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The lowest mortgage rates in history are helping older borrowers ease their debt burden and allowing baby boomers to sock money away for retirement, mortgage brokers say.

“I’ve gotten a lot of people who are not quite to retirement, but can kind of see it on the horizon,” said Cheryl Mehe’ula of mortgage broker E.F. Foley in San Jose, Calif. “They want a payment they can really live with over a longer term.”

Before rising slightly last week, the average rate of a 30-year fixed mortgage dropped to 3.36 percent, the lowest it has been since mortgage giant Freddie Mac began record-keeping in 1971.

The low rates carry special urgency for boomers and seniors.

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The median value of mortgage debt for people 55 to 64 years old has increased 187 percent in the past two decades, probably because many pulled out home equity during the housing bubble, according to an AARP report. The median amount of debt for people ages 65 to 74 has also increased sharply, the AARP said.

There’s one catch to refinancing, and it’s a big one: The borrower has to have enough equity to meet tough credit requirements.

“I’m certainly advising clients, if they’re not underwater, to definitely lock in the best fixed rate they can,” said Michael Olff, a financial planner with Gateway Financial Advisors in Walnut Creek, Calif.

For those who can take advantage of them, the low rates can produce big savings.

For example, a 30-year, $300,000 mortgage at 3.36 percent carries a monthly payment that’s almost $200 less than one at 4.5 percent. A 15-year, 2.69 percent loan would carry a higher monthly payment than the 30-year loan but would pay off sooner and save $70,000 in interest.

Carol Bogosian, an actuary and president of CAB Consulting in Chicago, said too many people “just look at the payment and don’t think through this.”

A refinance resets the loan period to another 30 or 15 years, Bogosian said.

Also, fees may be wrapped into the loan, increasing the balance.

Financial planner Olff said many of his clients are choosing shorter-term loans.

“It really depends on the person’s financial plan and risk profile. Do you want your house paid off, or a mortgage you have to pay out of your 401(k) or Social Security?”

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