(MoneyWatch) The number of U.S. homes that are worth less than their mortgages rose late last year and is now back to 2009 levels. More than 11 million, or 22.8 percent, of all residential properties with a mortgage had negative equity in the fourth quarter of 2011 and were considered "underwater," according to market research firm CoreLogic.
Negative and near-negative equity mortgages (those with less than five percent equity) accounted for nearly 28 percent of all residential mortgages nationwide in the fourth quarter.
Mark Fleming, chief economist with CoreLogic, believes it could be awhile before we see substantial improvement in the number of underwater mortgages. "The high level of negative equity and the inability to pay is the 'double trigger' of default, and the reason we have such a significant foreclosure pipeline," he said in a statement. "While the economic recovery will reduce the propensity of the inability to pay trigger, negative equity will take an extended period of time to improve, and if there is a hiccup in the economic recovery it could mean a rise in foreclosures."
Click through to see which U.S. states have the highest rate of underwater homeowners (All home price and sale information is from Trulia.com.)