Mortgage rates dropped to the lowest level on record for the fifth time in six weeks, making homebuying and refinancing the most attractive in decades for those who can get loans.
The average rate for 30-year fixed loans this week was 4.54 percent, down from 4.56 last week, mortgage company Freddie Mac said Thursday. That's the lowest since Freddie Mac began tracking rates in 1971.
The last time rates were lower was during the 1950s, when most mortgages lasted just 20 or 25 years.
The rate on the 15-year fixed loan dropped to 4 percent, down from 4.03 percent last week and the lowest on record.
Rates have fallen since the spring. Yields on U.S. Treasury bonds have dropped as jittery investors seek safer investments. Mortgage rates tend to track the yields on Treasurys.
Low rates helped spark a little activity in the weak housing market. Applications to purchase homes rose 2 percent last week from the previous week, the Mortgage Bankers Association said Wednesday. Still, the housing market has been struggling and overall applications for loans were down last week as fewer people applied to refinance.
High unemployment, slow job growth and tight credit have made it difficult for many to purchase homes. The housing industry received a boost this spring when the government offered homebuying tax credits, but since those expired in April housing activity has fizzled.
Sales of previously occupied homes fell 5.1 percent in June. New home sales jumped last month, but it was the second-weakest month on record and it came after sales tumbled in May.
Refinance activity has increased over the last month as homeowners seek more affordable monthly payments. But many don't qualify for a loan or don't have the cash to pay for closing costs. And rates have been low for so long that many have already refinanced.
To calculate the national average, Freddie Mac collects mortgage rates on Monday through Wednesday of each week from lenders around the country. Rates often fluctuate significantly, even within a given day.
Rates on five-year adjustable-rate mortgages averaged 3.76 percent, down from 3.79 percent a week earlier. Rates on one-year adjustable-rate mortgages fell to an average of 3.64 percent from 3.70 percent.
The rates do not include add-on fees known as points. One point is equal to 1 percent of the total loan amount. The nationwide fee for loans in Freddie Mac's survey averaged 0.7 a point for all loans.
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