Fixed U.S. mortgage rates slipped this week, Freddie Mac said Thursday.

The average rate for a 30-year loan dropped 5 basis points from last week, to 4.82%, the government-sponsored enterprise said. The 15-year fixed rate dropped 6 basis points, to 4.48%.

The Federal Reserve Board is trying to jump-start home sales by encouraging a decline in mortgage rates, which have fallen below 5% this year for the first time since record keeping began in 1971. Last month the central bank said it would purchase up to an additional $750 billion of mortgage-backed securities from Freddie, Fannie Mae and the Government National Mortgage Association to support home lending.

"The Fed is certainly working on keeping mortgage rates down," said Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James & Associates Inc. in St. Petersburg, Fla. "The hope is we're nearing a bottom in the housing market."

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