Unless you live under a rock, you can't miss the headlines proclaiming record "affordability" of homes due to low mortgage rates and declines in housing prices. But for the cash-strapped, this affordability is an elusive thing. And those homeowners who do not have much cash are struggling to make crack that monthly mortgage nut in spite of payments reaching a 10-year low.

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A Barclays survey of homeowners showed 16 percent of wage earners felt that their mortgage is less affordable than a year ago, and 36 percent of them stated that they are earning less this year. An additional 29% indicated that their expenses have increased.

Those with adjustable rate mortgages in most cases had made no plans for dealing with payment increases in the future.

Home ownership more affordable than ever, but...

The average homeowner spent only 15.4% of their pay on mortgage payments in the month of December, the lowest level after Barclays first started carrying out the survey in 2002. To put things in perspective, most lenders will approve mortgages with payments up to 32% of an applicant's gross income.

Credit counseling can make a difference

If your mortgage funds are being sapped by other expenses and you are feeling the pinch of lowered income, contact your other creditors first. Many will cut you a temporary break on your interest rates and payments. Try contacting a housing counselor in your state; many of the states most impacted by the foreclosure crisis are getting their "hardest hit" programs online and advancing temporary help to homeowners. Nevada, for example, id paying $500 a month toward homeowners' mortgage payments for up to six months.

Finally, HAMP-U is available for the unemployed, reducing or eliminating mortgage payments for a limited time. Go to MakingHomeAffordable.com to get started.