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Average US rate on 30-year loan at 4.41 pct.

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ratesWASHINGTON — Average U.S. rates for fixed mortgages declined this week, edging closer to historically low levels.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says the average for the 30-year loan fell to 4.41 percent from 4.51 percent last week. The average for the 15-year loan eased to 3.45 percent from 3.56 percent.

Mortgage rates have risen about a full percentage point since hitting record lows a year ago. The increase was driven by speculation that the Federal Reserve would reduce its bond purchases. The Fed determined last month that the economy was strong enough to start trimming those purchases, which have kept long-term interest rates low.

The rise in mortgage rates slowed home sales, which have fallen for three straight months. But overall, 2013 was the best year for housing since the financial crisis.

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