About one in seven U.S. households with mortgages are behind on their payments or in foreclosure, according to new data from the Mortgage Bankers Association. That's up from about one in 10 a year ago.

The trade group reported Thursday that 14.4% of first-lien mortgages on one- to four-family homes in the third quarter were 30 days or more overdue or in the foreclosure process. That is the highest since the MBA began reporting such data in 1972 and works out to about 7.5 million households at risk of losing their homes. The percentage is up from 10% a year earlier and 7.3% two years ago.

Loan defaults have been rising swiftly for more than three years. At first, the problem largely reflected loose lending practices during the housing boom that allowed millions of people to buy homes they couldn't afford. Now the problem is compounded by rising unemployment, which hit 10.2% in October, the highest since 1982.

Unemployment may start gradually declining in next year's first half, said Jay Brinkmann, the MBA's chief economist. If so, he said, the percentage of loans that are delinquent could start to decline by mid-2010. But he said the number of loans in foreclosure is likely to remain elevated longer as banks struggle to figure out which borrowers might be able to stay in their homes if payments are lowered.

Largely because of efforts to sort through mounds of paper work and figure out which borrowers qualify for lower payments, there has been a jump in the number of people far behind on payments but not yet in foreclosure. About 4.4% of the loans were 90 days or more past due but not in foreclosure in the latest quarter, up from 2.2% a year earlier.

The states with an above-average rate of such "seriously delinquent" loans are Nevada (7.8%), Florida (6.1%), Arizona (6%), Michigan (5.9%), California (5.9%), Mississippi (5.5%), Georgia (5.1%), Indiana (5.1%), Illinois (4.8%) and Rhode Island (4.5%).

The states with the highest share of home loans in foreclosure are Florida (12.7%), Nevada (9.4%), Arizona (6.2%), California (5.8%), New Jersey (5.5%), Illinois (5.3%) and Ohio (4.6%). North Dakota had the lowest rate at 1.1%.

About 7.8% of prime fixed-rate loans were overdue or in foreclosure in the latest quarter. For prime adjustable-rate loans--including "pay-option" loans that let borrowers start out with very low payments and face much higher ones later--the rate was 23%. The rate was 53% for subprime adjustable-rate loans and 18% for loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration.

Separately, First American CoreLogic, a research firm, said its national home price index in September was down 9.8% from a year earlier. The index nearly doubled between January 2000 and April 2006 and has since dropped about 30%.

MDA DataQuick, another research firm, reported that the median price for homes and condominiums sold in the nine-county San Francisco bay area in October was $390,000, up 4% from a year earlier. The firm said the price trend improved partly because of fewer foreclosure-related sales and a greater share of transactions in the $500,000-plus category. The October median was still 41% below a peak of $665,000 in mid-2007.

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