U.S. Mortgage Delinquencies Fall to Lowest Since 2007

The U.S. mortgage delinquency rate fell to the lowest in almost eight years as the job market strengthened and rising home values gave struggling borrowers a chance to sell.

Loans that were at least 30 days late dropped to 5.54 percent in the first quarter from 6.11 percent a year earlier, the Mortgage Bankers Association said in a report Wednesday. The share was the lowest since the second quarter of 2007.

Newer loans are benefiting from rising property prices, tighter underwriting requirements and the lowest jobless rate in seven years, while mortgages originated before the real estate bust are still moving through foreclosure. The share of loans on which foreclosure actions were started in the first quarter was 0.45 percent, the same as a year earlier, and the historical average, according to Joel Kan, vice president of surveys and forecasting for the Washington-based bankers group.

“It’s a story of continued improvement,” Kan said in a telephone interview. “We’re at such a low level of foreclosure starts, we’re going to see some increases and some decreases from here on out.”

Of the loans that were 90 days or more delinquent or in foreclosure, 73 percent were originated in 2007 or earlier. About 40 percent of the loans serviced were in states that require court approval for home seizures, such as Florida, New York and New Jersey. Those states had 3.64 percent of loans serviced in the foreclosure process, almost three times the share in non-judicial states.

‘Significant Improvement’

Nationally, the percentage of loans in foreclosure is at 2.22 percent, down from more than 4.5 percent at the worst point of the crisis.

“The longer-term average is 1.5 percent, so this is definitely a sign of significant improvement, but we aren’t quite back to where we were before, mostly because of differences at the state level,” Kan said.

Home prices have climbed as buyers compete for a limited supply of properties. The S&P/Case-Shiller index of values in 20 cities increased 5 percent in the year through February. Prices are still 16 percent below their July 2006 high, even after recovering 30 percent from the post-bubble low in March 2012, the index shows.

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