Mortgage rates fell for the second day in a row Wednesday and could be heading toward levels not seen this year.

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MIAMI — Mortgage rates fell for the second day in a row Wednesday and could be heading toward levels not seen this year.

That drop is what the Federal Reserve wanted when it announced a plan Tuesday to buy $600 billion in mortgage-related securities in an effort to slow falling home prices and rising foreclosures, while kick-starting demand among fearful homebuyers.

The average interest rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage Wednesday was 5.76 percent, the lowest since February, according to HSH Associates, which publishes mortgage information. The lowest daily figure this year was 5.47 percent on Jan. 23.

Mortgage brokers fielded a steady stream of calls Wednesday from borrowers looking to refinance. But some callers were confronted with an unwelcome truth: Only those with good credit histories and equity in their properties need apply.

With the damage wrought by the real-estate downturn, now in its third year, that number has declined dramatically.

Lower rates won’t mean much for the more than 4 million homeowners already behind on their mortgage payments, or the 12 million who owe more money than their homes are now worth.

“This will help the non-troubled borrower, the standard consumer who is making payments on time,” said Mike Larson, real-estate analyst with Weiss Research. “For the troubled borrower, you really have to look at some other avenues,” including modifying their existing mortgage with their current lender.

Rates react to supply, demand and risk associated with certain securities.

Mortgage rates have hovered stubbornly around 6 percent for months.

But with this week’s announcement, the Fed became the 800-pound gorilla in the market.

Its demand for securities will drive prices higher, and yields and, with luck, interest rates lower.

“If these rates hold, you’ll see these refinance applications really start to take off next week,” said Marc Savitt, president of the National Association of Mortgage Brokers.

Refinancing lure

Already, some homeowners were lining up on Wednesday.

Brenda Pittsnogle and her husband are combining their first and second mortgages, with rates of 5.875 and 6.5 percent, to refinance at 5.375 percent.

That will save the couple $170 a month.

They had been waiting for about a half-year for interest rates to fall this low.

“We’re elated,” said Pittsnogle, of Kearneysville, W.Va. “We really never thought that it would go down as far as it has.”

Lower rates and falling prices make the market more attractive for qualified buyers.

Compared with the 6.75 percent rate homebuyers paid Oct. 15, borrowers today would save $106 a month if they bought the U.S. median-priced home of $183,300 with a 10 percent down payment.

“It really gives a confidence boost to people shopping for homes and everybody thinking, ‘Wow, mortgage rates are so low, I should think about doing something,’ ” said Guy Cecala, publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance, who expects rates to approach 5 percent by the end of the year.

While troubled borrowers generally won’t benefit from the Fed’s move in terms of refinancing, it can help them in other ways.

For example, the lower rates could make lenders more willing to modify their mortgages, experts said.

“There are programs in place for you if you are having troubles,” said Keith Gumbinger, vice president of mortgage-information publisher HSH Associates. “(The Fed’s plan) is aimed at the vast majority of American homeowners who have done nothing wrong but have been affected by what’s happening in the housing market.”

Homeowners who may be most interested in refinancing include those who have adjustable-rate mortgages that have reset to higher rates or will in the coming months.

“Refinancing waves are a great cleansing process for the mortgage market,” Cecala said.

“It brings in new homebuyers or borrowers as well as lowering the payments of existing buyers. It makes the mortgage market look much healthier.”

Under 6 percent

Separately, federal mortgage-purchaser Freddie Mac reported Wednesday that rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages dropped to 5.97 percent this week. That was down from 6.04 percent last week.

It was the first time rates have been below 6 percent since Oct. 9.

Freddie Mac’s survey is usually released Thursdays but came out early because of Thanksgiving and may not reflect the full impact of the Fed’s action on rates.

Rates on the 30-year mortgage hit a high for this year of 6.63 percent in late July. Analysts believe rates will continue dropping.