To be sure, plenty of distress remains. Millions of homeowners are underwater, owing more than their house is worth. That condition, combined with a financial shock - job loss, illness, business reversal, divorce - lays the groundwork for getting behind on mortgage payments.

"We shouldn't pretend that everything is hunky-dory," Thornberg said. "Clearly, some of those underwater people are still delinquent. But there are simply fewer of them than there were before

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