Prospective homebuyers struggling to scrape together a down payment could get a little help from a tax deduction under consideration in Congress.

The tax break would allow homeowners to deduct the cost of private mortgage insurance (search), charged by banks and lenders when the homebuyer cannot amass a down payment covering 20 percent of the purchase price.

Homeowners can already claim a tax deduction for mortgage interest (search) paid during the year. Homeownership advocates said the mortgage insurance benefit could help younger homebuyers and lower-income families afford a home.

"For first-time homebuyers, getting that initial down payment is usually the single highest hurdle," said Kurt Pfotenhauer, a senior vice president with the Mortgage Bankers Association.

The Mortgage Insurance Companies of America (search), an association representing the private mortgage industry, said more than 12 million people who pay mortgage insurance could be helped.

The tax benefit would cover 5.5 million people who pay private mortgage insurance and 7 million homeowners with Federal Housing Administration (search) loans. The benefit starts to shrink for families earning $100,000 or more.

Homeowners purchasing a roughly median-priced house for about $160,000 can expect to pay $50 to $80 in mortgage insurance each month.

Senate tax writers worked the tax break, worth an estimated $600 million to homeowners over the next decade, into a bill reducing taxes on American manufacturers. It is one of a long list of minor tax programs designed to attract more support for a package of corporate tax reductions.

Other items include:

-Assistance for businesses investing in rural, depopulating areas.

-Tax benefits for employers who continue to pay employees called to active duty in the National Guard or reserves.

-A new category of tax-exempt bonds that could be used by nonprofit organizations to finance purchases of forest lands.

-A new tax break for companies that hire welfare recipients, which combines two older hiring incentives into a single tax benefit.

-A renewal of an expired tax deduction that allows teachers to recoup money spent on classroom supplies.

-An extension of the $5,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers in Washington.