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Foreclosures hit all-time high nationally; weekend workshops coming locally

Home foreclosures soared to an all-time high in the final quarter of last year, underscoring the suffering of distressed homeowners and the growing danger the housing meltdown poses for the economy.

The Mortgage Bankers Association, in a quarterly snapshot of the mortgage market released today, said the proportion of all mortgages nationwide that fell into foreclosure shot up to a record high 0.83 percent in the October-to-December quarter. That surpassed the previous high of 0.78 percent in the prior quarter.

"Clearly it's the worst it's been," chief association economist Doug Duncan said .

Merced, Stanislaus, and San Joaquin counties have the highest foreclosure rates in the nation. Close to 1,900 houses foreclosed in the three counties during January.

Local homeowners having trouble paying mortgages will have the chance to meet face-to-face with lenders Friday and Saturday during foreclosure prevention events in Stockton and Modesto.

Federal, state and local government agencies are partnering with lenders, private businesses and non-profit counseling services to sponsor the events. Free counseling will be offered, and homeowners will have the chance to negotiate with their lenders to discuss ways to avoid foreclosure.

The sessions are free and open to homeowners from throughout the Northern San Joaquin Valley. Reservations are not needed.

Friday's Hope Now Homeownership Preservation Forum will be 2-to-8 p.m. at the San Joaquin Fairgrounds, Building 5 and Building 2, 1658 South Airport Way, Stockton.

Saturday's No Homeowner Left Behind-Stanislaus foreclosure prevention event will be 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Stanislaus County Agricultural Center, Harvest Hall, 3800 Cornucopia Way, Modesto.

To prepare in advance for negotiations with lenders at Saturday's event, homeowners are encouraged to download and fill out the registration and family budget forms posted at Another Modesto foreclosure prevention event is scheduled March 29, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Modesto Centre Plaza, 1000 K St.

Nationally, the delinquency rate for all mortgages climbed to 5.82 percent in the fourth quarter. That was up from the 5.59 percent in the third quarter and was the highest since 1985. Payments are considered delinquent if they are 30 or more days past due.

Homeowners with tarnished credit who have subprime adjustable-rate loans were the hardest hit. Foreclosures and late payments for these borrowers also swelled to all-time highs in the fourth quarter.

The percentage of subprime adjustable-rate mortgages that entered the foreclosure process soared to a record of 5.29 percent in the fourth quarter. That was up from 4.72 percent in the prior quarter, which had marked the previous high. Late payments skyrocketed to a record high of 20.02 percent in the fourth quarter, up from 18.81 percent - the previous high - in the third quarter.

The association's survey covers almost 46 million home loans nationwide.

"Mortgage credit quality is deteriorating fast," said Mike Larson, a real-estate analyst at Weiss Research.

The worsening foreclosure and late payment figures come as fears grow that the country is teetering on the edge of a recession or in one already.