More Americans older than 50 have mortgages than in the past two decades and for larger amounts, causing a growing number to be at risk for foreclosure.

A report from the AARP says 3.5 million homeowners older than 50 are in danger of losing their homes. Most won’t have the time or resources to recover from such a financial setback as they head toward retirement. Since 2007, more than 1.5 million homeowners in this group have already had their homes foreclosed, raising the foreclosure rate from 0.3 percent in 2007 to 2.9 percent in 2011.

Older homeowners were enticed by the same initially low rates on subprime mortgages as everyone else. As the values of their homes decreased and the rates increased, many found they owed more than their homes are worth.

There is help for distressed homeowners. Free advice from a counselor approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development can steer homeowners toward ways to reduce monthly expenses.  It might be worth it to try to get a loan modification to reduce your monthly mortgage payment or see if you qualify for the government Home Affordable Refinance Program to refinance at a lower rate. Those older than 62 and with equity in their homes could consider a reverse mortgage. As a final option for avoiding foreclosure, a short sale through the Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives government program allows the homeowner to walk away from the home and the mortgage debt.

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