"QE2" — the Federal Reserve’s plan to buy up to $600 billion in Treasurys — helped push rates on fixed-rate mortgages to all-time lows this week, Freddie Mac said in releasing the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey.

Applications for mortgage loans jumped a seasonally adjusted 5.8 percent last week compared to the week before, with demand for both purchase and refinance loans increasing, the Mortgage Bankers Association found in a separate survey.

Rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 4.17 percent with an average 0.8 point for the week ending Nov. 11, Freddie Mac said, down from 4.24 percent last week and 4.91 percent a year ago.

Rates on 15-year fixed rate mortgages averaged 3.57 percent with an average 0.8 point, down from 3.63 percent last week and 4.36 percent a year ago.

Those were both new lows in records that date to 1971 for 30-year fixed-rate loans, and 1991 for 15-year fixed-rate loans.

After the Fed’s Nov. 3 announcement that it plans a second round of quantitative easing over the next eight months (a program that’s been dubbed "QE2"), Treasury bond yields initially fell and then gradually rose again, said Freddie Mac’s chief economist, Frank Nothaft, in a statement.

"This allowed mortgage rates to fall to record levels this week," he said. "Despite historically low mortgage rates, however, the housing recovery continues to be slow owing in part to household job uncertainty and tight credit conditions."

Nothaft noted that unemployment has hovered at 9.5 percent or higher for the past 15 months, and commercial banks have tightened lending standards in 16 of the last 17 quarters.

Freddie Mac’s survey showed rates on 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaging 3.25 percent this week, with an average 0.7 point, down from 3.39 percent last week and 4.29 percent a year ago.

Rates on 1-year Treasury-indexed ARMs averaged 3.26 percent this week with an average 0.7 point, unchanged from last week but down from 4.46 percent a year ago.

Freddie Mac’s rate survey tracks prime conventional conforming mortgages with a 20 percent downpayment. Borrowers with damaged credit or those making smaller downpayments usually pay higher rates.

Most borrowers have credit scores that are too low for them to qualify for the best rates on a mortgage, and nearly one in three are unlikely to get a loan on any terms, according an analysis by Zillow.

At its annual convention in New Orleans, the National Association of Realtors adopted a policy advocating that lenders and mortgage financiers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loosen underwriting standards so that qualified buyers aren’t locked out of the housing market.

The Mortgage Bankers Association’s weekly application survey showed demand for purchase loans rose a seasonally adjusted 5.5 percent last week, but was still down 14 percent from a year ago. Applications for refinancing were up 6 percent.

"The increases in purchase applications we have seen over the past couple of weeks align with the better-than-expected news from October’s employment report and other data indicating some improvement in the economy’s growth prospects," said MBA economist Michael Fratantoni in a statement.

Many economists expect interest rates to rise gradually as economic growth picks up, spurred by government borrowing and monetary policy.

In an Oct. 26 forecast, MBA economists projected that rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages will average 5.1 percent during the fourth quarter of 2011, and 5.7 percent in the final quarter of 2012.

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