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News Summary: 30-year loan rate stays at 3.53 pct.

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RATES REMAIN LOW: 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.

THE NUMBERS: Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says the average 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.

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

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