WASHINGTON — The percentage of homeowners paying their mortgage late dropped in the first quarter, but the share of mortgages in foreclosure rose, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported in its National Delinquency Survey.

In the latest survey, published quarterly, the delinquency rate for loans on one- to four-unit residential properties fell 13 basis points, to 4.37%. The number of foreclosures initiated increased 1 basis point, to 0.31%, and that of foreclosures in process at the end of the quarter rose 5 basis points, to 0.90%.

The decline in delinquencies was the first in four quarters, the trade group said. After reaching a low of 3.74% in the first quarter of last year, delinquency rates increased steadily, to a high of 4.50% in the fourth quarter.

“In the first quarter we see some leveling off of delinquencies as energy prices have subsided and low interest rates have sparked a mortgage origination and refinance wave,” said Douglas G. Duncan, chief economist at the MBA, in a release. “The spike in delinquencies came in the fourth quarter of 2000, when rising energy prices cut into homeowners’ disposable income and ability to pay.”

Delinquency rates decreased for each of the three loan types during the first quarter of this year: for conventional loans down 7 basis points, to 2.77%; for FHA loans down 17 basis points, to 9.99%; and for VA loans down 25 basis points, to 7.23%.

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