Mortgage rates fell for the second straight week to the lowest point in five decades. But many people either don't qualify for new mortgages or have already taken advantage of the low rates this year.
As a result, the housing market and the broader economy may not benefit much from the lower rates.
The average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage dropped to 4.57 percent this week, mortgage company Freddie Mac reported Thursday. That's down from the previous record low of 4.58 percent set last week.
It's the lowest since Freddie Mac began tracking rates in 1971. The last time rates were lower was in the 1950s, when most long-term home loans lasted just 20 or 25 years.
Rates have fallen over the past two months. Investors, concerned with the European debt crisis, have poured money into the safety of Treasury bonds. Treasury yields have fallen and so have mortgage rates, which tend to track yields on long-term Treasurys.
However, low rates have yet to fuel home sales. The housing market has slowed since federal tax credits for homebuyers expired at the end of April. And the latest decline in mortgage rates is unlikely to boost the market.
Mortgage rates have hovered near record lows for some time, so most people who can afford to buy homes or qualify to refinance their loans have already done so in the past 18 months. Doing so again wouldn't be worth the cost for most.
Meanwhile, millions of Americans are unable to take advantage of the low rates. Many have seen the value of their homes plummet and have little or no equity. Or they lack good credit or steady income to get or refinance a mortgage.
Overall mortgage applications increased last week from a week earlier, the Mortgage Bankers Association said Wednesday. But they still remain 35 percent below last year's levels.
Rates could go lower and still not budge the housing market, analysts say. That's because a person without a job can't afford a home and a person worried about losing their job is unlikely to purchase, too, said Greg McBride, senior financial analyst with Bankrate.com.
"And if an $8,000 tax credit didn't get buyers to take the plunge, saving $50 a month on a mortgage payment probably won't either," he said.
To calculate the national average, Freddie Mac collects mortgage rates on Monday through Wednesday of each week from lenders around the country. Rates often fluctuate significantly, even within a given day.
Rates on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages increased to an average of 4.07 percent, up from 4.04 percent last week. That was the lowest on records dating to September 1991.
Rates on five-year adjustable-rate mortgages averaged 3.75 percent, down from 3.79 percent a week earlier. That was also the lowest on Freddie Mac's records, which date back only to January 2005.
Average rates on one-year adjustable-rate mortgages fell to 3.75 percent from 3.80 percent.
The rates do not include add-on fees known as points. One point is equal to 1 percent of the total loan amount. The nationwide fee for all types of loans in Freddie Mac's survey averaged 0.7 a point.