Late mortgage payments hit highest point since 2003

WASHINGTON - Late mortgage payments shot up to a 3 1⁄2-year high in the final quarter of last year and new foreclosures surged to record levels as borrowers with tarnished credit histories had trouble keeping up with monthly payments.

The Mortgage Bankers Association, in its quarterly snapshot of the mortgage market released Tuesday, reported the percentage of payments that were 30 or more days past due for all loans tracked jumped to 4.95 percent in the October-to-December quarter.

That marked a sharp rise from the third-quarter's delinquency rate of 4.67 percent and was the worst showing since the spring of 2003, when the late-payment rate climbed to 4.97 percent.

The association's survey covers 43.5 million loans.

The latest snapshot of the mortgage market stoked Wall Street investors' worries about troubles facing ''subprime'' lenders who make loans to people with poor credit.

- From wire reports