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.
Pre-approval requires the lender to pull the credit information (see Step 1) and assess your financial situation. The lender will then give you a letter that states the amount they would be willing to lend you. If you get in a multiple-offer scenario, being pre-approved may give you an edge because the seller will have more confidence that you will be approved for a loan large enough to purchase their home.
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.

Down payments also protect buyers from negative equity if the market suffers a downturn. If you put 3 percent down and the market value of the home soon falls by 5 percent, you’ll be upside down on your mortgage by 2 percent; you’ll owe more than what the house is worth. However, if you had put down 20 percent, then you’ll still have equity in the home. A substantial down payment to reduce negative equity risk is not only attractive to lenders, but is also helpful in the event that owners need to sell the home for some reason.
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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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.
Let the serious shopping begin! By now you’ve talked things over with your agent and you both know what you really want and need in a home. Armed with this, your price range and knowledge of the local area, look at listings online and with your agent, who will come up with properties for you to tour. Chances are you’ll discover some new things to love or hate about homes and refine your search.

Each mortgage lender (LendingTree is just one example) will scrutinize your financial background—such as your debt-to-income ratio and assets—and use this info to determine whether to loan you money, and what size monthly payment you can realistically afford. This will help you target homes in your price range. And that's good, because a purchase price that's beyond your financial reach will make you sweat your mortgage payment and puts you at risk of defaulting on your loan.

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People who inherit a windfall sometimes choose to put more than 20% down, so their payments will be lower and they can avoid mortgage insurance payments. But others, with very low credit ratings, are required by the lender to put more than 20% down. According to Robert Berger in U.S. News & World Report, if your credit score is under 620, you'll probably have to put more than 20% down to get a conventional loan.
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