WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of Americans at risk of foreclosure is declining, as more homeowners climb out of debt and find steady work.
The Mortgage Bankers Association said Thursday that 7.58 percent of homeowners missed at least one mortgage payment in the October-December quarter. In a normal market, the percentage of delinquent borrowers is about 1.1 percent, according to the trade group.
Delinquent mortgages have come down from a record high of more than 10 percent of residential mortgages in 2010. Still, part of the reason for the decline is a delay in foreclosure filings, especially in backlogged state courts in Florida, New Jersey, Illinois and New York.
The end of a 16-month state and federal investigation info faulty foreclosure paperwork this month will likely increase foreclosures this year.
Jay Brinkman, the mortgage bankers' chief economist, said "employment is the key driver of mortgage performance" and noted that the number of delinquent mortgage payments is falling faster than the nation's unemployment rate. Higher unemployment typically leads to more missed payments and a greater number of foreclosures over time.
The unemployment rate has fallen for five straight months to 8.3 percent in January, the lowest in three years. Companies added 243,000 net jobs last month, the most in nine months.
The quarterly survey covers nearly 88 percent of primary residential mortgages, or nearly 44 million loans.