The credit reporting agency said its database shows delinquencies - or the percentage of mortgage holders at least 60 days behind on payments, considered a precursor to foreclosure - jumped to 4.58 percent nationally, from 2.99 percent for the 2007 fourth quarter.
That was 16 percent above the 3.96 percent rate seen in the third quarter, TransUnion said, and marked the eighth straight quarter that delinquency rates rose.
"It's about what we were expecting," said Keith Carson, senior consultant in TransUnion's financial services group. But while not unexpected, the huge jump from last year was still "alarming," Carson said.
TransUnion, best known for its consumer credit rating data, projects delinquency rates could reach as high as 8 percent by the end of the year. The company isn't predicting that the climate will improve until the middle of 2010.
The states that have shown the highest delinquency and foreclosure rates remain the same.
Florida is on top, with a 9.52 percent rate for the fourth quarter, while Nevada is second with 9.01 percent. Arizona came in at 6.93 percent and California right behind at 6.88 percent.
Carson said there is a glut of homes in those states, which is combining with increasing economic woes and declining home values to keep the rates high.
North Dakota, at 1.21 percent, remains the state with the lowest delinquency rate.
Ratio Of Mortgage Borrowers Currently 60 Days Or More Past DueThe figures are culled from TransUnion Trend Data, which consists of 27 million consumer records randomly sampled each month from the credit reporting agency's national consumer credit database.(TransUnion)
While the government has launched efforts to stem foreclosures, those moves are not yet reflected in data, Carson said. Banks are also trying to work with consumers to reduce problematic mortgages, but falling home prices are feeding the problem, he said. "We do know from everything we've found out in the last year is that the primary driver on mortgage defaults is negative equity," he said. When homeowners owe more on their mortgages than the houses are worth, data show a higher likelihood that consumers will simply walk away, he said.
California is the state with the highest average mortgage debt per borrower, at $356,421. West Virginia has the lowest, at $96,243.
Lenders are trying to address some negative equity issues with refinancing, but Carson said data shows the rate of redefault on modified mortgages "has been very high, primarily because of negative equity."