Government-sponsored mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday the average rate for 30-year fixed loans this week was 4.57 percent.and the lowest since Freddie Mac began tracking rates in 1971.
The last time home loan rates were lower was the 1950s, when most mortgages lasted just 20 or 25 years.
Rates have fallen since the spring. Investors, concerned with the European debt crisis, have poured money into the safety of Treasury bonds. Treasury yields have fallen and so have mortgage rates, which tend to track yields on U.S. debt.
However, low rates have yet to fuel home sales and have sparked only a modest increase in refinancing activity.
The housing market has slowed since federal tax credits for homebuyers expired at the end of April. And the latest decline in mortgage rates is unlikely to boost the market.
Mortgage rates have hovered near record lows for some time, so most people who can afford to buy homes or qualify to refinance their loans have already done so in the past 18 months. Doing so again wouldn't be worth the cost for most.
Meanwhile, millions of Americans are unable to take advantage of the low rates. Many have seen the value of their homes plummet and have little or no equity. Or they lack good credit or steady income to get or refinance a mortgage.
Rates could go lower and still not budge the housing market, analysts say. That's because a person without a job can't afford a home and a person worried about losing their job is unlikely to do so either.
To calculate the national average, Freddie Mac collects mortgage rates on Monday through Wednesday of each week from lenders around the country. Rates often fluctuate significantly, even within a given day.
Rates on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages decreased to an average of 4.06 percent, down from 4.07 percent last week. Rates on five-year adjustable-rate mortgages averaged 3.85 percent, up from 3.75 percent a week earlier.
Rates on one-year adjustable-rate mortgages fell to an average of 3.74 percent from 3.75 percent.
The rates do not include add-on fees known as points. One point is equal to 1 percent of the total loan amount. The nationwide fee for all types of loans in Freddie Mac's survey averaged 0.7 a point.