WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans missing mortgage payments or collecting other forms of consumer debt fell to its lowest level since April 2017, a federal government report showed on Friday, although the drop did not go unnoticed.

FILE PHOTO: A woman waves on New York’s West Side Highway after paying her mortgage payment in New York, U.S., April 27, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

The number of Americans living in rent-stabilized residences fell 7.2 percent, compared with a 2.7 percent drop in home prices, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

But the biggest drop was among homeowners with mortgages, whose mortgage delinquencies rose 7.6 percent from April to 3.23 million.

The drop in delinquencies surprised analysts who had expected the number of mortgage defaults and defaults on other consumer debt, such as credit cards and car loans, to rise because the housing market had softened further after the financial crisis.

The U.S. housing market suffered two of the worst housing crashes in the U.S. economy after the onset of the 2007-2009 downturn, but prices recovered over the next few years and people have started to return to the market.

Since hitting a peak of 6.8 million in 2007, the number of Americans living in rent-stabilized residences has dropped by more than half and is now down to just over 4 million, or 7.2 percent.

People in such conditions usually pay down their mortgages or the debt in full. The drop in delinquencies for borrowers with mortgages accounted for 7 percentage points of the total drop in delinquencies.

But in some areas, such as higher-income neighborhoods where the job market has improved recently, mortgage rates have risen to four or five percent, raising the risk that people will be unable to pay back the loans when they get older. That could push up mortgage default rates.

Mortgage defaults are only one of many things borrowers face in these low-credit environments. People face other costs, such as being out of a job for extended periods, paying income taxes, or having to manage among their extended families.

The data also showed that during the first half of the year, the number of Americans who ended up behind on their mortgage payments more than doubled from the same period last year, compared with a decrease in housing prices.

While the share of households that showed signs of hardship has declined since the housing market collapsed, the numbers often mask problems on the whole. Fewer than half of people paying their mortgage owed more than their home was worth, the credit reports company TransUnion reported last month.

(Reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir; Editing by Leslie Adler)