Bank of America, the nation’s top mortgage lender, is helping more near-foreclosure homeowners get on the government’s mortgage relief program, but it still retains the smallest placement rate of the big lenders – assisting about 19 percent of those eligible for modifications, according to U.S. Treasury figures. Nonetheless, BofA topped the list of servicers ranked by the number of modifications underway – 203,470 – through December, ahead of JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, CitiMortgage and Saxon Mortgage Services, the Treasury reported.

The Obama Administration’s foreclosure-rescue campaign to convert more distressed borrowers to permanent mortgage relief is making progress, with 112,521 modifications made permanent or pending such status through December, according to the latest report from the U.S. Treasury. But the overall rate of those eligible homeowners who are getting assistance under Making Home Affordable, also known as Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), is 25 percent.

Foreclosure notices set a record in 2009 with a total of 2,824,674 U.S. properties affected, up 21 percent from 2008 – and up 120 percent from 2007, said RealtyTrac, the online marketer of foreclosures, in its annual report. For December, foreclosure filings were reported on 349,519 U.S. properties, a 14 percent jump from the previous month and a 15 percent increase from December 2008. Foreclosure activity in the fourth quarter, though, decreased 7 percent, compared with the third quarter – but still up 18 percent from fourth quarter 2008.

Obama Administration officials touted eight months ago a program they said was vital for at least half of all homeowners facing foreclosure – one that helps reduce the payments of a second lien. This week, blogs are abuzz on speculation that the second lien modification program was placed on indefinite hold. One blog relayed an e-mail reportedly from a government source saying the plan had not signed up any mortgage servicers. Then a U.S. Treasury spokesperson denied that the program was shelved, but added that it has met with some challenges in ramping up.

The U.S. Treasury is denying a report that the second lien mortgage modification program announced last April has been placed on hold, but confirmed it has been delayed due to lack of a “systematic method” to notify the lien holders. “That rumor is wrong,” Treasury spokesperson Meg Reilly, told, referring to the program being shelved.

The Obama Administration’s plan to create a piggyback mortgage-modification program for second liens is “on hold,” according to a media report, despite an announcement from officials eight months ago that such a program is vital for helping half of all borrowers facing foreclosures. Administrators for the primary Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), emailed the following in response to a request for the list of mortgage services that have signed up for the second lien program: “That program is currently on hold and there is no list of servicers that registered before it was placed on hold,” is reporting.

The U.S. Treasury has ordered a review of all mortgage modification trials set to expire on or before Jan. 31, 2010, as part of the Obama Administration’s efforts to accelerate permanent mortgage relief and rescue more borrowers from foreclosure. Administrators of the government’s Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, posted the announcement on its website alerting servicers that they need to “reach out to borrowers.”

Credit card issuers may be lowering limits to it’s customers, but the U.S. Treasury announced today that the two mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will have no such worries. Both agencies were granted, in effect, open-ended credit by the U.S. government for the next three years.

A new study finds that banks with connections to members of Congressional finance committees, and banks whose executives served on Federal Reserve boards were “more likely to receive funds” from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the government’s primary bailout program. “Banks with strong political connections were more likely to receive bailout money from the government — and more of it — in the past year than those with weaker ties,” concluded the study from Ran Duchin and Denis Sosyura, professors at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

The underperformance focus of the government’s primary mortgage-relief program has centered on how many payment reduction trials have been made permanent. But the larger question is why only one-in-four of those eligible are getting any help at all. The latest report from the U.S. Treasury on Making Home Affordable, also known as HAMP, shows that 24 percent of those eligible, borrowers 60 days or longer delinquent on their mortgages, begun trial or permanent modifications with lower monthly payments. That’s 759,058 out of 3.299 million borrowers.