While the U.S. Treasury Department ponders how to keep people from losing their homes, foreclosures across the United States receded a bit in January, compared to the previous month, but were still way up over the same month a year ago.

There were 274,399 U.S. residential properties that were either repossessed by banks, had received default notices, or were named in auction sale notices last month, according to the latest data released today by RealtyTrac. That estimate was 10 percent less than the foreclosure filings in December 2008, as 33 states saw their month-to-month foreclosure filing rates go down in January. But the nationwide filings were up 18 percent over January 2008, and last month was still the fourth-highest on record for foreclosure filings.

To put this in some context, one in every 466 houses in the country received a foreclosure filing in January.

James Saccacio, RealtyTrac’s CEO, attributes last month’s dip in foreclosure filings to moratoriums on foreclosure sales by banks, several states (Florida imposed a 45-day freeze on filings and sales in December), and government agencies such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Testifying before Congress yesterday, CEOs from eight of the country’s largest banks pledged to hold off on all foreclosure activities for three weeks, to give the Obama administration’s plan for stemming foreclosures a chance to start working.

While its month-to-month activity fell by 4 percent in January, Nevada continued to have the country’s highest foreclosure rate. The state recorded 14,444 foreclosure filings last month, or one in every 76 homes there.  Those filings were 137 percent higher than in January 2008. A state legislator recently introduced a bill intended to slow foreclosures in Nevada.

Trailing Nevada were California (which reported the highest total number of filings, 76,761), Florida (despite a 20 percent month-to-month decline), Oregon (with a 218 percent year-to-year increase), Illinois, Michigan, Georgia, Idaho, and Ohio.

California accounted for six of the top 10 metro markets for foreclosure filings, led by Merced, Calif., where one in 59 homes had received a foreclosure filing last month, eight times the national average. The Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla., area, where President Obama visited a few days ago to call attention to the country’s housing malaise, ranked third in foreclosure activity in January, with one in every 80 houses receiving a foreclosure filing. Las Vegas-Paradise, Nev., finished second, with one in every 63 housing units ensnared in foreclosure.

 John Caulfield is senior editor at BUILDER magazine.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Cape Coral, FL, Las Vegas, NV.