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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.
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.
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.
Or better yet, decide how much you’re willing to pay. Just because you can qualify for a larger mortgage doesn’t mean you want to have that kind of payment each month. Use the mortgage affordability calculator to help determine what you can afford. Now is also a good time to research your housing market and start going to open houses in your prospective neighborhood to give you a good sense of what your money will get you.
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