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.
The loan-to-value ratio is basically defined as the percentage of the home's value you owe after making a down payment on a new home. It's calculated by taking the mortgage loan amount and dividing it by the appraised value of the house you're buying. So if you're buying a house that costs $100,000, you put down $10,000 and you're borrowing $90,000, your LTV ratio is 90 percent.
"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.
This person will be your lifeline through the process. Not so long ago, people didn’t have much to go on when selecting an agent. A postcard in the mail or a name on a sign might have been all you had to consider if you didn’t have a personal referral. But now it’s a breeze to check reviews online. Go ahead and meet with a few agents and ask some questions. Your agent is your chief advocate, confidante and hand-holder in the process so you want to find a good fit.
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.
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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.
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.
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