If you’re looking for a home as a first-time homebuyer, you’ve likely heard you need 20% to afford a down payment on a home. This is false. It’s common to put down 10%, 5%, or even as low as 3% on a home.
If you’re worried about high-interest rates, or crazy additional fees, don’t fret. There are down payment assistance programs in-place for first-time home buyers so that they can get out of renting and start building equity in a home.
Why You Should Look at Down Payment Assistance
There’s a reason 20% down is often regarded as the magic number when purchasing a home.
When you put 20% down on a home, you avoid having to pay mortgage insurance. Mortgage insurance is a monthly cost that doesn’t go towards building equity. Most see this as an unnecessary cost on the home buyer.
As well, when you have 20% of a home’s purchase available, you’re often going to receive better rates from lenders.
If you don’t have 20%, or if paying 20% down on a home would deplete all of your savings, don’t feel obligated to do so. Down payment assistance programs are designed to ease first-time home buyers into the responsibility of homeownership.
Different Types of Down Payment Assistance Programs
Down payment assistance (DPA) programs vary from state to state.
In general, there are four types of DPA’s:
- Grants– gifts via federal or state government that do not need to be repaid
- Loans that have to be paid down– these are in addition to your primary mortgage
- Loans with deferred payments– meaning you only have to pay if or when you move, sell, or refinance the home
- Loans that are forgiven over a number of years– you will not need to pay for the loan if you live in the home for a certain amount of time, usually 5-20 years
If you are taking a loan that needs to be paid down, ensure that the interest rate is lower than your initial mortgage. Usually, they are. The rare, golden eggs are loans that are interest-free.
Grants are the superior option but often can only account for so much of your down-payment. Different states have different limits on the amount of grant money you can receive, as well.
Finally, there are tax credits available for home buyers, which will reduce the amount of income tax you’ll be required to pay.
Do I Qualify for Down Payment Assistance?
If you are a first-time homebuyer then you can likely qualify for down payment assistance programs. If you’ve purchased a home before, there are specific situations that could still let you qualify for down payment assistance, such as never owning a home without a spouse.
Here are a few basic qualifiers for if you’re eligible for DPA:
- Buyer must have moderate or low income
- This must be the buyer’s primary residence
- The buyer must work with an approved mortgage lender
- The buyer is using DPA in conjunction with an approved mortgage program
Confirm your state’s specific requirements to know more.
Another key factor in receiving DPA is your credit score. Better rates and opportunities come from a higher credit score, so make sure you’re building up credit before you apply. Decent credit scores can still ensure certain programs, but the better your credit, the more assistance opportunities you’ll have.
Certain programs may require you to purchase a home within a specific location. Other’s may require you to take a home-buyer education course. And almost all will require the minimum 3% down payment for a home.
You’ll be required to afford the housing payment and any existing debt that you currently have. For example, the mortgage payment must not exceed 35% of your pre-tax income. With your debts, your monthly payments must not exceed 48% of your pre-tax income.
Finally, even if you qualify for all of the above, you must purchase a home that does not exceed loan limits. These vary from state to state and even county to county.
Can I Qualify for Down Payment Assistance if I’ve Owned a Home Before?
In short, yes. There are certain stipulations, though. To qualify for first-time homeowner benefits, you must either:
- Not have owned a home in the previous three years,
- Be divorced or displaced from your spouse, or
- Owned a property that has sustained damage and is no longer livable
Each of these comes with a set of stipulations. If you think one of these applies to you, reach out to a lender so they can confirm whether or not you qualify.
How Do I Find Available Down Payment Assistance Programs?
Start by asking a lender or housing counselor about state and local assistance programs. This will be the best place to start.
Afterward, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) assists with grants nationwide to help prospective homeowners. They have lists per state to help homeowners find additional DPAs.
There are additional programs available to different types of workers or citizens. There are programs for:
- Native Americans
- Health care employees
- Law enforcement
- Teachers and educators
If you have a non-W2 job, such as being a freelancer, with inconsistent income, you can often benefit from these programs as well. Don’t be afraid to search for down payment assistance with your specific situation. There’s always a chance you’ll qualify for additional benefits.
Start Applying for Down Payment Assistance Today
Down payment assistance programs are designed to do that: assist. If you’re looking at programs that require up-front costs or have interest rates higher than what you’re pre-approved for, steer clear.
However, if these programs can offer you an emergency savings cushion, or help bolster your down payment closer to 20% then take note. Buying a home is always going to be pricey– don’t leave money on the table if you don’t have to.
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