NEW YORK - U.S. fixed mortgage rates eked out small increases in the past week, but the average 30-year loan held at around 5 percent, fostering affordability, home funding company Freddie Mac said on Thursday.

The long-term borrowing cost rose 0.03 percentage point to 5.01 percent in the week ended Feb. 4. That contrasted with a record low 4.71 percent in early December, but down from 5.25 percent a year ago.

Low mortgage rates, average home price declines of 30 percent from 2006 peaks and federal homebuyer tax credits have started stabilizing U.S. housing after a three-year plunge.

A rebound is seen coming in fits and starts, however, with a record number of foreclosed properties yet to be put up for sale by banks and borrowers grappling with double-digit unemployment.

Pending sales of existing homes rose in December, mortgage applications increased last week to a six-week high, and residential fixed investment rose for two straight quarters in the last half of 2009, Freddie Mac chief economist Frank Nothaft said in a statement.

Even more encouraging, he said, was a Federal Reserve survey of senior loan officers showing that banks have generally stopped tightening standards on most types of loans. Fewer banks expected credit quality to deteriorate over the coming year. (Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)