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updated: 11/22/2013 2:04 PM

Children providing in-home care for parents may qualify for government aid

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Q. My father is 83 years old and is in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. I am his only child, and I plan to have him move in with me so I can care for him full-time. Is it true that the government will reimburse me for the time and money I will spend for his care?

A. It's possible that you might be able to get paid or receive other financial help, but it's no slam dunk.

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In some states, Medicaid funds can be used for caregivers even if they're related to the care recipient. Call your local Medicaid office or social services agency to see if you or your father is eligible.

If your dad is a veteran who was on active duty during wartime, he might be eligible for a monthly stipend from the Veterans Affairs to help pay you for his long-term care. Certain asset and expense requirements must be met. You can get more information from the regional office of the VA, at www.va.gov, or by calling the health care benefits hotline (877-222-8387).

And if your father is one of the millions of Americans who have purchased a long-term-care insurance policy from a private company, the insurer may (or may not) be willing to pay for your caregiving help.

If you do wind up getting paid for your help, experts at AARP suggest that you put the agreement in writing and have your father sign it. Be as specific as possible, and include a detailed list of your responsibilities.

Your father might be able to deduct any payments he makes to you out of his own pocket as a medical expense on his annual tax return. However, you will have to pay income taxes and Social Security on your earnings, because you essentially will be self-employed. You even might be required to file quarterly taxes, rather than on an annual basis.

Amy Goyer, a family and caregiving expert for AARP, recently began offering a free copy of her excellent e-book, "Juggling Work and Caregiving." You can download a copy at www.AARP.org/CaregivingBook, or have a friend do it for you if you don't have access to the Internet yourself.

Q. We would like to do some remodeling. How can we find out how much the work would cost?

A. Your best bet is to contact at least three different contractors and have them come out to your home to prepare a written estimate. Then add 10 percent or even 20 percent to their bid to cover any additional expenses: It's not unusual for contractors to run into unexpected problems after work gets under way, or for homeowners to upgrade their renovation plans as the job moves along.

A few websites can help. Perhaps the best one is operated by Remodeling magazine (remodeling.hw.net), Other useful sites include zillow.com/digs and houzz.com.

Q. I have tried to refinance my mortgage with two different lenders, but both turned me down because my credit score is in the low 600s. A co-worker suggested I check into getting a mortgage insured by the Federal Housing Administration. Is this a viable option, even though my score is relatively low?

A. Yes, a mortgage that's insured by the Federal Housing Administration might be a good way to go.

The FHA doesn't make loans directly to borrowers, but instead insures mortgages issued by private-sector lenders. Those lenders are willing to make home loans to applicants with less than sterling credit scores because they know the insurance policy will reimburse them for some or all of their losses if a loan goes into default and the property must be foreclosed.

Technically, the FHA can insure loans to borrowers with scores as low as 580. In reality, though, most banks insist on a minimum score of about 620 even if the mortgage comes with the insurance attached. If you don't quite make that 620 threshold today, you could eventually get there by paying off some of your credit cards or other debt, paying your other bills promptly and curbing your future spending.

Borrowers under the FHA program must pay for the policies themselves. You can get the details from an FHA-approved lender or a local mortgage broker. You also can get more information from the Housing and Urban Development's website (www.hud.gov), which also includes a search engine to help you find an approved broker near you.

• P.O. Box 4405, Culver City, CA 90231-4405.

2013, Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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