3rd-qtr mortgage delinquency jumps in Northeast

By Eileen Aj Connelly
AP Business Writer / November 22, 2010

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NEW YORK—Late mortgage payments jumped sharply in several Northeastern states during the third quarter, while the national delinquency rate rose at a far slower pace.

The rate of borrowers who were 60 days or more past due on their home loans jumped sharply in New York, New Jersey, Maine, Connecticut and Delaware for the three months ended Sept. 30 compared with the year-ago period, according to TransUnion.

Pennsylvania, Vermont, Rhode Island, Maryland and New Hampshire also saw higher delinquency in the quarter, but the increases were not as substantial.

"The whole Northeast is experiencing a little bit of an increase," said FJ Guarrera, vice president in TransUnion's financial services business unit. Because the spikes were only seen for one quarter, it's too early to tell if they represent a new trend.

Guarrera noted the region has been somewhat insulated from the severe foreclosure problems seen in other states. Home values have not fallen as sharply either, he noted. The jumps could be lagging effects from the overall economic downturn, but more data is needed before an conclusions can be made.

"We'll keep an eye on the Northeast, but there's no evidence yet that there's a problem brewing," he said.

TransUnion said the national delinquency rate rose to 6.44 percent of mortgage holders, from 6.25 percent in the 2009 third quarter.

While up year-over-year, the national rate showed a marked decrease from the second quarter, when it was 6.67 percent. TransUnion predicts it will fall to 6.21 percent by the end of the year.

While that's a significant improvement from the 7.89 percent record reached in the fourth quarter of 2009, it's still well above the historical delinquency average between 1.5 and 2 percent. The No. 1 factor in the decreased national rate is foreclosures that are completed, Guarrera said, followed by successful loan modifications and other workout programs that have helped homeowners bring their payments current.

There is also evidence that consumers have become more fiscally responsible, he said, and have better control over their use of credit than before the downturn.

TransUnion tracks mortgages that are two months past due as an indicator of potential foreclosure, because of the difficulty involved in coming up with three payments to bring an account current. The data is culled from the company's database of 27 million consumer records.

Overall, 16 states saw a year-over-year delinquency rate decrease, with notable drops in California and Arizona, two of the states hit hardest by the plunge in housing prices and foreclosures.

California in particular saw a "drastic improvement," Guarrera said. The delinquency rate in the Golden State fell to 9.64 percent from 10.18 percent last year.

Guarrera said a property market recovery and the fact that many foreclosures have worked through the process are helping reduce California's problem mortgages. By the end of the year, TransUnion is predicting the delinquency rate in the nation's most populous state could drop to 9.5 percent -- and by the end of 2011 it could be down to 7.28 percent.

Arizona saw its rate drop to 9.96 percent from 10.37 percent.

Nevada, another of the states where the foreclosure crisis has been most severe, saw its rate rise to 15.12 percent from 14.53 percent. And Florida's rate rose to 14.63 percent from 13.34 percent.

Guarrera said the rates in those states are likely to remain in double digits through the end of 2011. "These are still areas of concern," he said. "Speculation, overbuilding and a decrease in demand has impacted these states in particular and they'll take longer to improve."

The lowest delinquency rates in the nation continued to be in North Dakota, at 1.52 percent, and South Dakota, at 2.24 percent.

The average national mortgage debt per borrower again decreased in the quarter, to $190,176 from $193,121 last year. The highest average mortgage debt per borrower continued to be the District of Columbia at $368,255, followed by California at $342,695 and Hawaii at $309,536. The lowest average mortgage debt per borrower remained in West Virginia at $100,263.