U.S. long-term mortgage rates fell this week, starting the year with an inducement to prospective homebuyers.
Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday the average rate on the benchmark 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage declined to 4.51 percent from 4.55 percent last week. Despite recent declines, home borrowing rates remain far above last year's levels. The key 30-year rate averaged 3.95 percent a year ago.
The average rate for 15-year fixed-rate loans edged down to 3.99 percent this week from to 4.01 percent last week.
Mortgage rates began to spike after President Donald Trump signed broad tax cuts, financed by government deficits, into law in December 2017. But rates have eased in recent weeks amid steep declines in the stock market and tumbling interest rates on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note — which influences long-term mortgage rates.
The decline in mortgage rates could help boost home sales, which have stumbled last year as higher borrowing costs have eroded affordability.
Low mortgage rates and slowing growth in home prices "should get prospective homebuyers excited to buy," Freddie Mac chief economist Sam Khater said. "However, it will be interesting to see how the recent turmoil in the stock market will affect home buying activity in the coming months."
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.
The average fee on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages was unchanged this week at 0.5 point. The fee on 15-year mortgages held steady at 0.4 point.
The average rate for five-year adjustable-rate mortgages declined to 3.98 percent from 4 percent last week. The fee fell to 0.2 point from 0.3 point.