WASHINGTON — The average U.S. rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage touched its record low this week and the rate on 15-year mortgage hit a new record.
The declines followed the Federal Reserve announcement last week that it would buy bonds to try to push mortgage rates lower and stimulate the housing market.
Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate on the 30-year loan declined to 3.49 percent from 3.55 percent last week. That matched the lowest rate since long-term mortgages began in the 1950s.
The average on the 15-year fixed mortgage, a popular refinancing option, plunged to 2.77 percent, a new record. That’s down from 2.85 percent last week and the previous record low of 2.80 percent.
Cheap mortgages have helped drive a modest housing recovery this year.
Sales of both previously occupied and newly built homes are up from last year. Home prices are rising more consistently. Builders are more confident in the market and are started more homes. And fewer Americans owe more on their mortgages than their houses are worth.
Low rates also have enabled people to refinance, which lowers monthly mortgage payments and helps boosts consumer spending, which drives 70 percent of consumer spending.
The housing market has a long way back. Sales and construction rates remain below healthy levels And many people are still having trouble qualifying for home loans.
Still, the improvements have been steady and the broader economy is likely to benefit. When home prices rise, Americans typically feel wealthier and spend more — a point made by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke when he addressed the new stimulus measures last week.
The Fed plans to spend $40 billion a month to buy mortgage bonds for as long as it thinks necessary to make home buying more affordable. Bernanke said the Fed will keep buying the bonds until the job market improves “substantially.”
To calculate average rates, Freddie Mac surveys lenders across the country on Monday through Wednesday of each week.