Down payments also protect buyers from negative equity if the market suffers a downturn. If you put 3 percent down and the market value of the home soon falls by 5 percent, you’ll be upside down on your mortgage by 2 percent; you’ll owe more than what the house is worth. However, if you had put down 20 percent, then you’ll still have equity in the home. A substantial down payment to reduce negative equity risk is not only attractive to lenders, but is also helpful in the event that owners need to sell the home for some reason.
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.
Beyond program-specific requirements, these special loans have some important drawbacks. Perhaps most importantly, they carry private mortgage insurance (PMI) premiums until LTV reaches 78% (though you can formally request PMI removal at 80% LTV). In some cases, these annual premiums can exceed 1% of the total loan value – an extra $3,000 per year on a $300,000 loan, for instance.
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.
Typically, purchase offers are contingent on a home inspection of the property to check for signs of structural damage or things that may need fixing. Your real estate agent usually will help you arrange to have this inspection conducted within a few days of your offer being accepted by the seller. This contingency protects you by giving you a chance to renegotiate your offer or withdraw it without penalty if the inspection reveals significant material damage.
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If you are able to come up with a 20 percent down payment, you’d reap quite a few benefits. Putting that larger amount down lets you avoid paying private mortgage insurance (PMI), it can help you qualify for a lower interest rate (which can help you save thousands over the life of your loan), it’ll give you more equity faster, and it will result in a smaller monthly mortgage payment. Depending on where you’re looking to buy a home, a larger down payment might also help you be a competitive buyer and stand out to the seller if there are multiple offers on the home.
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If you are unable to make a 20% down payment, there are many lenders that will allow you to make a smaller down payment on a house. Among them is the FHA, which offers mortgages with as little as 3.5% down, if your annual income is under a certain amount that varies by market. There are even some lenders, like the U.S. Department of Agriculture, that allow you to put 0% down, but eligible homes are usually in rural areas, and your income must meet certain low requirements.
How you progress through a home buying transaction can vary somewhat depending on the real estate laws and customs where you live, but many steps are standard. You'll feel more confident about your home-buying journey when you understand the chain of events and what's required of you, as well as every other person who's involved in the transaction.
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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.
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.
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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Of course, most of these programs depend on factors like your income, a maximum home price, and even your profession. For example, government employees in the Washington, DC, area may be eligible for $10,000 in down payment assistance, and teachers in Los Angeles and Orange County, CA, can get up to $15,000 to help them with their home purchases. Ask your real estate agent about these types of programs that you are eligible for.
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.