Myth: It Takes 20% Down to Buy a Home

One common frustration I hear from people who haven’t owned a home before is that it will be nearly impossible for them to save up enough money for a down payment. They’re often under the impression that they need 20% of the purchase price in order to qualify for a loan, which can be a tens of thousands of dollars hurdle.

But, as someone who’s purchased homes, refinanced homes, and knows a few people working in the real estate and lending industries, I can tell you that this is a myth. It’s not even close to accurate.

Based on my experience, the biggest factor determining whether you can afford a home is your credit score. Credit Karma is a decent place to look up where you stand today. If your score is in the mid-600s or higher, you may want to talk to a mortgage broker or your credit union to find out what you’d qualify for. Credit Karma also offers decent advice on what factors are having the biggest impact on your current score.

After credit score, your current income and work history (how long you’ve been at your current job) are important factors.

And, after that, how much you can put down toward the purchase comes into play.

But, to be clear, it’s FAR less than 20%. In fact, you may need 3% or less to get a deal done. And, you may be able to get some of that down payment as a gift/loan from your friends/family. Loans with down payments less than 20% generally require private mortgage insurance (PMI) which sucks to pay, but it’s worth looking at the numbers to see how your fully loaded payments compare to renting.

The bar is far lower than prospective first time home buyers tend to realize.

Now, put that together with home prices being down a bit from their peaks, and interest rates being a historically low rates, it’s a darn good time to consider buying.

Real estate agents tend to earn well-deserved criticism for saying “now is a great time to buy” regardless of what the market is doing. As someone familiar with the industry but not directly profiting from your decisions, I think now is a good time to look at how the numbers add up for you.

2 thoughts on “Myth: It Takes 20% Down to Buy a Home”

  1. I bought my house under the American Dream program through US Bank. Under that program only 3% is required, and sometimes just $1,000 out of pocket. And if you don’t have $1,000 to spare, you shouldn’t be buying a house anyway.

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