The fourth quarter report on mortgage delinquencies from the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) continues to show problem loans at historically low levels. MBA's National Delinquency Survey puts the seasonally adjusted delinquency rate at 3.77 percent of outstanding loans. This was a 20-basis point (bp) decline from the previous quarter and a 29 bps year-over-year improvement. Foreclosure starts were unchanged at a rate of 0.21 percent.

"The mortgage delinquency rate in the final three months of 2019 fell to its lowest level since the current survey series began in 1979," said Marina Walsh, MBA's Vice President of Industry Analysis. "Mortgage delinquencies track closely to the U.S. unemployment rate, and with unemployment at historic lows, it's no surprise to see so many households paying their mortgage on time."

Added Walsh, "Signs of healthy conditions were seen in other parts of the survey. The foreclosure inventory rate - the percentage of loans in the foreclosure process - was at its lowest level since 1985. Furthermore, states with lengthier judicial processes continued to chip away at their foreclosure inventories, and it also appears that with home-price appreciation and equity accumulation, distressed borrowers have had alternative options to foreclosure."

Improvements were present in all of the delinquency categories when compared to Quarter 3 and for most of the loan types. The 30-day delinquency rate was down 3 bps to 2.17 percent and the 60-day bucket was 5 bps lower at .70 percent. Serious delinquencies - those over 90 days past due - were down 12 points to 0.90 percent.

Delinquencies among conventional loans fell by 37 bps and by 7 bps for VA loans to rates of 2.82 percent and 3.64 percent respectively. The FHA rate, however, was 8.38 percent, a 16-bps increase for the quarter. Delinquencies moved lower for all loans types on an annual basis; 37 bps for conventional loans, 27 bps for FHA and 7 bps for VA loans.

The rates quoted include all loans that are at least 30 days past due but not those in the process of foreclosure, that is, the foreclosure inventory. There was an inventory rate of 0.78 percent in the fourth quarter, a 6-bps reduction from the prior quarter and 17 bps lower than the rate a year earlier. It was the smallest inventory since 1985.

The combined total of loans 90 days past due and those in foreclosure was represened 1.76 percent of outstanding loans, the lowest rate since the third quarter of 2000. Compared to a year ago, the seriously delinquent rate decreased 34 basis points for conventional loans, 29 basis points for FHA loans, and 4 basis points for VA loans.

The states with the largest decreases in their foreclosure inventory rate over the previous quarter include New York (27 bps); Maine (27 bps); Hawaii (17 bps); New Jersey (15 bps); New Mexico (14 bps); and Vermont (14 bps). All of these states except Hawaii are judicial foreclosure states. Hawaii has both judicial and non-judicial processes.