In a potential sign of rising consumer confidence, U.S. home buyers applied for mortgage loans in record numbers last week. 

The Mortgage Bankers Association of America said that its purchase index for the week ending Dec. 21 climbed to 373.5, its highest level since the MBA began its weekly mortgage loan application survey in January 1990. The previous record level of 350.9 was set in the week ending Nov. 30. 

Refinancing activity declined 20.5 percent last week versus the previous week, with the MBA refinancing index reaching 1564.4, its lowest level since the week ending July 13, when the index stood at 1387.4. The MBA market index, an index of overall market activity, slid last week to 548.2, a 2.5 percent decline vs. the previous week. 

As mortgage rates have risen off their three-year lows, mortgage borrowers have had less incentive to refinance. Although the 30-year fixed rate, ignoring upfront fees, last week fell to 7.13 percent from 7.46 percent, the rate is still well above 6.4 percent, its level in the week ending Nov. 2 and its lowest level in three years, according to the MBA. 

Each week, the MBA surveys 20 to 35 firms to derive its mortgage applications indexes. The survey covers about 40 percent of all applications processed by mortgage lenders, and monitors purchasing, refinancing, and overall market activity.