US rate on 30-year mortgage steady at 3.53 percent.

WASHINGTON (AP) - The average U.S. rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage was unchanged this week near historic lows, while the average rate on the 15-year loan fell. Low mortgage rates could help strengthen the housing recovery.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says the rate on the 30-year loan stayed at 3.53 percent. That's still near the 3.31 percent rate reached in November, the lowest in records dating to 1971.

The rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage dropped to 2.77 percent from 2.81 percent last week. The record low is 2.63 percent.

Cheap mortgages are encouraging more people to buy homes and refinance, trends that could help boost the economy this year.

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