NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Fewer mortgage borrowers are delinquent on their loan payments, according to the latest data from the Mortgage Bankers Association.
The nation's overall delinquency rate dropped to 9.85% in the second quarter, down from 10.06% of all loans outstanding three months earlier.
Even better, the percentage of seriously delinquent loans -- ones 90+ days late or already repossessed by lenders -- dropped to 9.11% from 9.54% in the first quarter.
The drop in loans 90 days or more late was the biggest the MBA has ever recorded, according to the MBA's chief economist, Jay Brinkmann. "That shows we're making headway," he said.
He cited three reasons for the improvement:
However, even with those bright spots, there was one troubling finding: First-time delinquencies increased after four quarters of decline. It inched up to 3.51% in the second quarter from 3.45% in the first quarter. According to Brinkmann, the reversal reflects the weakness in both the housing market and the overall economy.
"It's a question of jobs," he said. "It takes a paycheck to make a mortgage payment."
Underscoring the trend is the foreclosure trend among borrowers with conventional loans, like 30-year, fixed rate mortgages. They accounted for nearly 36% of foreclosure starts during the quarter. And these safe loans rarely get into trouble unless they lose employment or income.
The four worst hit states -- California, Florida, Arizona and Nevada -- still account for nearly 60% of national delinquencies, but California's numbers dropped dramatically this year. At the end of 2009, California foreclosure starts made up nearly 20% of the nation's total. That dropped to 14.7% during the second quarter.
Another positive trend is the gradual downturn in the number of borrowers who are underwater on their mortgages, owing more than their homes are worth.
CoreLogic reported today that the rate of borrowers underwater dropped to 23% in the second quarter from 24% in the first.
When borrowers fall underwater, it increases the chance that they'll lose the homes. Brinkmann calls it one of the two "triggers" that lead to foreclosure.
If homeowners have positive equity, they can use it as a source of cash to pay bills, including mortgages. But if their cash reserves are gone and they can't afford to make payments because their income has dropped, foreclosure is almost inevitable.
CoreLogic found that negative equity is worst in five states: Nevada (68%), Arizona (50%), Florida (46%), Michigan (38%) and California (33%).
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|Overnight Avg Rate||Latest||Change||Last Week|
|30 yr fixed||3.80%||3.88%|
|15 yr fixed||3.20%||3.23%|
|30 yr refi||3.82%||3.93%|
|15 yr refi||3.20%||3.23%|
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