The Department of Housing and Urban Development has made it official, raising the limit on government-insured mortgages in 2006 to $362,790 in 88 high-cost counties and $200,160 in most of the nation's 3,300 other counties.In 468 counties, the limit will be somewhere between the two amounts. The current maximum (for 2005) is $312,895; the floor, $172,632. The new ceiling on minimal-downpayment loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration means that buyers with a few blemishes on their credit records can borrow almost as much -- and at almost the same low rates -- as those with squeaky-clean credit histories. By law, the FHA can back loans of up to 95% of any given county's median house price. At the same time, however, the FHA maximum mortgage amount cannot exceed 87% of the limit placed on loans that can be purchased by Freddie Mac, nor can it be lower than 48% of the Freddie Mac ceiling. As of Jan. 1, $417,000 is the new limit on Freddie Mac loans. The new FHA loan limits cover not only the government's basic 203(b) loan program but also several other key initiatives, including mortgages for disaster victims, rehabilitation loans, loans on properties in declining areas, condominium mortgages, and home equity conversion mortgages. The limits for 2006 also are higher for two-, three-, and four-family properties. For two-unit structures, the range is $256,248 to $464,449. For three-unit buildings, it is from $309,744 to $561,411. And for four-unit structures, is from $384,936 to $697,696.

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