Although the overall number of homeowners struggling with mortgages remains high, the delinquency rate for mortgages fell in the fourth quarter of 2009 to a seasonally adjusted rate of 9.47 percent, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s National Delinquency Survey released Feb. 19. The fourth-quarter rate was down 17 basis points from the previous quarter but remained 159 points higher than a year ago.
Borrowers who were 30 days late on their mortgages in the fourth quarter fell 0.2 percent from the previous quarter to 3.6 percent, down from 3.85 percent a year ago, the survey showed. The drop is the first quarter-over-quarter decline in that category since 2004.
“This drop is important because 30-day delinquencies have historically been a leading indicator of serious delinquencies and foreclosures. With fewer new loans going bad, the pool of seriously delinquent loans and foreclosures will eventually begin to shrink once the rate at which these problems are resolved exceeds the rate at which new problems come in,” Jay Brinkmann, MBA’s chief economist, said in an accompanying news release.
Despite the decline, some industry analysts warn that the housing market remains turbulent, noting that unemployment remains high and the number of homeowners behind on mortgages is at a record level. According to the MBA, roughly 15 percent of all mortgages – representing 7.9 million loans – were either in foreclosure or at least one payment past due.
During the fourth quarter, more than 2.6 million borrowers had missed at least three payments, which accounted for half of all delinquencies, double the level a year ago, according to the MBA. “That is the number that is going to produce foreclosures,” Guy Cecala, publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance, told The Washington Post. “It is continuing to go up, and what it really means is that 2010 is going to be a bad year, perhaps worse than 2009 in the number of foreclosures.”
Despite federal incentives for lenders to set up programs for at-risk homeowners, the number of foreclosures continues to increase. Adding to its efforts to address the problem, the Obama administration has allocated an additional $1.5 billion for state finance agencies to develop new foreclosure prevention programs, which will be available to states that were hit the hardest after the collapse of the housing market, such as California and Florida.