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Mortgage Is a Priority, Foreclosure Is a Reality

The vast majority of Americans don't think it's OK to walk away from an underwater mortgage, but foreclosure rates continue to rise anyway.

SILVER SPRING, Md. (TheStreet) -- Among the lousy home-foreclosure reports comes encouraging news from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling: Most Americans at least think that foreclosing on their homes is a bad idea.

The NFCC's Financial Literacy Survey found that only 23% of respondents consider it justifiable to default on a mortgage even if the property value is now lower than the amount of money owed on the mortgage. When asked if they would be more likely to keep their mortgage or their credit cards current, 91% said they would pay their mortgage first.

Americans continue to prioritize their obligation to service their mortgage loan, and this is indeed good news for homeowners, mortgage lenders and the housing market overall," NFCC spokeswoman Gail Cunningham said in a statement.

But the reality seems less rosy. The delinquency rate for mortgage loans on one- to four-unit residential properties increased to a seasonally adjusted rate of 10.1% of all outstanding home loans at the end of the first quarter, an increase of 59 basis points from the fourth quarter, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. The percentage of loans on which foreclosure processes started in the first quarter was 1.23%, up three basis points from the previous quarter. The total percentage of loans in foreclosure at the end of the first quarter was a record 4.63%.

The serious delinquency rate, including both foreclosures and loans more than 90 days past due, was 9.54% at the end of March, a slight decrease from the previous quarter but an increase of 2.3% over the first quarter of 2009.

-- Reported by Carmen Nobel in Boston.


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