NEW YORK (Reuters) - The delinquency rate on U.S. home mortgages fell in the first quarter to the lowest 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 was down from 8.32 percent a year earlier, 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.
“We’re working through this,” said Jay Brinkmann, MBA’s chief economist.
“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 during a conference call.
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 was down from 8.10 percent 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 percent in the first quarter of last year.
The inventory figures are not seasonally adjusted.
Underneath the national numbers, differences in the way states handle foreclosures show a sharp divide in how big the foreclosure backlog is, MBA said.
In states that process foreclosures through the court system - known as judicial states - 6.9 percent of loans are in foreclosure, a high for the report.
In non-judicial states, only 2.8 percent of loans are in foreclosure.
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 percent in the fourth quarter and 1.03 percent a year ago.
Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by James Dalgleish