Demystifying the Mortgage Down Payment

The down payment is the percentage of your home’s purchase price that is paid upfront by you at closing.

Whether you’re getting your loan from a bank or a non-bank mortgage company, lenders will look at this down payment amount as your equity investment in the home, and that amount (%) plays a vital role in determining not only how much you’ll need to borrower, but also:

  • Which type of loan is best suited to you  a Fixed Rate Mortgage or an Adjustable Rate Mortgage.
  • Whether your lender will require you to pay for private mortgage insurance (often referred to as “PMI”). This typically happens if you put down less than 20% of the home’s purchase price.
  • Your interest rate. Because your down payment represents your investment in the home, your lender will often offer you a lower rate if you can make a higher down payment.

So, do you absolutely need to have 20% to buy a home? No.

There is a lot of confusion about the minimum down payment needed to buy a home. As a Millennial homebuyer, you should know that there options available to you to purchase a home with less than 20% down payment.

Additionally, you should be aware of the potential consequences of having a down payment lower than 20%, and we’ll spell that out below:

Private mortgage insurance (PMI)

For conventional financing, if your down payment is lower than 20%, your “loan-to-value ratio” will be higher than 80%. In that case, your lender may require you to pay private mortgage insurance, because they are lending you more money to purchase the home and increasing their potential risk of loss if the loan should go into default.

With PMI, a homebuyer can put down less than 20% of a home’s purchase price and still qualify for a conventional mortgage loan. But a homebuyer will have to make larger monthly mortgage payments (since they’ll have to pay PMI).

As a prospective homebuyer, it is essential that you think about your lender’s requirements and what a higher or a lower down payment will mean for your monthly cashflow and your ability to repay the loan. Ultimately, you have to determine if it is worth it to pay PMI each month in order to receive the other benefits of homeownership vs. saving for a larger down payment of 20% or more and avoiding PMI, even if that means waiting longer to buy a home?

Programs That Allow for Less Than 20% Down

Freddie Mac has long allowed for 5 percent down, and their Home Possible AdvantageSM mortgage is available to qualified borrowers with as little as 3 percent down, which can even be raised by a gift from a family member or employer or a grant from a government agency.

Fannie Mae announced in 2015 the “Home Ready” Buyer program, under which qualifying first-time homebuyers can have down payments as low as 3%. Both first-time or repeat home buyers are eligible. In late 2015, this program replaced Fannie Mae’s ‘MyCommunityMortgage’ program.

To receive the 3% rebate, homebuyers must complete an online homebuyer education course. Fannie Mae said that it is partnering with Framework, a nonprofit created by the Housing Partnership Network and the Minnesota Homeownership Center, to create the homebuyer education course, which is 100% online.

As a prospective homebuyer, it is essential that you think about your lender’s requirements and what a higher or a lower down payment will mean for your monthly cashflow and your ability to repay the loan. Ultimately, you have to… Click To Tweet

Down Payment Assistance Programs

Down Payment Assistance Programs can be run by your direct lender, a non-profit organization, or local and state housing authorities where you live. As a NeighborWorks Housing Survey showed: “70% of U.S. Adults are unaware of down payment assistance programs available for homebuyers,” and that’s why our STEM Lending Blog is helping to make you aware. These programs are an important tool you may be able to leverage towards homeownership, provided you qualify.

The three main types of down payment assistance are grants, second mortgage loans, and tax credits.

Grants – Grants are funds that you do not have to pay back as long as you own and occupy your home for a certain period of time.

Second mortgage loans – The most common down payment source, many second mortgage loans offered by state and local governments have low or zero interest rates, and the payments are deferred over a specified time span and, in many cases, the loan is completely forgiven over time.

Tax credits – Certain states and local governments, including housing finance agencies, issue mortgage credit certificates, which reduce the amount of federal income tax you pay. This makes more money available upfront for your down payment or closing costs.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides grants to state and local organizations through the HOME Investment Partnerships Program and the Community Development Block Grant Program.

To find the programs in your state, go to HUD’s on-line listing.