The number of American homeowners falling behind on their mortgage payments reached a record high in the first three months of this year, the Mortgage Bankers Association said Wednesday.

More than 10 per cent had missed at least one payment in the period.

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Mortgage bankers estimates more than 10 per cent of U.S. homeowners had missed at least one payment in the first three months of 2010. ((Paul Sakuma/Associated Press) )

That's up from 9.5 per cent in the previous quarter and 9.1 per cent from the same period in 2009.

Much of the increase came from a big jump in the number of borrowers who have missed three months of payments.

"It's certainly a weight on the economy," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, who predicts home prices will fall about five per cent and hit bottom next spring.

"Nothing works all that well in the economy when house prices are falling," he said.

The one encouraging sign was a drop in the number of homeowners just starting to show trouble meeting their payments.

As of March, nearly 3.5 per cent of homeowners had missed one month of mortgage payments, down from about 3.8 per cent a year earlier.

Around 4.3 million homeowners, or about eight per cent of all Americans with a mortgage, are at risk of losing their homes, the trade group's top economist estimates.

They have either missed at least three months of payments or are in foreclosure.

With files from The Associated Press