WASHINGTON

- The average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage has dropped to 3.94 percent, the record low set in October.

Low rates offer a historic opportunity for those who can afford to buy or refinance. Still, many people either can't take advantage of the record-low rates or have already done so.

The rate on the 30-year home loan fell from 3.99 percent the previous week, Freddie Mac said yesterday. This week's 3.94 percent average matches the lowest on records dating to the 1950s.

The average on the 15-year fixed mortgage fell to 3.21 percent from 3.27 percent. That's also a record.

Rates could fall further still. Many economists think the yield on the 10-year Treasury note could creep lower in 2012. Long-term mortgage rates tend to track the 10-year Treasury yield.

Should the Federal Reserve launch a new program of bond purchases in the coming months to try to help the economy, that could further drive down mortgage rates.

Rates have been below 5 percent for all but two weeks this year. Even so, this year could end up as the worst for home sales in 14 years.

Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac's chief economist, said that despite the super-low loan rates, foreclosures and falling home values have created a "rough environment for housing."