For lenders, whether it’s a bank, credit union, or other type of lender, a down payment helps offset their risk in making a mortgage loan because it means the borrower immediately has some skin in the game–an investment to protect. The more money you pay down, the less the lender stands to lose if you default on payments and the lender has to foreclose, especially early in the loan term. This is why borrowers who put less than 20 percent down usually have to get PMI, as it protects lenders by repaying the unpaid portion of the loan if the borrower defaults.
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.
Deciding whether you want to buy a house involves taking a good, hard look at its structure and its features, but there are many other topics that are every bit as important to your purchase. You might want to consider having a home inspection to flush out hidden problems, or even talk to the neighbors to get firsthand opinions of the neighborhood.
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.
Before contacting a lender, it’s smart to check your credit report. By law, you can get a free report once a year through Annualcreditreport.com. The report pulls data from the three major credit-reporting agencies: Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. Having the information in hand before you talk with a lender lets you dispute any errors in the reporting. Based on your credit report, Fair Isaac & Co. (FICO) assigns you a credit score ranging from 350 to 850. The higher your credit score, the lower the interest rate on your mortgage. Scores are based on:
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.”
Putting off buying a home for many years to save a large down payment can be a mistake. While you’re saving your down payment, the price of that house is probably going up. While home price appreciation is not guaranteed, real estate in the U.S. has historically increased by about 4 percent per year, according to Black Knight). In 12 years, a house costing $200,000 today may be priced at over $300,000.
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.
The advent of online banking makes it easier than ever to save small amounts of money without even realizing it. Some major banks, including Bank of America (Keep the Change) and U.S. Bank (S.T.A.R.T.), empower deposit account holders to save their spare change from every transaction using apps that automatically round debit card payments up to the nearest whole dollar and sock away the remainder in a savings account.
Many financial experts agree that having saved up a down payment is a good sign that buyers are ready for homeownership. If you can make the necessary sacrifices to amass a down payment, lenders take this as a sign that you’ll likely be able to manage your finances to pay the expenses that come with owning a home, including monthly mortgage payments, repairs and property tax.
What’s even better than recurring savings account deposits? Automated savings account deposits that you don’t have to remember to execute each month. Most banks allow recurring savings transfers from internal or external checking accounts. Examine your budget and determine how much you can afford to save each pay period or month, and then make it happen, preferably on the same date (or the day after) you receive your paycheck or direct deposit. Again, consider a separate savings account just for your down payment fund. If you’re looking to open a new account, go with one of these bank account promotions so you can make the most of the opportunity.
Why? Because, over shorter timeframes, market downturns can devastate savings goals. Imagine that you put $20,000 in the market between 2005 and 2007, on your way to an expected $40,000 down payment by 2009. Between mid-2007 and early 2009, U.S. markets lost roughly half their value. In other words, that $20,000 sum would have shrunk to just $10,000, assuming you added no new funds – no doubt crushing your dream of buying a home in 2009.
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.