DEAR BOB: We must buy a home soon before my wife and I wind up in a mental hospital. At present we live with our two children, ages 4 and 2, in a two-bedroom apartment where we are about to go crazy. But with the difficulty of getting a home loan, we are wondering if we can buy a home at all. I earn about $21,000 per year, including overtime. My wife works Saturdays and Sundays at a supermarket where she earns about $5,000 per year. One agent found us an ideal home on which we could have easily afforded the mortgage payments. But the lender said we would have to have $38,000 annual income to qualify for a loan. Please help us. Craig M., Arlington.

DEAR CRAIG: You and thousands of other prospective home buyers are having the same problem of qualifying for a mortgage in today's market. The truth is -- and lenders won't tell you this -- they don't want to make mortgage loans so they have raised the interest rates so few people can qualify. From a public relations viewpoint, this is better than telling loan applicants the lender is out of money.

If you want to buy a home today, you'll have to buy without getting a new mortgage. It's not really so hard. My favorite technique is the lease-option where you lease a house for 12 or 24 months with an option to buy during the lease term at a price agreed upon today. By then, mortgage financing should be more affordable.

Other finance possibilities include (a) making a down payment, taking over payments on the existing mortgage, and getting the seller to take back a second mortgage for any balance and (b) getting seller to finance the sale on a wrap-around (all-inclusive) mortgage. Work with a good real estate agent who understands that creative financing is the key to successful home buying today.

DEAR BOB: I own a twinplex, living in half and renting the other half to tenants. I would like to buy more rental property but was recently told by a real estate agent that because of inflated property prices and high mortgage interest rates, it is impossible to find rental property with positive cash flow. With this in mind, do you consider real estate a good investment now? D. A., Washington.

DEAR D. A.: Yes, U.S. real estate is still the greatest investment in the world. But to eliminate negative cash flow, the purchase terms must be properly structured.

For example, when you find an income property you want to buy, provide in your purchase offer for the seller to carry back a "flexible mortgage" on which the interest rate starts out at a low level, such as 8 percent, and increases one percent each year until it reaches the maximum rate you're willing to pay. As rents increase in future years, your property should be able to carry the increasing payments while still yielding you a positive cash flow.

DEAR BOB: As a real estate saleswoman, with 14 years of successful sales experience, I'm worried about what's going to happen to home mortgage financing. The lenders in our area are practically out of money. So they've either stopped lending or raised the interest rate so high that even my best buyers can't qualify for a home loan. Fortunately, I've been able to keep up my sales pace by getting sellers to take back the financing. But I don't know how long I can keep this up. I've got three children to support. How soon will this mortgage crisis be over? Glenda M., Washington.

DEAR GLENDA: I don't know. Mortgage lenders have cut off the supply of home mortgage money because they can earn higher yields elsewhere. The truth is many mortgage lenders are out of loan funds and they are scrambling to meet their loan commitments already made to homebuilders months ago.

Congress could solve the mortgage crisis and aid the financial stability of savings institutions by exempting from incme tax all savings account interest and raising the passbook interest rate, perhaps to 8 or 10 percent.

Practically overnight this would create a massive inflow of funds, especially from high tax bracket investors (a tax-free 8 percent yield to a 50 percent tax bracket taxpayer is equivalent to a 16 percent before-tax yield.) Such a tax-exemption would eliminate the need for savings institutions to offer high-cost T-Bill Certificates.

Other advantages of tax-exempt savings accounts would include (1) increased savings rate, thus decreasing the inflation rate, (2) prevention of failures of some savings institutions, (3) lower cost home loans for home buyers, and (4) stimulation of home and apartment construction, thus solving our housing shortage and future construction unemployment problems.

Without such congressional action, home mortgage money is unlikely to become available in quantity soon. Until the Washington politicians understand the problem and take action, use creative seller finance techniques such as lease-options and wrap-around mortgages to continue making home sales. It's the only way.