You might be surprised to find that some private mortgage programs also have low down payment requirements. Most conventional loans have guidelines set by either Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae. Because these loans must conform to this set of guidelines, they are called “conforming” loans. To offset the risk of lending with smaller down payments, conventional lenders require borrowers to purchase private mortgage insurance, or PMI, when they put less than 20 percent down on a home.
Pre-approval requires the lender to pull the credit information (see Step 1) and assess your financial situation. The lender will then give you a letter that states the amount they would be willing to lend you. If you get in a multiple-offer scenario, being pre-approved may give you an edge because the seller will have more confidence that you will be approved for a loan large enough to purchase their home.
In turn, the lender will use this info to decide whether or not to loan you money, as well as how much and at what interest rate. If a lender sees some late payments on your credit cards or other blemishes in your credit report, this can lower your odds of getting a loan with a great interest rate, or perhaps even jeopardize your chances of getting any loan at all.
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.
Paying off credit card debt isn’t always straightforward, though. Focus on your highest-interest debt first (debt avalanche method), even if that means putting as little as $25 or $50 extra toward your payment each month. As your high-interest debt load shrinks, you can move onto lower-interest credit card debt, and you’ll likely accelerate your progress toward a $0 balance. With lower (or no) interest charges eating into your spending and saving power, you can then direct your dollars toward your down payment fund.
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Knowing you need to set money aside each month is one thing. Actually doing it is another. Set yourself a calendar reminder on the same day each month or pay period to transfer a set amount of money – at least 5% of your take-home pay, and ideally 10% – into your primary savings account. You can then separate the share allotted to your down payment from your general savings or other savings goals. Or, better yet, create a separate savings account whose sole purpose is to hold your down payment funds.
Each mortgage lender (LendingTree is just one example) will scrutinize your financial background—such as your debt-to-income ratio and assets—and use this info to determine whether to loan you money, and what size monthly payment you can realistically afford. This will help you target homes in your price range. And that's good, because a purchase price that's beyond your financial reach will make you sweat your mortgage payment and puts you at risk of defaulting on your loan.

"Down payment": It's amazing that these two little words have such a profound influence on your homeownership process—and your life! Ask most people what is an acceptable down payment on a house, and nine times out 10 they'll tell you it's 20% of your home's selling price. So you do the math, figure you'd have to put down $50,000 on a $250,000 house, and break out in hives when you realize that the chances of your getting out of that tiny one-bedroom apartment are slim.


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