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US rate on 30-year mortgage declines to 3.51 pct.

Thursday - 2/28/2013, 1:04pm  ET

In this Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, photo, a "for sale" sign is seen outside a home in Glenview, Ill., Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages moved closer to historic lows this week, a trend that has helped drive a rebound in home sales. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

MARCY GORDON
AP Business Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages moved closer to historic lows this week, a trend that has helped drive a rebound in home sales.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage declined to 3.51 percent from 3.56 percent last week. That's near the 3.31 percent rate reached in November, the lowest on records dating to 1971.

The average rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage slipped to 2.76 percent from 2.77 last week. The record low is 2.63 percent.

The lowest mortgage rates in decades have helped the housing market recover. More people are buying homes, which has pushed up home prices. And ultra-low rates have encouraged more people to refinance. That often lowers monthly mortgage payments and leaves consumers with more spending money.

A measure of the number of Americans who signed contracts to buy homes rose in January from December to the highest level in more than 2
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