WASHINGTON — In a year of bad mortgage news, there's a bright spot or two for homeowners: Foreclosure comes with a tax break, and 2007 mortgage insurance payments may be tax-deductible.

Congress acted on both provisions late last year, extending the mortgage insurance deduction for three more years and creating a new tax break for homeowners facing foreclosure.

The mortgage insurance deduction will help certain low and moderate income homeowners, especially first-time homebuyers and those struggling with higher house payments as adjustable rate mortgages reset.

By the way: This type of insurance should not be confused with the homeowners' insurance you take out on your home and its contents in case of fire or other disaster. It's also not the same thing as mortgage protection insurance, which is a form of life insurance some people buy to pay off a mortgage when they die.

Mortgage insurance is required by government and private lenders on home purchases in which the buyer makes a down payment of less than 20 percent. Often, these are first-time buyers or people with lower incomes. The insurance protects the lender if the borrower defaults on the loan — a very real prospect last year for homeowners who took out adjustable mortgages with low teaser rates that have since risen.

For the first nine months of 2007, about 16.7 percent of the estimated $1.98 trillion in new mortgages originating during that period had private or government mortgage insurance, according to Inside Mortgage Finance Publications, which researches and tracks the residential mortgage business.

Typically, homeowners pay an average of $50 to $100 a month in mortgage insurance on a median single family home price of $217,600, according to the Mortgage Insurance Companies of America, a trade association.

The new tax deduction could save taxpayers who itemize as much as $300 to $350 in federal taxes, MICA estimates.

There are restrictions. Only taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes of $100,000 or less can take the full deduction, which gradually decreases for incomes above that and is eliminated altogether for those with AGIs over $109,000.

And only insurance on mortgages taken out in 2007 — new or refinanced — qualifies for the deduction. If you simply continued paying mortgage insurance in 2007 on a loan taken out in an earlier year, you cannot deduct those payments.

To be deductible, the insurance must have been paid on "home acquisition debt" — debt incurred to buy, build or substantially improve a principal residence or second home.

Most tax experts interpret this provision as meaning that if in 2007 you refinanced your home to take out extra cash from your equity — then used that cash toward building a home addition or making a substantial home improvement — insurance on that added mortgage debt is deductible along with insurance on the old mortgage amount.

But if you simply refinanced your home to take out extra cash for other purposes, the portion of a mortgage insurance premium that covers that additional amount isn't deductible, only the amount that covers the original mortgage debt.

The 1098 form from your mortgage lender should specify the amount you paid in 2007 in mortgage interest and mortgage insurance. Claim the mortgage insurance deduction on Schedule A, Line 13. Further details are in IRS Publication 936, "Home Mortgage Interest Deduction."

Late last year, Congress approved a measure to help homeowners fighting foreclosure as the mortgage crisis took its toll. Taxpayers who were granted forgiveness of mortgage debt in 2007 don't have to pay taxes on the amount of that forgiveness, up to $2 million ($1 million for a married person filing a separate return). Only debt forgiveness on a principal residence is eligible.

The provision applies to restructured mortgage agreements entered into after Jan. 1, 2007. Previously, such loan forgiveness was often taxed as income.