The percentage of American homeowners 30 days or more late on their mortgage payments dropped to an eight-year low in the July-to-September period, according to a new survey by the Mortgage Bankers Association of America.

The percentage of delinquent loans dipped from 5.09 percent in the second quarter to 4.63 percent in the third quarter, the largest quarter-to-quarter drop ever recorded, according to the survey.

"It certainly is good news for homeowners and good news for lenders," said Warren Lasko, executive vice president of the mortgage bankers group.

"The reason is the general good health of the economy. During {the third quarter} employment grew at a very healthy pace, accompanied by continued growth in personal income," he said.

He predicted that delinquency rates "will probably continue to come down for the next several quarters."

The more serious delinquency categories -- those where payments are 60 or 90 or more days late -- also showed improvement, with the delinquency rate dropping from 1.81 percent in the April-to-June period to 1.57 percent in the July-to-September period, the survey showed.

All four U.S. regions showed marked declines in delinquency rates from the third quarter of 1986 to the same period this year.

In the South, which includes the Washington area, the rate dropped from 5.88 to 5.25 percent, while in the West it dipped from 5.09 to 4.10 percent, in the North Central states from 6.19 to 5.30 percent and in the Northeast from 4.87 to 4.12 percent.

The District of Columbia delinquency figure was 6.84 percent in the third quarter. Maryland's was 4.37 percent and Virginia's was 3.67 percent.

The survey covered 9.7 million loans made by 370 lenders and totaling an estimated $383 billion.