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A slightly smaller percentage of New Yorkers were late on their mortgages in the last three months of 2010, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported today.

The delinquency rate, which does not cover loans in the foreclosure process, was almost 8.7 percent, down from 9 percent in the third quarter of last year and from 9.5 percent in the same period a year earlier, data show.

Nationwide, the delinquency rate of 8.2 percent was a drop from 9.1 percent in the preceding quarter and 9.5 percent a year earlier.

But it was a different story for loans already in the foreclosure process, which usually starts once the borrowers are 90 days late.

In New York, 5.2 percent of mortgages were in the foreclosure process during the fourth quarter, up from 4.7 percent in the preceding quarter and 4.2 percent a year earlier, according to figures.

Nationwide, it was 4.63 percent, up from 4.4 percent in the preceding three months and from 4.58 percent, the group said.

Mike Fratantoni, the trade group’s vice president for single-family research, blamed the increase on last fall’s robo-signing scandal, in which employees of three major lenders said they signed thousands of foreclosure-related documents monthly without confirming their accuracy. That pushed the three lenders to temporarily halt foreclosure auctions and others to double-check their foreclosure practices.

“These issues caused a temporary halt in foreclosure sales, particularly in states with judicial foreclosure regimes, such as New Jersey, Florida and Illinois,” Fratantoni said. “With fewer loans exiting the foreclosure process through sales, the foreclosure inventory rate naturally increased.”

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