The national foreclosure rate fell 6% in March compared to a year ago, as banks stepped up their use of short sales and other strategies to avoid taking back homes, says CoreLogic, a Santa Ana, California mortgage data analytics firm.

Delinquency rates, which predict future foreclosures, held steady. “The overall delinquency level was unchanged in March, remaining at its lowest point since July 2009,” said Mark Fleming, chief economist for CoreLogic. States where banks can foreclose without going before a judge experienced significant improvements in their shares of delinquent borrowers. States where judges must approve foreclosures are also improving, but not as much, he added.

CoreLogic also found:

The five states with the largest number of completed foreclosures for the 12 months ending in March 2012 were: California (150,000), Florida (92,000), Michigan (62,000), Arizona (58,000), and Texas (57,000). These five states account for 49.1% of all completed foreclosures nationally.

The percentage of home owners nationally who were more than 90 days late on their mortgage payments, including homes in foreclosure and REO, was 7.0% for March 2012 compared to 7.5% for March 2011, and 7.0% in February 2012.

The five states with the lowest foreclosure rates were: Wyoming (0.7%), Alaska (0.8%), North Dakota (0.8%), Nebraska (1.1%), and South Dakota (1.4%).

Source: CoreLogic