NEW YORK – April 8, 2015 – Credit conditions in home lending eased to their least restrictive level in years, though mortgage credit remains extremely tight compared to the pre-crisis era.

As of last month, the Mortgage Credit Availability Index was 121.4. The index was benchmarked at 100 as of March 2012.

The latest reading means that credit conditions in real estate finance loosened compared to February, when the index was 117.8.

Conditions have also improved compared to March 2014, when the MCAI was 114.0.

Using a graph provided by MBA, it appears that the index hasn't been this high since at least early 2011 and possibly as far back as late 2009.

Behind the latest monthly increase in the index were multiple factors, according to Mike Fratantoni, chief economist for the Mortgage Bankers Association, which reports the index based on data supplied by Ellie Mae Inc.

Freddie Mac introduced its 97 percent loan-to-value program, jumbo guidelines were eased and cash-out offerings increased. In addition, the Federal Housing Administration's streamline refinance and the Department of Veterans Affairs' VA Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan continued to expand.

"As a result of these changes, all four component indexes of the MCAI increased last month: jumbo, conforming, conventional and government," Fratantoni said in the report. "Although credit remains tight by historical standards, this increase in availability, coupled with low rates and job market strength, should lead to stronger home purchase activity this spring."

Credit availability remains extremely restrictive relative to pre-crisis years, with the index estimated to have been around 880 in 2006.

The Conforming MCAI rose 3 percent in March, the biggest increase of any category.

A more than 2 percent gain was recorded for the conventional index.

Both the Government MCAI and Jumbo MCAI rose nearly 2 percent.

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