The delinquency rate for mortgages on residential properties of four units or less declined 18 basis points from the fourth quarter to 7.4% in the first quarter, the Mortgage Bankers Association said in its national delinquency survey.  

That rate is down 92 basis points from year-ago levels.  

"Mortgage delinquencies normally fall during the first quarter of the year, but the declines we saw were even greater than the normal seasonal adjustments would predict, so delinquencies are clearly continuing to improve," said Michael Fratantoni, vice president of research and economics for the MBA. 

"Newer delinquencies, loans one payment past due as of March 31, are down to the lowest level since the middle of 2007, indicating fewer new problems we will need to deal with in the future," he added.

The percent of loans tied to a foreclosure action launched in the fourth quarter hit 0.96% in the most recent quarter, which is down 3 basis points from the previous quarter and 12 basis points from a year earlier.

By the end of the first quarter, the percentage of loans in the foreclosure process stood at 4.39%, up 1 basis point from the fourth quarter and down 13 basis points from 1Q of 2011.

The serious delinquency rate, or the percentage of loans 90 or more days past due or in foreclosure, hit 7.44% in the first quarter, down 29 basis points from the fourth quarter and 66 basis points from the first quarter of 2011.

The only states to experience increases in their serious delinquency rate were Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and Washington.