country on Monday through Wednesday of each week. The average doesn't include extra fees, known as points, which most borrowers must pay to get the lowest rates. One point equals 1 percent of the loan amount.
The average fee for 30-year loans was 0.7 point, unchanged from last week. The fee for 15-year loans also remained at 0.7 point.
The average rate on a one-year adjustable-rate mortgage ticked up to 2.56 percent from 2.55 percent. The fee for one-year adjustable-rate loans rose two-tenths to 0.5 point.
The average rate on a five-year adjustable-rate mortgage 2.74 percent, the same as the previous week. The fee was unchanged at 0.6 point.