Mortgage rates began the new year the same way they ended the old -- by hitting a new low.

The average interest rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was 5.85 percent this week, Freddie Mac said Thursday in its weekly nationwide survey. Last week the 30-year rate was at 5.93 percent.

This week's rate was the lowest since Freddie Mac began tracking 30-year mortgage rates in 1971. The rate for this week and last week both dropped below the previous record of 5.94 percent set in mid-November.

Records that reach back earlier than Freddie Mac's put this week's 30-year mortgage rate at the lowest level since the early 1960s.

Rates on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages, often used for refinancing, were at 5.24 percent, compared with 5.32 percent last week.

For one-year adjustable-rate mortgages, rates edged up slightly to 4.06 percent, compared with 4.01 percent last week.

Low mortgage rates over the past year have been fueling strong home sales and a surge of home mortgage refinancing activity. The extra monthly cash consumers are saving by refinancing their mortgages at lower interest rates is helping to support consumer spending, which has been the main force keeping the economy going this year.

"Just when we were sure mortgage rates couldn't possibly drop any lower, we were surprised yet again," said Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac's chief economist.

He attributed this week's drop in mortgage rates to an investor flight to safety in the bond market spurred by heightened concerns about possible U.S. military action in Iraq and new worries about terrorist attacks.

Nothaft said it was likely that 30-year rates would continue to hover at about 6 percent for "at least another few months."

This week's mortgage rates do not include add-on fees known as points. The 30-year and 15-year mortgages carried an average fee of 0.6 point this week while the one-year adjustable mortgage had an average 0.7 point financing fee.