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If you’re thinking about buying a home, you may need less money than you think. Here’s how to figure out the amount of cash you need to buy a home, and what you can do to buy a home using as little money down as possible.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need 20% down. The minimum down payment you need to buy a home is 3.5% down with an FHA loan on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. This 3.5% down payment is a factor of the home price on a loan size up to the high-balance FHA county loan limit – which in most places is $417,000. However, it can be higher depending on the area. For example, in Sonoma County, Calif., it’s up to $520,950, and in some higher-cost areas, such as Marin County or San Francisco County, that number goes up to $625,500 for a single-family residence.

Alternatively, on a conventional loan you need only a 5% down payment on up to a $417,000 loan size. Should your loan size exceed $417,000, another 5% down payment kicks in, for a total of 10% down needed all the way to the maximum conforming loan limit in your county.

What to Expect When Buying With Little Money Down

First, if you’re buying a home with less money down, know that your mortgage payment will be higher than if you put more down. The three drivers that inflate a mortgage payment are: interest rate, larger loan size, and private mortgage insurance.

You should have manageable monthly debts — including credit cards, car loans, and any form of payment obligations — in relation to your income. Your income will need to be high enough to include the proposed mortgage payment for the purchase price you are seeking, as well as being able to cover your other debt payments.

The down payment percentages are important to know, though it is significantly easier to work with the monies you have or have access to, than to get wrapped around the axle about down payment percentages. Make no mistake, the mortgage company can work this calculation out for you very easily, or you can do it yourself. You can take the amount of money you have and divide that number by the purchase prices in your area to determine the exact dollar percentage.

Let’s say you have $30,000 to spend on buying a home and you know that housing prices in your area are $450,000. That means you have a 6.7% down payment, enough for an FHA Loan. If your loan professional asks you how much money you have to spend on buying a home in terms of your own funds and possible gift funds, the answer should be some sort of dollar amount, not “How much do I need?” The reason is this: How much you’ll need to buy a home is going to be predicated on the purchase price of the property and is a continual variable until you get into contract. Start with the monies you have. Assuming you have $30,000 to spend on a $450,000 home example, closing costs on a $450,000 home will easily equate to $10,000, so of the $30,000, $10,000 would come right off the top for closing costs leaving you with $20,000 as a down payment, still meeting the cash to close requirements on an FHA loan.

No-Money-Down Options

  • The VA loan program allows for no-money-down, 100% financing, for U.S. military veterans only.
  • The USDA loan program also allows for no-money-down, 100% financing, as long as you are purchasing a home in a rural area and you meet the USDA’s annual low-income thresholds.

Other Sources of Money

Alternatively, gift monies can be used to purchase a home. Typically, lenders like gift monies to come from a blood relative, but check with your lender for specifics. Here are additional funds that can be used for the acquisition of a home, though they each come with their own individual downsides and may not be a good fit for you. Consider all of your options:

  • Stocks, bonds, IRA and 401(k) monies can be pulled from these accounts to purchase a home, usually with special provisions.
  • Gift money, as long as it can be documented in some form of a bank account can also be used, along with an executed gift letter.
  • Selling of personal property — a boat or a motorcycle, for example, can be used for a down payment and/or closing costs — documented with a bill of sale and paper trailing of the funds.
  • A security deposit refund on you current rental obligation can also be used, but needs to be planned for on the front end so as to properly communicate timeframe expectations with your landlord.
  • Tax return refund.
  • Cash can be used as long as the funds have been seasoned in some form of a bank account for the past 60 days.

If want to buy a home or want to get on the path of doing so in the future, here are some steps to consider to help meet this goal:

  1. Identify what monies you have in the bank now, and from what sources.
  2. Next, get “read” on what housing prices are like in your area, through online research or connecting with a good local real estate agent
  3. Take the amount of cash you have and divide that figure by an estimated sales price range in your area so you can get a feel for how much cash you will need to purchase XYZ home. Closing costs become another crucial factor, but the main goal is determining if you have enough cash to play with. Based upon these action steps, talking with a mortgage lender about getting qualified or how much money you’ll need to save in the longer-term picture can be a prudent step in making your future home purchase a success.

Another factor that can affect how much home you can afford is your credit score, because that is a major factor in determining your interest rate. Checking your credit at least several months in advance of starting the home buying process can show you where you stand and help you consider whether you should take steps to improve your credit in the coming months. You can get your credit reports for free once a year from AnnualCreditReport.com, and there are many ways to get your credit scores for free, including through Credit.com.

[Offer: If you’re buying a house and concerned about errors on your credit report, you can hire companies – like our partner Lexington Law – to manage the credit repair process for you. Learn more about them here or call them at (844) 346-3296 for a free consultation.]

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