The benchmark U.S. home mortgage rate rose this week to its highest level in more than two years, according to Freddie Mac.

In its weekly report, released Thursday, Freddie Mac said the average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rose to 8.15 percent this week, up from 7.89 percent last week. That's the third consecutive weekly rise and the highest level since mid-April 1997, when the 30-year rate was 8.16 percent.

Rates rose because "the stronger-than-expected employment report rattled markets a little last week, continuing to raise fears of action by the Federal Reserve," said Robert Van Order, Freddie Mac's chief economist.

The yield on 10-year Treasury notes, considered a good benchmark for mortgage rates, rose 4 basis points to 6.08 percent in trading Thursday, up from 6.04 percent a week ago.

Freddie Mac, the No. 2 U.S. mortgage buyer, also said the average rate on an adjustable mortgage rose to 6.24 percent, up from 6.09 percent last week, while 15-year mortgage rates rose to 7.70 percent from 7.45 percent.

This week's 30-year mortgage rate put the average principal and interest payment with one point on a $100,000 loan at $744.25, compared with $659.27 when the 30-year rate was 6.91 percent during the same week a year ago. One point equals about 1 percent of the loan amount.

Freddie Mac's weekly survey measures the national average commitment rate for 80 percent loan-to-value mortgage loans during a one-week period.

The jump in mortgage rates pushed mortgage applications down last week, the Mortgage Bankers Association of America said. The group's applications index fell 4.1 percent. Even so, the group's refinancing index rose for the first time in 10 weeks.

The Mortgage Bankers Association's average contract rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage with a 20 percent down payment rose 23 basis points to 8.18 percent last week. Last week's rate was the highest since the week of April 25, 1997, when it was 8.20 percent.

"The higher-than-8 percent rates will almost certainly take the wind out of the sails of housing," said Richard Yamarone, a senior economist at Argus Research Corp. in New York.

Even though 30-year mortgage rates have exceeded 7.5 percent for nine consecutive weeks, the index for mortgage applications has yet to register a sharp decline. That's because higher mortgage rates may be prompting buyers to rush into the market to lock in affordable rates before they head higher.

"What's happened is that the rise in interest rates has created an increased demand as people say to themselves, 'We better go and look more seriously and buy now before it gets more expensive,' " Robert I. Toll, chairman and chief executive at Toll Brothers Inc., the nation's leading builder of luxury homes, said in a recent interview.