NEW YORK – Mortgage refinance applications rose 17 percent from the previous week and lifted the percentage of refinancing as a part of the total mortgage market to its highest level since January 2009, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Total mortgage volume rose about 13 percent from the previous week, the group said Wednesday.

“The refinance share of mortgage activity increased to 81.4 percent of total applications from 78.1 percent the previous week,” the group said, which is the highest refinance share observed since January 2009.

The group also said that the average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages increased to 4.60 percent from 4.57 percent, with points increasing to 0.92 from 0.89 for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio loans.

The effective rate also increased from last week.

“It’s a little surprising to see the big jump this week, because rates have been at this level for about a month,” Mortgage Bankers Association chief economist Jay Brinkman told MarketWatch on Wednesday.

Brinkman noted that some homeowners are trying to lower their monthly payments, but one trend showing strength is homeowners switching from 30-year mortgages to 15-year loans, which qualifying owners can secure for under 4 percent.

“We’re seeing a lot of refinancings into 15-year mortgages. Those rates are running under 4 percent. That volume may be about a third of refinancings right now,” Brinkman said.

He said homeowners are showing a willingness to take a lower rate on the 15-year loan, even though it translates into a higher monthly payment, in order to pay off the loan sooner.

“I think people with extra cash on their hands, people who can well afford the payment and would like to put some more down,” are choosing the 15-year loans, he said.