#1 Automate Your Down Payment Savings
One way to jump start your down payment savings is to automate your checking account to automatically save a small amount of your paycheck into a separate savings account or ‘house fund’.
“Amassing enough for a down payment takes discipline & perseverance, but setting up automatic savings can make it easier. If you never see the cash, you won’t spend it.”
#2 Build Your Credit History & Keep It Clean
When you go to apply for a mortgage, lenders will want to see that you have been able to pay off past debts. This means staying on top of your student loans, credit cards, and car loans and paying them on time! Credit bureaus recommend using no more than 30% of the credit available to you.
#3 Practice Living on a Budget
Downsizing your spending now will allow you to save more for your down payment & pay down other debts to improve your credit score. A study by Bank of America showed that “95% of first- time buyers were willing to make sacrifices to buy their home faster.” The top 3 sacrifices cited by Millennials when saving for a home are: cutting back on new clothes, a new car, and travel.
Know Your Credit Score
Knowing your credit score and getting a recent copy of your credit report is one of the first steps that you can take toward knowing how ready you are to start the home buying process.
Make sure all the information listed on your report is accurate and work to correct any mistakes. The higher your credit score, the more likely you will be to receive a better interest rate for your mortgage, which will translate into more ‘home for your money.’
Here are some tips for improving your credit score:
- Make payments, including rent, credit cards, and car loans, on time.
- Keep your spending to no more than 30% of your limit on credit cards.
- Pay down high-balance credit cards to lower balances, and consider balance transfers to free up credit.
- Check for errors on your credit report and work toward fixing them.
- Shop for mortgage rates within a 30-day period — too many spread-out inquiries can lower your score.
- Work with a credit counselor or a lender to improve your score.
Show Sellers You Are Serious… Get Pre-Approved
In many markets across the country, the number of buyers searching for their dream homes greatly outnumbers the number of homes for sale. This has led to a competitive marketplace where buyers often need to stand out. One way to show you are serious about buying your dream home is to get pre-qualified or pre-approved for a mortgage before starting your search.
Even if you are in a market that is not as competitive, knowing your budget will give you the confidence of knowing if your dream home is within your reach.
Freddie Mac lays out the advantages of pre-approval in the ‘My Home’ section of their website:
“It’s highly recommended that you work with your lender to get pre-approved before you begin house hunting. Pre-approval will tell you how much home you can afford and can help you move faster, and with greater confidence, in competitive markets.”
One of the many advantages of working with a local real estate professional is that many have relationships with lenders who will be able to help you with this process. Once you have selected a lender, you will need to fill out their loan application and provide them with important information regarding “your credit, debt, work history, down payment and residential history.”
Freddie Mac describes the 4 Cs that help determine the amount you will be qualified to borrow:
- Capacity: Your current and future ability to make your payments
- Capital or cash reserves: The money, savings, and investments you have that can be sold quickly for cash
- Collateral: The home, or type of home, that you would like to purchase
- Credit: Your history of paying bills and other debts on time
Getting pre-approved is one of the key steps that will show home sellers that you are serious about buying, and it often helps speed up the process once your offer has
Ask Your Lender About Down Payment Assistance Programs
When you meet with your lender to become pre-approved, also ask them if there are any down payment assistance programs that you may qualify for. There are hundreds of different programs throughout the country.
Eligibility requirements vary depending on your location, and are generally limited to first-time and/ or low- and moderate-income homebuyers. Several programs specifically benefit veterans, Native Americans, and workers employed in education, health care, law enforcement, and firefighting.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) gives grants to state and local organizations nationwide. These organizations, in turn, use these funds to help homeowners bridge the down payment gap.
Every little bit helps when accumulating the funds needed to get you into your dream home.