More people were late with their home-loan payments in the last three months of 2011, the second quarter in a row that defaults increased.
Credit data giant TransUnion said serious mortgage delinquencies, loans on which borrowers were at least 60 days behind on payments, rose to 6.01% in the fourth quarter from 5.88% in the previous quarter.
The increases in those two quarters followed nearly two years of decline.
"To see that, quarter over quarter, fewer homeowners were able to make their mortgage payments is not welcome news," said Tim Martin, group vice president of U.S. housing in TransUnion's financial services business unit.
Martin said seasonal factors were partly responsible for the increase “perhaps explained by borrowers balancing holiday spending versus debt payments.” In addition, falling housing prices exacerbated negative equity, where homeowners owe more than their houses are worth, while high unemployment and reduced income “can affect borrowers’ ability and willingness to pay their mortgages,” he said.
Delinquencies were down compared with the fourth quarter of 2010, when the rate was 6.41%.
“While it is certainly good to see the rate dropping, at this pace it will take a very long time for mortgage delinquencies to get back to normal," Martin said.
California’s delinquency rate was 7.14%, ranking fifth among states after Florida (14.27%), Nevada (12.08%), New Jersey (8.32%) and Arizona (7.5%).
TransUnion said mortgage delinquencies probably will increase for the next quarter or two “as some consumers are not able to, or decide not to, repay their mortgage debt obligations in light of the uncertain economic outlook.”