Just like baseball great Yogi Berra once quipped, "It's like deja vu all over again!"

Between all the attention given to the tumultuous stock market lately, many have seemed to ignore one nice little benefit of lower rates: mortgages are almost as cheap as they've ever been.

The average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage now stands below 5.5%, down sharply from the 6.25% average seen one year ago, and within shouting distance of the all-time low of 5.2% set back in 2003, according to data from Freddie Mac (NYSE: FRE).

Pop the champagne corks
The cuts may end up being a saving grace for the millions of homeowners facing the possibility of increasing payments on their adjustable-rate mortgages. Homeowners are rushing in as the lower rates suddenly make refinancing more feasible. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, almost 60% of all new mortgage applications this year have been for refinancing on existing properties. Nationally, applications for home refinancing have nearly doubled since early November.

Also fueling the fire is talk of raising the maximum individual loan amount government-sponsored mortgage giants Fannie Mae (NYSE: FNM) and Freddie Mac would be allowed to take on. The current cap is $417,000, meaning all loans larger than that carry an added risk element because they're harder for the bank that originates the loan to sell them. The new economic stimulus plan proposed by President Bush suggests raising that maximum to around $730,000, greatly reducing the risk to banks that make larger loans.

Welcome back ...
The new rush to refinance brings us right back to the days when refinancing became as common as brushing your teeth in the morning, which shouldn't exactly make you smile. Undoubtedly, low interest rates led to cheap money, which got us into the debt mess we're now facing. On the heels of a near-collapse of mortgage lender Countrywide Financial (NYSE: CFC) and a rocky future for other banking players like Washington Mutual (NYSE: WM), the new wave of cheap mortgages may do no more than forestall the inevitable purge of toxic real estate paper plaguing the financial system.                     

This time around, however, look for homeowners to seek refinancing to save the roofs over their heads, rather than to splurge on big-ticket items, as many did in years past. Furthermore, lenders have learned their lesson and tightened up lending standards. Gone are the days of getting a loan with little or no documentation of income. Getting a mortgage in today's environment may require actually being able to afford it. (Gasp!)

At any rate, whether you're on the brink of foreclosure or just hoping to cut your monthly mortgage payments, the current path of interest rates should come as welcome news. After Tuesday's unexpected rate cut -- along with another cut expected as the Fed convenes next week -- more help may be on the way.

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Fool contributor Morgan Housel doesn't own shares of any of the companies mentioned in this article. He appreciates your questions, comments, and complaints. Washington Mutual is an Income Investor recommendation. The Fool's disclosure policy is all about investors writing for investors.