Government-backed loans require borrowers to pay for some form of mortgage insurance. With FHA and USDA loans, it’s called MIP, or Mortgage Insurance Premium. For VA loans, it’s called a Funding Fee. The insurance covers potential losses suffered by mortgage lenders when borrowers default. Because insurance protects lenders from losses, they are willing to allow these low down payments.
Because repeat buyers can often put some of the money from their previous home sale towards their down payment, they’re more likely than first-time buyers to put down larger lump sums. First-time buyers, however, are more likely to put down between 3 and 9 percent. According to a Zillow survey, only 37 percent of first-time buyers pay 20 percent or more.
Outside of these Fannie Mae, FHA, VA and USDA loan types, there are state and local assistance programs that can help you get into a home with a low-down payment. There are also towns that offer incentives to move there, ranging from student loan forgiveness to free lots of land to build on. Even though these programs don’t cover your down payment for you, they can help you save money elsewhere if you can come up with the initial down payment up front.