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In the past year, the national foreclosure rate declined each month by at least 20% from where it had been the year before, according to the CoreLogic Market National Foreclosure Report from December. Additionally, the 12-month sum of completed foreclosures hit its lowest level since 2007.

The progress is encouraging — about 837,000 homes in the U.S. were in a stage of foreclosure in December 2013, down from almost 1.2 million the previous December — but that’s still a lot of homeowners out there struggling to pay for their homes.

CoreLogic’s report puts the serious delinquency rate among U.S. mortgages at 5% in December, its lowest level since November 2008. Looking at quarterly data from Experian-Oliver Wyman Market Intelligence Reports and Experian’s IntelliView tool, it’s evident a smaller share of mortgages are delinquent. In the final quarter of 2013, the percent of mortgages that were more than 90 days past due dropped from the previous year’s and quarter’s levels, the intelligence reports said. The delinquency rate declined to 2.52%, down from 2.74% in the fourth quarter of 2012 and 3.26% at the same time in 2011.

Looking Ahead

Experts have said they expect the improvements to continue.

“Clearly, 2013 was a transitional year for residential property in the United States. Higher home prices and lower shadow inventory levels, together with a slowly improving economy, are hopeful signals that we are turning a long-awaited corner,” said Anand Nallathambi, president and CEO of CoreLogic, in the foreclosure report. “The housing market should continue to heal in 2014, but we expect progress to remain very slow.”

Mortgage originations had been increasing year over year since the first quarter of 2012, but that momentum faltered in the third quarter of 2013, when new loans declined by about 110,000 from the previous year, according to Experian. Fourth-quarter data isn’t yet available.

In recent months, potential homebuyers have seen property values and interest rates move up, and new qualified mortgage rules changed the lending landscape at the start of the year. In light of such changes, consumers searching for home loans should focus on presenting lenders with strong credit histories and well-documented finances to make sure they’re applying for affordable mortgages. It’s helpful to go into the process with a solid understanding of your credit profile — checking your credit reports and credit scores, using a tool like the free Credit Report Card, are simple ways to stay on top of it — so you can advocate for yourself as an informed consumer.

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