WASHINGTON -- Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages stayed close to record lows this week, a trend that has made home buying more affordable and helped the housing market recover.
Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate on the 30-year loan edged up to 3.32 percent. That's close to last week's rate of 3.31 percent, the lowest on records dating to 1971.
The average on the 15-year fixed mortgage ticked up to 2.64 percent from 2.63 percent last week, also a record low.
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.
Low mortgage rates have helped lift home sales this year. The National Association of Realtors on Thursday said that its index measuring the number of people who signed contracts in October to buy homes jumped to nearly its highest level in almost six years.
Home prices also have increased, which makes consumers feel wealthier and more likely to spend. And builders are more confident that the market will improve and have started more homes.
Lower rates also have persuaded more people to refinance. That typically 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 lack the money to meet larger down payment requirements.
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 0.8 point, up from 0.7 point last week. The fee for 15-year loans was unchanged at 0.6 point.
The average rate on a one-year adjustable-rate mortgage was steady at 2.56 percent. The fee for one-year adjustable-rate loans ticked up to 0.5 point from 0.4.
The average rate on a five-year adjustable-rate mortgage fell to 2.72 percent from 2.74 percent last week. The fee remained at 0.6 point.