Last year, 1.7 million homeowners who had been underwater on their mortgage were moved into positive equity, according CoreLogic. That left another 10.4 million, or nearly 22 percent of all homes with a mortgage, still in negative equity at the end of last year.
Steady job growth also has helped.
Employers have now added an average of 208,000 jobs per month from November through April. That's much higher than the average of 138,000 in the previous six months. And the national unemployment rate, while still elevated, fell last month to 7.5 percent from 7.6 percent in March.
Every state and the District of Columbia posted an annual decline in the late-payment rate of home loans in the first quarter, with Arizona leading the way. The state's mortgage delinquency rate was 4.3 percent, down nearly 38 percent from a year earlier, TransUnion said.
California, with a rate of 4.2 percent, and Colorado (2.7 percent) also had steep annual declines in the rate of late payments.
Florida, a foreclosure hotbed throughout the housing downturn, clocked in with the highest mortgage delinquency rate in the nation for the January-March quarter at 11 percent â¿¿ but that's down nearly 21 percent from the same period last year, the firm noted.
Nevada (9.1 percent), New Jersey (6.9 percent) and Delaware (6.3 percent) rounded out the top four states with the highest late-payment rate.
Meanwhile, mortgage debt per borrower dipped about 1.2 percent to $186,018 in the first quarter from a year earlier, and was essentially flat with the previous quarter, the firm said.
TransUnion, which draws its data from a sample of 27 million consumer records, anticipates the national mortgage delinquency rate will continue to decline in the current quarter to about 4.5 percent.
"There is no reason to believe the decline in mortgage delinquencies will not continue," Martin said. "We do not know if the first quarter was a blip, or if it's the beginning of a more rapid decline."