Late payments on mortgages climbed only slightly in the third quarter to 4.26% of all loans, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association's quarterly survey.

The seasonally adjusted percentage released Tuesday was up 2 basis points from the previous quarter and 8 basis points from a year earlier. Delinquencies have ranged between 4.24% and 4.35% of loans over the past four quarters.

Mortgage delinquencies are "going up and down, but within a reasonable range," said chief economist David Lereah.

The stability reflects the healthy economy, Mr. Lereah said. "Jobs are very secure, consumer confidence is high, and interest rates are cyclically low," he said.

Economists said the numbers provided some reassurance about consumer debt levels. "Perhaps the consumer's financial situation is not as precarious as one would say based on the credit card delinquency rate," said Sung Won Sohn, chief economist at Norwest Corp., Minneapolis. For some time now, Mr. Sohn said, experts have been waiting for the credit card sector's high delinquencies to spread to auto and home loans, but it hasn't happened.

Still, mortgage credit is hardly unblemished. Foreclosures on home loans are at a 10-year high, according to the MBA, in part because lenders are beginning to foreclose on seriously troubled loans more quickly.

At the same time, the number of loans that are 90 days or more overdue has been shrinking, Mr. Lereah said.

That suggests the delinquency rate would be higher if lenders hadn't changed their foreclosure practices, he said.

The percentage of loans on which foreclosure proceedings were started in the third quarter rose 1 basis point from the second quarter to 0.35% of all loans, according to the survey. At the end of the quarter, 1.09% of loans were in foreclosure, up 1 basis point.

The delinquency rate rose for all loan types. The survey found that 2.78% of conventional loans were delinquent, up 2 basis points from the second quarter; 6.88% of VA loans were delinquent, up 1 basis point; and 8.13% of FHA loans were delinquent, up 19 basis points from the second quarter.

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