May 16, 2012 at 10:25 AM ET
The delinquency rate on U.S. home mortgages fell in the first quarter to the lowest level since 2008, though the share of homes in the foreclosure process inched higher, an industry group said on Wednesday.
The seasonally adjusted delinquency rate on all loans fell to 7.40 percent from 7.58 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011, and down from 8.32 percent a year ago, according to a report from the Mortgage Bankers Association.
It was the lowest level since the third quarter of 2008, matching the record set in the fourth quarter of last year.
"The delinquency picture is getting better. It's been getting better for some time and this is another important step in that," said Jay Brinkmann, MBA's chief economist.
The delinquency rate includes mortgages that are at least one payment behind but does not include loans in the foreclosure process.
That rate peaked at 10.1 percent in the first quarter of 2010 in the wake of the housing market collapse.
The number of loans that were one payment past due fell to 3.13 percent from 3.22 percent, bringing it in line with the long-term average of 3.1 percent, said Brinkmann.
The percentage of homes that were 90 days late or more or in the foreclosure process - considered in serious delinquency - eased to 7.44 percent from 7.73 percent in the fourth quarter, and down from 8.10 a year earlier.
But the number of loans in the foreclosure process edged up slightly to 4.39 percent from 4.38 percent in the previous quarter, though it was down from 4.52 in the first quarter of last year.
The inventory figures are not seasonally adjusted.
As well, fewer homes saw foreclosure actions initiated in the first months of the year. Seasonally adjusted foreclosure starts fell to 0.93 percent of loans from 1.04 in the fourth quarter and 1.03 a year ago.
Reuters contributed to this report.