- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 4, 2009

CHICAGO (AP) — The number of people who were late making their mortgage payments shot up 53 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008 from the same period in 2007, according to data provided by TransUnion LLC.

The credit-reporting agency said its database shows delinquencies - or the percentage of mortgage holders at least 60 days behind on payments, considered a precursor to foreclosure - jumped to 4.58 percent nationally, from 2.99 percent for the 2007 fourth quarter.

That was 16 percent above the 3.96 percent rate seen in the third quarter, TransUnion said, and marked the eighth straight quarter that delinquency rates rose.

“It’s about what we were expecting,” said Keith Carson, senior consultant in TransUnion’s financial-services group. But while not unexpected, the huge jump from last year was still “alarming,” he said.

The states that have shown the highest delinquency and foreclosure rates remain the same. Florida is on top, with a 9.52 percent rate for the fourth quarter; while Nevada is second with 9.01 percent. Arizona came in at 6.93 percent, with California right behind at 6.88 percent. North Dakota, at 1.21 percent, remains the state with the lowest delinquency rate.

In an effort to stem the foreclosure tide, Citigroup Inc. said Tuesday that it will lower mortgage payments for some homeowners to an average of $500 a month for three months as part of a new program to help the unemployed.

The struggling bank makes the move as President Obama looks to lenders to adjust the way loans are handled.

Citigroup’s new mortgage efforts also come on the heels of the latest attempt to bail out the company, which includes the U.S. government’s exchange of up to $25 billion in emergency bailout money given to Citigroup for as much as a 36 percent equity stake in the company. The deal between the Treasury Department and Citigroup represents the third rescue attempt for the bank in the past five months.

Unemployed homeowners who may qualify for assistance from Citigroup under the Homeowner Unemployment Assist program include those who are 60 days or more past due on their mortgages or in foreclosure and can pay the reduced amount. Customers must also have a first mortgage loan that is owned and serviced by CitiMortgage Inc. and conforms to government-sponsored enterprise limits. The house must also be the customer’s primary residence, with homeowners meeting all insurer and guaranty requirements.

Meanwhile, the number of homebuyers who agreed to purchase an existing home sank to a new low in January as economic woes turned them away from the staggering housing market, the National Association of Realtors said Tuesday.

The group’s seasonally adjusted index of pending sales contracts fell 7.7 percent to 80.4 in January from a downwardly revised December reading of 87.1.

January’s reading was far worse than the 85.1 economists expected, according to Thomson Reuters, and came in below the previous record low of 83.1 in November.

Pending sales were down in every region but the West, where soaring foreclosures have made prices especially attractive for buyers. The index there was up more than 2 percent from December.

Pending sales in the Northeast, however, were down about 13 percent, while they fell 12 percent in the South and 9 percent in the Midwest.


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