(Adds refinance savings, quotes, byline)
By Lynn Adler
NEW YORK, July 29 (Reuters) - Fixed U.S. mortgage rates set record lows last week for the sixth straight week, keeping affordability high for borrowers who can get loans, home funding company Freddie Mac FMCC.OB said on Thursday.
Refinancing has picked up steam but the pace remains well below last year’s peaks when rates were similarly low.
Many borrowers with the financial incentive to refinance have already done so or do not meet lender requirements.
The enticing average rate is also elusive for many borrowers, as lenders who are understaffed and overwhelmed by foreclosures keep rates higher to manage loan flow, housing experts maintain.
Home buying remains dulled by dour consumer confidence, fears of job losses and tight lending practices. Sales of new homes, for example, surged in June yet set the second-lowest level in 47 years of record keeping. [ID:mM26129525]
The average 30-year loan rate edged down to 4.54 percent in the week ended July 22 from 4.56 percent the prior week and 5.25 percent a year ago.
Fifteen-year mortgage rates averaged 4 percent, also a record, down from 4.03 percent a week ago and 4.69 percent a year ago.
Records from Freddie Mac, the second-largest buyer of U.S. residential mortgages, date back to 1971 for 30-year mortgages and 1991 for 15-year loans.
Lenders charged an average 0.7 percentage point in added fees and points last week, the same as the previous week.
Thirty-year mortgage rates last averaged over 5 percent in April. See rates table: [ID:nWALTIE6EY].
Applications to refinance mortgages last week declined from a 14-month high, the Mortgage Bankers Association said on Wednesday. Purchase applications rose but held near 13-year lows in the wake of buyer tax incentives that ended two months ago. [ID:nNLLRIE6AC]
Homeowners tapped $8.3 billion in home equity during loan refinancings in the second quarter, the lowest amount in a decade, Freddie Mac said on Wednesday.
Almost one quarter of borrowers who did refinance in the quarter cut their principal balance by paying more money at the closing table, matching the third highest “cash-in” share in records dating back 25 years, Freddie Mac found. The 22 percent share rose from 19 percent in the first quarter.
“Cash-outs,” in which borrowers increased their loan balance by at least 5 percent, represented 27 percent of refis in April through June.
Borrowers have much less equity, if any, to access as prices have toppled an average 29 percent from 2006 peaks. The cash-out share over the past three quarters has been the lowest since record keeping began in 1985.
“The deleveraging process continues,” said David Joy, chief market strategist at Columbia Management in Minneapolis.
Consumers shaving debt compared with their income levels is good in the long run but a hurdle for the struggling economy in the short term, he said.
“In the long run it would be great because it would sow the seeds of the next recovery, but in the short run it would starve the economy of some spending that it needs when the recovery is pretty fragile,” said Joy. (Editing by James Dalgleish)