WASHINGTON — Fueled by major improvements in California and Arizona, the percentage of homeowners nationwide who were behind on their mortgage payments dropped significantly in the third quarter from the same period last year, according to credit reporting company TransUnion.
The national mortgage delinquency rate — the percentage of borrowers 60 days or more late on their payments — fell to 5.41% in the three months ended in September from 5.88%, TransUnion said Tuesday.
The rate last quarter was the lowest since the first quarter of 2009, when it was 5.22%.
Mortgage delinquencies also were down slightly from the previous quarter's rate of 5.49%, marking the third straight quarterly decline. The report was another signal of a housing market recovery.
"Continued declines in mortgage delinquency rates are a welcome sign and reflect that relatively more homeowners are able and willing to make their mortgage payments each month," said Tim Martin, group vice president of U.S. housing in the company's financial services business unit.
But he said there was still "a long way to go" to get back to a more normal delinquency rate of 1% to 2%.
California and Arizona, two of the states hardest hit by the collapse of the housing bubble, showed the best year-over-year improvement. Arizona's delinquency rate fell nearly 25% to 5.62% from last year's third-quarter rate of 7.46%. California's rate dropped almost 24% to 5.56% from 7.29%.
Overall, 42 states showed a drop in delinquency rates. Just two states continue to have double-digit delinquency rates: Florida at 13.09% and Nevada at 10.93%. But both improved from a year earlier.
TransUnion said it expects delinquency rates to improve again in the fourth quarter because of the turnaround in the housing market.
"It's generally tough to expect improvement in delinquency rates in the fourth quarter of the year given the extra demands on household income that many experience during the holiday season," Martin said.
"However, we saw some improvement in the housing market in the third quarter with regard to house prices, home sales and increased refinance activity," he said, "and we believe we will start to see these numbers reflected in improved mortgage delinquency next quarter."