Rates On 30 Year Mortgages Fall Near Record Low

U.S. mortgage rates fell in the latest week, trekking closer to a record low set last month. Interest rates on U.S. 30-year fixed-rate mortgages fell to 4.82 percent for the week ending May 21, down from the previous week’s 4.86 percent, according to a survey released on Thursday by home funding company Freddie Mac. [FRE  0.78    -0.02  (-2.5%)   ]

Three weeks earlier, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage equaled the record low of 4.78 percent set in the week ending April 2, which was the lowest since Freddie Mac started the Primary Mortgage Market Survey in 1971.

“Long-term fixed-rate mortgage rates have remained below 5.0 percent for the past 10 weeks as the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve act to keep interest rates low through security purchases,” Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac vice president and chief economist, said in a statement.

The U.S. government has embarked on an aggressive plan to bring mortgage rates down to levels that will spur demand and help the hard-hit housing market begin to recover.

Thirty-year mortgage rates had mostly been on a downward trend since the Fed — the U.S. central bank—unveiled a plan in late November to buy mortgage-backed debt .

The Federal Reserve has set a goal to buy up to $1.25 trillion of agency MBS, $300 billion of Treasuries and $200 billion of agency debt in 2009. The purchases are part of efforts to lower borrowing costs.

Leif Thomsen, CEO of Mortgage Master, in Walpole, Massachusetts, said his main message to people looking to get a mortgage is to be patient. “It boils down to simple supply and demand – there are hundreds of thousands of people applying and only so many people to field the requests so nothing is moving quickly,” he said.

“We have seen encouraging signs of the purchase market coming back, but we have to remember that as long as we continue to see people losing their jobs, the housing market cannot completely recover,” he said.

The battered U.S. housing market, which is in the midst of its worst downturn since the Great Depression, is both the source of and a major casualty of the credit crisis.

A recovery for the market could portend a turnaround for the United States, the world’s largest economy.

Low interest rates on mortgages are pivotal for the U.S. housing market this spring, the peak home buying season. And low mortgage rates have and should continue to spur demand for home refinancing loans.

Lower monthly payments provide a bit of relief to strapped consumers amid rising unemployment and a shrinking economy. The low rates so far have had little to no impact on demand for loans to purchase homes.

But the Fed hopes lower interest rates on mortgages will change that.

Other Rates Mixed

Freddie Mac said the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.50 percent in the latest week, down from 4.52 percent the prior week.

One-year adjustable-rate mortgages, or ARMs, rose to an average of 4.82 percent from 4.71 percent last week.

Freddie Mac said the “5/1” ARM, set at a fixed rate for five years and adjustable each following year, averaged 4.79 percent, compared with 4.82 percent a week earlier.

A year ago, 30-year mortgage rates averaged 5.98 percent, 15-year mortgages were at 5.55 percent and the one-year ARM was at 5.24 percent. A year ago, the 5/1 ARM averaged 5.61 percent.

Lenders charged an average of 0.7 percent in fees and points on 30-year mortgages, up from 0.6 percent the previous week, while they charged an average 0.7 percent in fees and points on 15-year mortgages, up from 0.6 percent the previous week.

The 5/1 ARM fees and points were 0.6 percent, unchanged from the previous week. The one-year ARM fees and points were 0.6 percent, unchanged from the previous week.

Freddie Mac and its larger sibling, Fannie Mae, [FNM  0.76    -0.01  (-1.3%)   ] were placed under government conservatorship in early September.

Freddie Mac is a mortgage finance company chartered by Congress to buy mortgages from lenders and package them into securities to sell to investors or to hold in its own portfolio.

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