Home ownership is one of those passages in life that many people dream of. The unfortunate reality is that it’s difficult to save for a down payment when you’re busy paying rent and other living expenses. Even buying a small starter home can be cost prohibitive in many markets. While there are financing programs with little or no money down, it’s more cost effective to save for a sizable down payment. Otherwise, you’ll end up paying for private mortgage insurance (PMI) and higher monthly payments.
Buyers should ideally work toward saving for a 20% down payment. If you put down less than 20%, it will be necessary to get private mortgage insurance which can add up to $50-$100 per month extra on your monthly mortgage. The less you put down, the higher your loan balance and therefore your monthly payment. You’ll also need additional funds for closing costs such as points, loan origination fees, etc.
So how can you save for a down payment? It’s a good idea to set up a separate savings account to put money into. Don’t mix it in with your existing savings or checking account. Consider setting up regular automatic deposits from a checking account into this savings account, so you won’t spend it and you can keep track of how much you save.
Consider investing your down payment funds into something other than a passbook savings account. Depending on how soon you plan to buy, you may want to put your money in a CD or mutual funds.
It’s possible to borrow from your 401(k) or other retirement plan, but be careful with this strategy. Only consider it if you’re a little short on saving up enough for a home. Consult your financial advisor before doing this.
Lenders are increasingly offering creative, alternative type loans that will help you buy your first home. Interest only loans and some types of adjustable rate mortgages can reduce your monthly payments. However, these types of loans can be riskier than fixed-rate loans because payments may increase with market forces. A good rule of thumb is that your monthly mortgage payment shouldn’t exceed 28% of your gross month income. You can check out the mortgage calculator to determine various monthly payment scenarios.
Your credit history will affect your loan terms and mortgage rates. This can be to your benefit or detriment. Begin now cleaning up your credit and send for a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus. Review the reports for errors and make sure any mistakes are taken care of with each of the credit bureaus. Also, consider paying down some of your existing debt, especially high-interest credit cards.
Buying your first home is one of the most exciting things you’ll do. Begin now to save and plan for that special day, so the process will be smooth and affordable, when you’re ready to buy.