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.
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.
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Beyond program-specific requirements, these special loans have some important drawbacks. Perhaps most importantly, they carry private mortgage insurance (PMI) premiums until LTV reaches 78% (though you can formally request PMI removal at 80% LTV). In some cases, these annual premiums can exceed 1% of the total loan value – an extra $3,000 per year on a $300,000 loan, for instance.
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.
Buyers are also taking advantage of two Fannie Mae offer loans; Conventional 97 and HomeReady mortgages, which both allow for a minimum down payment of just 3 percent. HomeReady mortgages are designed for creditworthy, low-to moderate-income borrowers, with expanded eligibility for financing homes in designated low-income, minority, and disaster-impacted communities. Conventional 97 mortgages are designed to help creditworthy home buyers who would otherwise qualify for a mortgage but may not have the resources for a larger down payment.

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The steps to buying a house might seem complicated at first—particularly if you're a home buyer dipping a toe into real estate for the very first time. Between down payments, credit scores, mortgage rates (both fixed-rate and adjustable-rate), property taxes, interest rates, and closing the deal, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. There's so much at stake with a first home!
Outside of these Fannie Mae, FHA, VA and USDA loan types, there are state and local assistance programs that can help you get into a home with a low-down payment. There are also towns that offer incentives to move there, ranging from student loan forgiveness to free lots of land to build on. Even though these programs don’t cover your down payment for you, they can help you save money elsewhere if you can come up with the initial down payment up front.
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