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Mortgage Delinquencies on the Decline

The percentage of borrowers who are behind on making mortgage payments fell to a four-year low in the first three months of 2012, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA).  The percentage of loans that were delinquent or in the foreclosure process during the 1st quarter was 11.33 percent, the lowest level since 2008.  That was a decrease of 1.2 percentage points from a quarter earlier and 0.98 percentage point below the rate reported one year ago.

A flare up of the sovereign debt troubles in Europe once again led investors to flee to the safety of U.S. Treasury securities last week.  As a result, mortgage rates have reached new lows in our survey, and refinancing application volumes picked up substantially as a result,” Fratantoni said.  ”Survey participants indicated that this was not due primarily to HARP (Home Affordable Refinance Program) volume – the HARP share of refinances fell to 28 percent of refinance applications, down relative to last week and last month, when the share was just above 30 percent in April.”

These new delinquencies represent 3.1 percent of loans outstanding, said Jay Brinkmann, the MBA’s chief economist.  That corresponds to the historical average dating back to the 1990s, he said.  “Basically, we’re back to normal on that count,” he said.  “The short-term delinquencies are back to normal, longer-term delinquencies still continue to go down.  The remaining problem is this backlog of foreclosures in certain states,” Brinkmann said.

One cause that has slowed the recovery is the ongoing difficulty lenders face completing the foreclosure process, particularly in states that involve the courts in the foreclosure process.  In the judicial states, 6.9 percent of loans are in foreclosure inventory, loans that the banks have started the legal process of foreclosing on but have not yet taken control of the property through a foreclosure sale.  In states where foreclosures are handled by trustees such as title companies, only 2.9 percent of loans are in foreclosure inventory.

The delinquency rate peaked at 10.1 percent in the 1st quarter of 2010 and was last lower in the 3rd quarter of 2008, when it was 6.99 percent.  The majority of troubled loans were originated between 2005 and 2007.  Tighter lending standards and deflated prices for borrowers who got mortgages after the housing market collapsed are the reason for better performance of loans issued since 2008.  Loans that are more than 90 days overdue — the point at which lenders usually begin the process of seizing a property – fell to 3.06 percent from 3.11 percent in the 1st quarter and 3.62 percent one year ago.  The share of homes that had received a foreclosure notice and hadn’t been seized by banks increased to 4.39 percent, an increase of one basis point, or 0.01 percentage point, from the previous quarter.

The bad news is that the percentage of loans in the foreclosure process rose slightly to 4.39 percent in the 1st quarter from 4.38 percent in the 4th quarter, reflecting slow judicial-foreclosure systems in states such as Florida, according to the MBA.  The rate was at 4.52 percent a year ago.

According to the MBA, foreclosure starts fell in 41 states.  The MBA survey covers 42.8 million loans on one- to four-unit residential properties, or approximately 88 percent of all first-lien residential mortgages in the country.

The average rate on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances declined to 3.96 percent from 4.01 percent, while rates on similar mortgages with jumbo loan balances fell to 4.2 percent from 4.29 percent.  The typical rate on FHA-backed 30-year fixed-rate mortgages slipped to 3.75 percent from 3.81 percent.

Despite the good national news, the MBA survey found that Illinois still has a high foreclosure rate.  Nearly 7.5 percent of all one-to-four-unit mortgage loans in Illinois were in foreclosure in the 1st quarter, compared with a national average of 4.39 percent.  “Illinois and New Jersey trail only Florida as being the worst in the country, and they’re getting worse,” Brinkmann said.  “The rate in Illinois is more than twice that of California.  In the judicial states the problem continues to get worse in terms of the backlog of loans in the foreclosure process.”

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