The link between home down payments and interest rate aids lenders in calculating what mortgage industry professionals call the "loan-to-value" (LTV) ratio of the home. Loan-to-value, along with the debt-to-income ratio (i.e., the amount of money you owe weighed against the amount of income you earn) and your credit score are the primary factors a mortgage lender considers when making a home loan.

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.
FHA Loans. FHA mortgage loans are insured, but not originated, by the federal government – specifically, the Federal Housing Administration. Known as 203b mortgage loans, they require just 3.5% down. They can be used on one- to four-family homes and typically carry lower interest rates than conventional mortgage loans, though your exact rate will depend on your creditworthiness and other factors. Underwriting standards are also much looser than on conventional mortgages – you can qualify with a credit score below 600.

Buying a home is often one of the most expensive endeavors one will take throughout their life, so it’s not surprising that saving for a down payment remains a major hurdle for many Americans on their path to homeownership. But although a 20 percent down payment is considered ideal, it’s not actually as common as you might think, nor is it a necessity to buying a home.

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You'll be inundated with possibilities, especially in the beginning of your home search. Your agent will send listings to your cellphone. You'll probably pick up "House For Sale" magazines and read classified ads in your local newspapers. You'll probably spend an inordinate amount of time surfing the Internet for homes. You might even plan afternoon drives to preview neighborhoods.

As a buyer, just keep in mind that mortgage pre-approval is different from mortgage pre-qualification. Pre-qualify, and you're undergoing a much simpler process that can give you a ballpark figure of what you can afford to borrow, but with no promise from the lender. Getting pre-approved is more of a pain since you'll have to provide tons of paperwork, but it's worth the trouble since it guarantees you're creditworthy and can truly buy a home.


Buyers are also taking advantage of two Fannie Mae offer loans; Conventional 97 and HomeReady mortgages, which both allow for a minimum down payment of just 3 percent. HomeReady mortgages are designed for creditworthy, low-to moderate-income borrowers, with expanded eligibility for financing homes in designated low-income, minority, and disaster-impacted communities. Conventional 97 mortgages are designed to help creditworthy home buyers who would otherwise qualify for a mortgage but may not have the resources for a larger down payment.
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It’s important to ensure you’re not depleting (or neglecting to fund) your retirement savings account or your emergency fund to buy a home. Doing so could put you at a disadvantage to retire comfortably later on. Draining your emergency fund isn’t ideal because you might need to make costly repairs after moving in or run into a financial hardship, and you won’t have a cushion to fall back on.

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"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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It’s important to ensure you’re not depleting (or neglecting to fund) your retirement savings account or your emergency fund to buy a home. Doing so could put you at a disadvantage to retire comfortably later on. Draining your emergency fund isn’t ideal because you might need to make costly repairs after moving in or run into a financial hardship, and you won’t have a cushion to fall back on.
In the short and medium run, it’s much safer to invest in FDIC-insured instruments such as traditional savings accounts, certificates of deposits (CDs), and money market accounts. Though these instruments have relatively low yields – currently below 2% APY in most cases (UFB Direct is currently at 2.45%) – the risk of principal loss is extremely low. If you want your down payment to actually be there, in full, when you need it, save investments in FDIC-insured accounts are your ticket.

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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.

Although 20 percent isn’t a prerequisite to homeownership, many buyers do put that amount down and then some. Larger down payents are more prevalent for buyers in the West (47 percent put down 20 percent or more) and the Northeast (52 percent put down 20 percent or more). This is because of tighter markets and the need to present a more competitive offer to a seller in order to win the home.


VA Loans. If you or your spouse is a current or former member of the military, your family may qualify for a VA home loan backed by the federal government (Department of Veterans Affairs). On the down payment front, VA loans are even better than FHA loans – they require no money down, though you’re free to put money down and reduce the total amount you must borrow. If interest rates drop after you’ve been in your house for a while, look into VA streamline refinance loans (IRRRL), which can reduce your rates significantly at a lower cost than a conventional refinance loan.
If your offer called for a home inspection, this is a big day. Sure, you get to have a home inspector look over the home to make sure there are no unseen defects you want to negotiate to have fixed. But more importantly, this is the most time you’ll get to spend in your new home until closing. Go ahead and start measuring things and figuring out what goes where. This may be the last time you are inside the home until it is yours, several weeks from now.
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