WASHINGTON – Average U.S. rates for fixed mortgages declined this week, edging closer to historically low levels.
Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average for the 30-year loan fell to 4.41 percent from 4.51 percent last week. The average for the 15-year loan eased to 3.45 percent from 3.56 percent.
Mortgage rates have risen about a full percentage point since hitting record lows a year ago. The increase was driven by speculation that the Federal Reserve would reduce its bond purchases. The Fed determined last month that the economy was strong enough to start trimming those purchases, which have kept long-term interest rates low.
The rise in mortgage rates slowed home sales, which have fallen for three straight months. But overall, 2013 was the best year for housing since the financial crisis. Most economists expect home sales and prices to keep rising this year, but at a slower pace. They forecast sales and prices will likely rise around 5 percent, down from double-digit gains in 2013.
To calculate average mortgage rates, Freddie Mac surveys lenders across the country between Monday and Wednesday 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 a 30-year mortgage was unchanged at 0.7 point. The fee for a 15-year loan rose to 0.7 point from 0.6 point.
The average rate on a one-year adjustable-rate mortgage remained at 2.56 percent. The fee was unchanged at 0.5 point.
The average rate on a five-year adjustable mortgage fell to 3.10 percent from 3.15 percent. The fee rose to 0.5 point from 0.4 point.