Defaults on privately insured U.S. mortgages fell to a six-month low in April, providing evidence that deterioration in the nation's housing market may be slowing.


A trade group, Mortgage Insurance Companies of America (MICA), on Friday said 81,171 insured borrowers were at least 60 days late on payments in April. That is down 3 percent from March and down 24 percent from a record 106,482 in January. Defaults increased 10 percent from a year earlier.


On the other hand, mortgages brought up to date fell 16 percent to 58,587 in April from 69,931 in March, when several big mortgage lenders ended moratoriums on foreclosure sales.


But so-called insurance cures increased 48 percent from April 2008. It is often less costly for lenders to work out payment terms with borrowers able to pay at least some of their debts than to let homes enter foreclosure. Late payments are often a precursor to foreclosure.


Private mortgage insurance lets people buy homes with down payments of less than 20 percent, and guarantees that lenders will be repaid even if borrowers default. Insurance in force totaled $932 billion in April, according to MICA.


Falling U.S. home prices have left many borrowers with negative equity. Prices of single-family homes fell 19.1 percent in the first quarter, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, the biggest drop in that survey's 21-year history.


About 12 percent of U.S. households with mortgages ended the first quarter either late on payments or in foreclosure, the Mortgage Bankers Association said.


MICA is a Washington, D.C., trade group that has tabulated insurance default data since 2001. It compiles data provided by American International Group Inc's (AIG.N) United Guaranty Corp, Genworth Financial Inc (GNW.N), MGIC Investment Corp (MTG.N), Old Republic International Corp (ORI.N), PMI Group Inc (PMI.N) and Radian Group Inc (RDN.N).


Year-earlier data also included Triad Guaranty Inc (TGIC.O) but not Radian.