The number of foreclosures launched by banks and financial firms registered with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency fell 16% in the fourth quarter to 292,173, the agency said Wednesday. Compared to levels from a year earlier the number is down 17.9%, the federal regulator said. 

The OCC notes delinquencies on loans remain elevated for the fourth quarter, but still declined from 2010 levels. 

The OCC discovered that servicers launched 460,213 home retention maneuvers and completed 182,256 forfeiture actions, including foreclosures, short sales and deeds-in-lieu of foreclosure.

Completed foreclosures increased to 116,060, up 2.5% from the previous quarter and 22.1% from the year earlier period. 

Meanwhile, the foreclosure inventory in process during 4Q fell 4.1% from the third quarter, reaching a level of 1.27 million properties.

Loan modifications implemented in the fourth quarter cut borrowers' monthly principal and interest payments by 26.5% or $430 a month. Modifications that occurred under the Home Affordable Modification Program managed to reduce payments by 36%, or $593.

The OCC found that modifications that cut payments by 10% or more did better than loans that had smaller payment reductions.

The OCC report covers 31.4 million loans with a total value of $5.4 trillion, which is approximately 60% of the mortgages in the country.

In the past four years, servicers managed to modify 2.3 million mortgages through the end of the third quarter of 2011. By the fourth quarter, 48.3% of the loan mods were either current or paid off. About 8.5% were 30-to-59 days delinquent, 17.4% were seriously delinquent and another 16% had either entered foreclosure or completed the process.