Loan Options for First-Time Homebuyers

Affordability is a big issue for renters looking toward homeownership. Beyond the purchase price, putting together a 20 percent down payment is a big roadblock for many people.

It doesn’t have to be, however. While 80 percent of millennial renters say they can’t afford to buy a house, according to an Apartment List survey, there are various options that they may not be aware of.

You’ve probably heard of Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) loans, and of Fannie Mae, a government agency that backs mortgages, but there are other programs to help buyer into their first home.

FHA / VA / Fannie
FHA loans are insured to give lenders a layer of protection if you default on the mortgage. They typically have competitive interest rates, smaller down payments and lower closing costs than conventional loans. A low credit score can still warrant only a 3.5 percent down payment.

The VA guarantees home loans that help active military members, veterans and surviving spouses. VA loans don’t require a down payment or minimum credit score.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are government-sponsored entities that back home loans for low- and moderate-income families. Down payments can be as low as 3 percent.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, focuses on homes in rural areas and guarantees the home loan. Borrowers don’t have to buy or run a farm.

A credit score of 640 or higher typically gets an applicant streamlined processing. A lower score is allowed but may require extra documentation about payment history.

Good Neighbor Next Door
This program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development helps law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and K-12 grade teachers buy homes.

A 50 percent discount off a home’s listed price is available through the program in areas labeled “revitalization areas.” Buyers must commit to living in the home for at least 36 months.

FHA Section 203(k)
If a fixer-upper fits more easily into your budget, a Section 203(k) rehabilitation program loan that’s backed by FHA can help. It considers the value of the home after you’ve made improvements, and lets you borrow the money for these fixes, rolling it into your mortgage. The down payment can be as low as 3 percent.

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