The new index of U.S. mortgage availability, to be released by the Mortgage Bankers Association and AllRegs during the second week of each month, suggests that lenders are relaxing underwriting criteria as higher property prices curb the risk of issuing new loans. "Credit availability is still quite tight," according to MBA's Michael Fratantoni, "but we have seen some modest loosening over the past year. We can see that both as more lenders being willing to extend credit and the terms of credit that loosened slightly." He notes that the index also is benefiting from the federal Home Affordable Refinance Program, which provides an opportunity for underwater homeowners to refinance into a lower rate. Additionally, Fratantoni says, lenders are softening standards for jumbo mortgages.