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Quarter is the worst for homeowners since ’79

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Nearly one in 10 American homeowners faced foreclosure or fell behind in their mortgage payments in the first three months of the year, a figure that offers a look into the toll caused by the collapse of the housing market.

The period from January to March marked the worst quarter for American homeowners in nearly 30 years, according to a widely watched report released Thursday by the Mortgage Bankers Association, a trade group.

Both the rate of new foreclosures and late payments surged to the highest levels since 1979. The delinquency rate includes Americans who are more than a month past due on their home loans.

Utah ranked 41st in the nation for delinquencies and 45th in foreclosure inventory. Among mortgage holders in Utah, 23 percent are nonprime borrowers with FHA and subprime loans, compared to the national average of 19 percent.

The delinquency rate for mortgage loans on residential properties in Utah was 3.81 percent at the end of the first quarter of 2008, a decrease of 34 basis points, according to the association. The delinquency rate excludes loans in the process of foreclosure.

The percentage of loans on which foreclosure was started during the quarter rose 9 basis points to 0.55 percent, while the percentage of loans in the foreclosure process at the end of the quarter rose 22 basis points to 1.02 percent, compared with the national rate of 2.47 percent.

A breakdown of the national statistics shows problems at nearly every level of the mortgage industry.

Of the 45 million home loans included in the survey, 6.35 percent were at least one payment past due, up from 5.82 percent for the fourth quarter of 2007. All figures are seasonally adjusted.

Foreclosure proceedings began on 0.99 percent of loans, up from 0.83 percent in the previous quarter.

Overall, the percentage of loans being foreclosed on reached 2.47 percent in the first quarter, rising from 2.04 percent at the end of December 2007.

The drop in home prices, which has affected a broad swath of the nation's housing market, has left many homeowners paying mortgages worth more than their own homes. The housing slump is the worst of its kind since the recession of the early 1990s.

The mortgage problems were worst for homeowners who took out subprime loans, which are usually issued to applicants with less-than-pristine credit histories. But even borrowers with solid credit records have not been immune.

"While the foreclosure start rates were up for all types of mortgages, a reflection of the decline in home prices, the magnitude (of the national increases) is clearly driven by certain loan types and certain states," said Jay Brinkmann, the group's vice president for research and economics

For example, he said, subprime adjustable rate mortgages represent 6 percent of the loans outstanding, but 39 percent of the foreclosures in the quarter. Prime adjusted loans represented 15 percent of the loans, but 23 percent of the foreclosures started.

"Out of the approximately 516,000 foreclosures started during the first quarter," Brinkmann said, "subprime ARM loans accounted for about 195,000 and prime ARM loans 117,000."

Four states — Arizona, California, Florida and Nevada — accounted for about 89 percent of the foreclosures, a disproportionately high amount of the newly reported figures. Those states have suffered the sharpest price drops.

"The problems in California and Florida are extraordinary, and they are the main drivers of the national trend," Brinkmann said.

E-mail: jlee@desnews.com