Mortgage Delinquencies Falling

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Consumers are keeping up with their mortgages and paying them on time as the mortgage delinquency rate declined for the ninth consecutive quarter to 3.61% at the end of the first quarter, according to TransUnion's latest mortgage report.

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The mortgage delinquency rate, which is calculated by the rate of borrowers who are 60 days or more delinquent on their mortgages, has declined more than 24% in the last year, and it is now at the same level in the second quarter of 2008.

"It's encouraging to see mortgage delinquencies drop once again, especially during a period when mortgage originations slowed considerably," said Steve Chaouki, head of financial services for TransUnion, the Chicago-based credit and information management company. "This trend in improved performance is driven in part by lenders working their way through the foreclosure backlog, along with continued conservatism in underwriting new mortgages."

This trend is occurring in all 50 states and the District of Columbia between the first quarter of 2013 and the first quarter of 2014. The largest declines continued to occur in states that were impacted the most impacted by the mortgage crisis. In Arizona, the delinquency rate fell by 37.8%, while California also experienced a steep decline of 36.9% and Nevada's rate declined by 34.0%.

Arizona's delinquency rate in the fourth quarter was 2.81%, and California followed suit with 2.80%. Both states had delinquency rates nearly double the national average just five years ago and now are reporting rates significantly lower than the rest of the country.

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TransUnion is forecasting that the downward consumer delinquency trend will continue into the second quarter of 2014, with mortgage delinquencies falling to approximately 3.40% by the end of June.

TransUnion's forecast is based on various economic assumptions, such as gross state product, consumer sentiment, unemployment rates, real personal income and real estate values. The forecast would change if there are unanticipated shocks to the economy affecting recovery in the housing market or if home prices begin to depreciate once again.

The decline in mortgage delinquency rates is a sign that the economy is improving and home values stabilizing, said Mike Kinane, senior vice president of retail lending product management at TD Bank, the Cherry Hill, N.J. financial institution.

"Since the beginning of the housing crisis, many of the mortgages that have gone past due have been stuck in the delinquency phase due to the length of time it takes to go through the foreclosure process," he said. "It's important to note that TD has not experienced the same delinquency issues that other lenders have faced. Due to our historically strong credit guidelines and our avoidance of exotic mortgage products and sub-prime lending, we did not experience a significant increase in delinquencies when the economic downturn occurred.

TransUnion recorded 53.47 million mortgage accounts as of the first quarter, an increase from 53.06 million in the first quarter of 2013. However, there are more than 9.91 million fewer accounts as compared to the same period in 2008.

The number of new mortgages has declined to 1.39 million in the fourth quarter of 2013 compared to 2.33 million in the fourth quarter of 2012.

Consumer who are considered non-prime borrower or those with a VantageScore 2.0 credit score lower than 700 reported an increase in their share of originations, rising from 4.98% in the fourth quarter of 2012 to 7.21% in the fourth quarter of 2013. The decrease could be occurring because of a decline in mortgages being refinanced, TransUnion said. Even with the increase, the percentage of non-prime account originations remains well below the 15.97% in the fourth quarter of 2007.

"While still far from levels seen six years ago, non-prime borrowers are taking a larger share of new originations," said Chaouki. "We have not seen this in quite some time. Mortgage underwriting remains conservative relative to the other primary credit products in the marketplace. We expect mortgage originations will once again pick up steam. With continued tight lending standards, this should only help further bring down the mortgage delinquency rate."

The 30-year fixed rate mortgage is now averaging 4.21% as of May 8, compared to 3.42% in 2013, according to Freddie Mac. The current rate is the lowest since the week of November 7, 2013.

The Federal Reserve has kept interest rates low in an attempt to boost the economy and housing market. The number of consumers owning homes has fallen to a 19-year low at 64.8% in the first quarter as more people are opting to rent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

--Written by Ellen Chang for MainStreet

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