Reverse mortgages are so complicated that it's hard for many elderly homeowners to know which one is best and whether any is worth the bother.

A new Web site helps take some of the mystery out of these loans, which allow homeowners to tap the equity in their houses without making any monthly payments.The Web site - (www.reverse.org) - also allows homeowners to play with various numbers to see approximately how much they could get under various scenarios. But even with the calculators and clear directions for use, it's still a complex procedure.

Some of the numbers will be eye openers. For example, a homeowner born in 1930 (68 years old) who owns, free and clear, a house worth $250,000 in Maricopa County, Ariz., could get a lump sum of $49,582 from a federally insured Home Equity Conversion Mortgage, or $69,106 from Fannie Mae's Homekeeper reverse mortgage.

Alternately, the homeowner could get monthly checks of $335 from the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage or $695 from Homekeeper for as long as she lived in her house.

On the surface, it appears that the Homekeeper is a much better deal for this particular homeowner, and it may be for some people. But if you scroll down to look at the details, you also see that the homeowner's costs with the Homekeeper reverse mortgage are much higher - almost double in some scenarios.

The site also includes lenders in each state who make reverse mortgages. It is sponsored by the non-profit National Center for Home Equity Conversion, which is trustworthy and not affiliated with any lenders.

If you don't feel comfortable with a computer, you can get the online information through a book, "Reverse Mortgages for Beginners," written by the National Center's director, Ken Scholen. It costs $14.95 plus $4.50 shipping and can be ordered by credit card at Bookmasters, 800-247-6553. All the information in the book also is available online.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced plans this week to spiff up FHA-insured loans. The plans include tougher rules for appraisers, a requirement that home buyers be told of any defects in a house, a speedier mortgage application process and lower insurance premiums.

HUD also is developing a system that will analyze home buyers who miss two or more payments on an FHA-insured mortgage. The idea is to see what can be done to help the homeowners avoid default. About 800,000 families get an FHA-backed mortgage each year.

If you would like more details they're available online at www.hud.gov. Go to HUD news.