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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Only about 20 percent of eligible Minnesota homeowners were taking advantage of a two-year-old federally sponsored mortgage refinance program, according to Mary Tingerthal, Commissioner of the Minnesota Housing FinanceAgency. However, the program changed in November.

"There used to be a cap that you could not owe more than 125 percentof your home value and be able to take advantage of this program," said Tingerthal.

The program is calledHARP, the Home Affordable Refinance Program. This is not the Obama Administration's plan to help those in foreclosure. This is designed for homeowners who are in their homes and are making payments on time.

"In order to qualify, you cannot have had any late payments within the last six months and no more than one late payment in the last 12 months," explained Tingerthal. "This program just lowers the interest rate. (It) allows borrowers to take advantage of the fact that interest rates are at historic low levels."

Tingerthal said it is a good deal for homeowners and lenders. "It is kind of a win-win to be able to lower your interest rate because that is going to mean you are more likely to be able to keep making your mortgage payments because you are now paying less." Thus, the bank keeps a customer and the customer keeps their property.

However, the HARP program is not for all homeowners. Only those whose loans are owned by the federally sponsored secondary mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae can apply. Since, neither Freddie nor Fannie lend directly to homeowners, the question is: how can one know if their loan is now owned by one of the giants?

Tingerthal had the answer. "By going to the Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae website. There is a lookup tool and all you have to do is put in your address and it will tell you whether your mortgage is one of those that is eligible for this program," said Tingerthal.

Click here for the Fannie Maewebsite lookup tool. Click here for the Freddie Macwebsite lookup tool.

Once a homeowner has determined that their loan is held by Freddie or Fannie, they should contact their lender. Tingerthal warns that not all lenders are set up for the HARP program yet and patience may be required. The lender will have information about applying for the HARP program.

Tingerthal said it will not be known for several months, how many Minnesotans are taking advantage of the expanded program to lower their mortgage interest rates.

Home ownership Centers Network is another source if you are looking for refinancing help.

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