First-Time Homebuyer Programs Can Help With Down Payments

Written by
David Mully
Read Time: 5 minutes

Buying a home for the first time can be a challenge, especially when it comes to gathering enough funds to cover a down payment. Fortunately, there are a host of first-time homebuyer programs that can help ease the financial burden of coming up with a huge down payment.

There have always been options for buyers who need a lower down payment. For instance, FHA loans , which are mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration, require down payments of just 3.5 percent of a home’s final purchase price unless you have bad credit - defined as a FICO credit score below 580.

But private lenders also are offering an increasing number of down payment assistance programs, some that require first-time buyers to come up with no down payments at all.

And if you can’t qualify for any first-time homebuyer programs from private lenders? You can always check out first-time homebuyer loans offered through the federal government in the form of VA or FHA loans and other programs provided by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

The down payment burden

Buyers often strive to come up with a down payment of 20 percent of a home’s purchase price, which many consider "standard." A down payment that large will allow you to avoid private mortgage insurance – which can add $100 or more to your monthly payments – on your home loan.

But a 20 percent down payment is not required. Most conventional mortgage lenders will allow you to come up with a down payment of 5 percent or less. If you qualify for a loan insured by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs – better known as a VA loan – you won’t have to come up with any down payment. The same is true if you qualify for a USDA loan, a loan insured by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Not everyone, though, can qualify for those last two loan types. USDA loans are only available in non-urban areas to persons of limited means, while you must be a veteran, active-duty service member or the widow of a veteran to qualify for a VA loan.

Private first-time home buyer programs

This is why the increase in first-time home buyer programs offered by private mortgage lenders is so welcome. There are plenty of consumers who can afford monthly mortgage payments and who have the good credit necessary to qualify for a mortgage.

They just can’t afford a large down payment. These first-time home buyer assistance programs can help these consumers get into their first homes.

One program that is gaining plenty of attention is a zero-down first-time homebuyer program offered from Flagstar Bank that would help some first-time buyers in Michigan. This program not only requires no down payment, it also helps first-time buyers cover closing costs.

That last part is important. Closing costs can be expensive, ranging from 3 percent to 6 percent of your mortgage amount. If you are taking out a mortgage of $200,000, then, your closing costs can range from $6,000 to $12,000.

The Flagstar gift program, which is only open to borrowers in Michigan who are buyng homes in specific qualifying areas in the state, provides borrowers with a gift of the 3 percent down payment. It also covers up to $3,500 worth of closing costs. Any closing costs above that level would have to be covered by borrowers.

The first-time homebuyer part of the program is a bit loose. Borrowers can't own a home now and can't have owned a home for in the last three years.

Flagstar isn't alone in offering a down payment assistance program. Fifth Third Bank offers its Fifth Third Down Payment Assistance Program. This program provides 3 percent of the home's purchase price toward borrowers' down payments or closing costs. The program, though, only provides a maximum of $3,600 as a gift. Borrowers with higher down payments or closing costs will have to cover the rest by themselves.

As with the Flagstar bank program, borrowers will not have to repay this gift. The program, like Flagtar's, does come with restrictions. Borrowers can't buy a home for a price of more than $120,000. The property must also be in Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, West Virginia, North Carolina, Florida or Georgia

Unlike Flagstar's program, the Fifth Third Bank program doesn't require borrowers to be first-time buyers.

Other options

Movement Mortgage, last summer, introduced its own 1 percent down program for first-time homebuyers, the Movement Assistance Program, or M.A.P. This program provides first-time homebuyers with down payment assistance of up to 3 percent of a home's purchase price in the form of a grant provided directly by Movement Mortgage. The grant does not have to be repaid.

"M.A.P. will help more families become homeowners by providing assistance with the upfront costs of home buying," said Movement Mortgage co-founder and chief executive officer Casey Crawford, in a statement.

Buyers in this program, after receiving their 3 percent grant, take out a loan for 97 percent of the home's purchase price.

Borrowers, again, will have to meet certain income and asset criteria based on need and the median income in their area.

United Security Financial Corp. offers its own down payment assistance program. Under this program, borrowers must first contribute $500. United Security then covers the rest of borrowers' required down payment of 3.5 percent of a home's purchase price.

This down payment grant doesn't have to be repaid, and can be as much as $11,511. It’s also not restricted to first-time buyers. There are some requirements here, too, though: First, borrowers need a FICO credit score of 640 or higher, and they must take out an FHA-insured 30-year fixed-rate mortgage.

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