WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Treasury Department said on Friday that the number of active permanent mortgage loan modifications agreed to by banks rose 13,836 during February to 782,609 by the end of the month.

The modifications, which aim to lower monthly payments so that distressed homeowners can avoid foreclosure, were made under the Home Affordable Mortgage Program, or HARP.

It offers incentives to mortgage servicers to rework loans and is one of multiple programs the Obama administration has initiated to try to take some of the pressure of the hard-hit housing sector that continues to be a drag on recovery.

Originally, HAMP was targeted to help 3 million to 4 million homeowners but it has reached only a fraction of that number. It has been widely criticized by Republican lawmakers for not being effective but the administration said earlier this year that it was being extended for one year through 2013.

(Reporting By Glenn Somerville; Editing by Richard Chang)




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