An improving jobs market seems to be giving struggling homeowners a boost. Though foreclosure actions were up, fewer people were behind on their payments.

RealtyTrac said nationwide foreclosure filings -- default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions -- totaled 210,941 in January, up 3 percent from the previous month, but 19 percent lower than the previous year.

In Minnesota, filings were up 15 percent from December and 17 percent from a year ago.

"Although overall foreclosure activity was down from a year ago for the 16th straight month in January, we continue to see signs on a local and regional level that the frozen-up foreclosure process is beginning to thaw," said Brandon Moore, RealtyTrac's CEO.

Foreclosure activity increased on a year-over-year basis for the first time in more than 12 months in Florida, Illinois, Indiana and Pennsylvania. RealtyTrac's Daren Blomquist said the increases in foreclosure filings and default notices in Minnesota are likely the result of variations in the way foreclosures are processed, rather than a sign of deepening trouble in the market.

Also Thursday, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported that the delinquency rate for mortgage loans in Minnesota was 5.28 percent during the last quarter of 2011, while the number of mortgages in foreclosure fell slightly to 2.58 percent. At peak, 3.5 percent of all mortgages were in foreclosure and those in delinquency reached 7.5 percent.

Minnesota ranked 46th in delinquencies and 28th in new foreclosures.

Michael Fratantoni, the MBA's vice president, single-family research and policy development, attributes the divergent trends between his numbers and the ones to RealtyTrac to differences in the way the organizations collect data. The MBA uses information from lenders, while the RealtyTrac data is from public records, which Fratantoni said is often inaccurate.

In any case, he said, the Minnesota the local trends are similar to the national ones. While delinquency rates are still elevated, they're down from two years ago. "We're headed in the right direction," Fratantoni said.

Jim Buchta • 612-673-7376