A Freddie Mac sign stands outside the company's headquarters in McLean, Virginia, U.S., on Tuesday, April 8, 2014. Senator Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat and a member of the Senate Banking Committee, said a bipartisan bill to replace Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is too complicated and doesn't do enough to address too-big-to-fail concerns or provide assistance for affordable housing. The panel will consider the measure on April 29. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

After a month of incremental increases, fixed mortgage rates took their biggest leap since this summer.

According to the latest data released Thursday by Freddie Mac, the 30-year fixed-rate average climbed to 3.91 percent with an average 0.5 point. (Points are fees paid to a lender equal to 1 percent of the loan amount.) It was 3.85 percent a week ago and 3.47 percent a year ago. The 30-year average, which hasn’t been this high since August, had its biggest one-week increase since July.

The 15-year fixed-rate average jumped to 3.21 percent with an average 0.5 point. It was 3.15 percent a week ago and 2.76 percent a year ago. The 15-year average hasn’t been this high since July.

The five-year adjustable rate average fell to 3.16 percent with an average 0.4 point. It was 3.18 percent a week ago and 2.82 percent a year ago.

“Data released last week, on balance, suggested continued strong economic growth,” said Joel Kan, a Mortgage Bankers Association economist. “In combination with hawkish comments from some Fed officials, this pushed rates up.”

Bankrate.com, which puts out a weekly mortgage rate trend index, found that nearly two-thirds of the experts it surveyed say rates will remain relatively stable in the coming week. Michael Becker, branch manager of Sierra Pacific Mortgage, is one who expects rates to hold steady.

“Despite a weak headline number in the employment report last week, mortgage rates moved higher as markets focused in the larger than expected increase in average hourly earnings,” Becker said. “The Fed is focused on wages as they believe that increases in income will lead to increases in overall inflation. The market is now pricing in an 80 percent chance that the Fed will hike rates at their December meeting. But for the coming week there is not a lot of economic data being released, so I think rates will hold at their current levels for now.”

Meanwhile, as rates were rising, mortgage applications retreated last week, according to the latest data from the Mortgage Bankers Association. The market composite index — a measure of total loan application volume — decreased 2.1 percent. The refinance index fell 4 percent, while the purchase index slipped 0.1 percent.

The refinance share of mortgage activity accounted for 49 percent of all applications.

“Refinance activity declined overall, as conventional refinance applications decreased 7 percent, only partially offset by a 10 percent increase in government refinance applications,” Kan said. “Applications for FHA and VA refinance loans increased 14 percent and 8 percent, respectively, as smaller loan balances tend to be less sensitive to changes in rates. Applications for home purchase loans were essentially unchanged last week, but were up 7 percent on a year-over-year basis.”

The MBA also released its mortgage credit availability index (MCAI) this week that showed credit availability increased in September. The MCAI rose 0.7 percent to 181.4 last month. A decline in the MCAI indicates that lending standards are tightening, while an increase signals they are loosening.

“Mortgage credit availability increased in September due to continuing updates to conforming loan programs as well as agency jumbo programs that have been phased in over the last few months,” said Lynn Fisher, MBA’s vice president of research and economics. “For the year to date, the supply of credit has increased only modestly in the non-jumbo space while it has expanded significantly among jumbo programs.”

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