Foreclosure proceedings in King County increased 60 percent in 2009, but the Seattle area still has not been hit as hard by the crisis as the nation as a whole.

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A record 2.8 million households were threatened with foreclosure last year, and that number is expected to rise this year as more unemployed and cash-strapped homeowners fall behind on their mortgages.

The number of households that received a foreclosure-related notice rose 21 percent from 2008, RealtyTrac reported today.

The increase in King County was even more dramatic with the number of filings up nearly 60 percent. In Washington state, filings were up 35 percent.

But despite those increases, fewer homeowners faced foreclosure in the greater Seattle area than in the country as a whole.

Nationally, one in 45 homes received some kind of filing — default notices, scheduled foreclosure auctions or bank repossessions — in 2009. In King County the figure was one in 80, in Snohomish County one in 53.

Banks repossessed more than 92,000 homes across the country last month, up 19 percent from November. That increase was likely due to lenders working to clear their books at the end of the year, RealtyTrac said.

In King County the number of repossessions was down slightly last month, but the number of notices of impending foreclosure sales was up.

Stemming the tide of foreclosures is an important step for the real-estate market and the economy to recover. Because foreclosures are usually sold at heavy discounts they can lower the value of surrounding properties. Cities lose property-tax dollars from empty foreclosures and declining home values, straining local economies. Home prices have stabilized in some cities but are still down 30 percent nationally from mid-2006.

The foreclosure crisis isn’t letting up. Between 3 million and 3.5 million homes are expected to enter some phase of foreclosure this year, said Rick Sharga, senior vice president of Irvine, Calif.-based RealtyTrac, which began tracking the data five years ago.

High foreclosures forced the federal government and several states to come up with plans to prevent or delay foreclosures to help troubled borrowers.

“It was bad, but it could have been much worse, and it probably should have been worse,” Sharga said.

Economic issues, such as unemployment or reduced income, are expected to be the main catalysts for foreclosures this year. Homeowners with good credit who took out conventional, fixed-rate loans are the fastest-growing group of foreclosures.

The Mortgage Bankers Association on Wednesday recommended changes to the government’s program to account for borrowers who’ve lost their jobs. The program, for example, should include a suspension of payments as the first step for borrowers with a temporary loss of income.

The government also should refrain from “endless incremental program changes,” the trade association said.

The same three states that led the nation in foreclosure rate last month also posted the highest rates for the entire year: Nevada, Arizona and Florida. More than 10 percent of Nevada housing units received at least one foreclosure filing in 2009, with Florida and Arizona following with about 6 percent each.

In Washington, Clark and Pierce were the only counties in which more than 2 percent of homes were sent a foreclosure-related notice last year.

Seattle Times business reporter Eric Pryne contributed to this report.