WASHINGTON -- The average U.S. rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage was little changed this week, staying slightly above its record low. Cheaper mortgages are helping drive a modest housing recovery.
Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the rate on the 30-year loan rose to 3.40 percent from 3.39 percent last week. Five weeks ago, the rate touched 3.36 percent, the lowest level on records dating to 1971.
The average on the 15-year fixed mortgage slipped to 2.69 percent. That's down from 2.70 percent last week and close to the record low of 2.66 percent reached three weeks ago.
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. Home prices have also increased, and builders are more confident that the market will improve and have started more homes.
Lower rates have also persuaded more people to refinance. That typically leads to lower monthly mortgage payments and more spending.
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 0.7 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 edged up to 2.59 percent from 2.58 percent. The fee for one-year adjustable rate loans was steady at 0.4 point.
The average rate on a five-year adjustable-rate mortgage dipped to 2.73 percent from 2.74 percent. The fee was unchanged at 0.6 point.