Rising joblessness pushes home foreclosure rate higher

Though the U.S. economy appears on the mend, the nation's increasing jobless rate is pushing mortgage delinquency rates ever higher, leading to a greater number of bankruptcies and foreclosures, newly compiled credit bureau data showed Monday.

As of last month, 7.58 percent of U.S. homeowners were at least 30 days late on their mortgages, up from 7.32 percent in July, according to data supplied to the Reuters news agency by Equifax (EFX). August marked the fourth straight month of rising delinquencies, which are gaining at an increasing pace, the data showed.
In August 2008, delinquency rates for homeowners at least 30 days past due on their mortgages stood at 4.89 percent. In 2007, the rate was 3.44 percent, Reuters reported.

When taken together with reports of increasing bankruptcy filings, the mortgage data are evidence that U.S. consumers are finding it ever more difficult to keep their finances above water, even as the recession appears to be subsiding. The Equifax data showed bankruptcy rates rose sharply, up 32 percent last month from a year ago. That increase followed a 35 percent increase year-over-year in July.

While more Americans are struggling to keep up with mortgage payments, other bills are getting paid, the data showed. The number of accounts 60 days or more past due fell in August for the third straight month, an outcome that also reflects cautiousness among credit card issuers, Reuters reported. The number of cards has been cut 19 percent in the last year to 82 million, and card companies have also reined in credit limits.

In addition, the card companies are increasingly targeting consumers with high credit scores, above 760 by Equifax's measure, accounting for two in five new cards issued this year. A similar trend existed among auto loans, Reuters reported, citing the Equifax data.

The figures also showed that consumer debt fell $3 billion, or nearly 3 percent, since its peak in September 2008, and the savings rate is near 5 percent, a level not seen in years.

"The data from August further confirms that we're witnessing a dramatic change in consumer habits," Dann Adams, president of Equifax's Consumer Information Solutions group, told Reuters.
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