Your house might be the single biggest purchase you ever make, but it won’t be the only big-ticket item you ever buy. Unless you can comfortably live without a car, you’re likely to buy a new or used vehicle every few years. If you have kids, you’ll need to budget for their education. Once you’re ensconced in your home, you’ll probably want to make sensible improvements that enhance its value or accommodate your growing family. And, all the while, you need to have enough set aside for the unexpected.
Down payment size is a function of three overlapping factors: your desired initial loan-to-value (LTV) ratio, your time horizon (when you want to buy), and local housing market conditions. When people talk about budgeting for a future home purchase, they generally refer to list prices: “We’re willing to pay $300,000,” or “We can afford $250,000, but no more.”
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You won't have to pay PMI: By making a larger down payment, you can also avoid paying private mortgage insurance (PMI). With a smaller down payment -- say 3.5% -- your mortgage lender will want some financial insurance that you'll pay the larger loan off on time, and in full. That increases the monthly mortgage payments you'll make if you make a smaller down payment - and that's a problem a homebuyer who makes a 20% down payment doesn't have.
"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.