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.
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:
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If you and your spouse both have IRAs, you can both withdraw up to $10,000, for a total of $20,000. Depending on the projected size of your down payment, that could be a sizable boost. And, on Roth IRAs held longer than five years, you can withdraw tax- and penalty-free contributions in excess of $10,000, though any withdrawn earnings are taxable at your normal rate.
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Your state and perhaps local governments may offer down payment assistance programs as well. For instance, in my native Minneapolis, the Minnesota Homeownership Center has a handy Down Payment Assistance finder that tells prospective homeowners about down payment financing and non-financial assistance resources available in their areas. In California, Golden State Finance Authority provides direct, need-based grants (with some strings attached) worth up to 5% of the loan amount – not an insignificant sum in pricey California metro areas like San Francisco and Los Angeles.
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.
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.