Home > Mortgages > Here’s How to Buy a House Without a 20% Down Payment

Comments 0 Comments
Advertiser Disclosure


If you’re thinking about buying a home, you may need less money than you think. Here’s how to figure out the amount of cash you need to buy a home, and what you can do to buy a home using as little money down as possible.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need 20% down. The minimum down payment you need to buy a home is 3.5% down with an FHA loan on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. This 3.5% down payment is a factor of the home price on a loan size up to the high-balance FHA county loan limit – which in most places is $417,000. However, it can be higher depending on the area. For example, in Sonoma County, Calif., it’s up to $520,950, and in some higher-cost areas, such as Marin County or San Francisco County, that number goes up to $625,500 for a single-family residence.

Alternatively, on a conventional loan you need only a 5% down payment on up to a $417,000 loan size. Should your loan size exceed $417,000, another 5% down payment kicks in, for a total of 10% down needed all the way to the maximum conforming loan limit in your county.

What to Expect When Buying With Little Money Down

First, if you’re buying a home with less money down, know that your mortgage payment will be higher than if you put more down. The three drivers that inflate a mortgage payment are: interest rate, larger loan size, and private mortgage insurance.

You should have manageable monthly debts — including credit cards, car loans, and any form of payment obligations — in relation to your income. Your income will need to be high enough to include the proposed mortgage payment for the purchase price you are seeking, as well as being able to cover your other debt payments.

The down payment percentages are important to know, though it is significantly easier to work with the monies you have or have access to, than to get wrapped around the axle about down payment percentages. Make no mistake, the mortgage company can work this calculation out for you very easily, or you can do it yourself. You can take the amount of money you have and divide that number by the purchase prices in your area to determine the exact dollar percentage.

Let’s say you have $30,000 to spend on buying a home and you know that housing prices in your area are $450,000. That means you have a 6.7% down payment, enough for an FHA Loan. If your loan professional asks you how much money you have to spend on buying a home in terms of your own funds and possible gift funds, the answer should be some sort of dollar amount, not “How much do I need?” The reason is this: How much you’ll need to buy a home is going to be predicated on the purchase price of the property and is a continual variable until you get into contract. Start with the monies you have. Assuming you have $30,000 to spend on a $450,000 home example, closing costs on a $450,000 home will easily equate to $10,000, so of the $30,000, $10,000 would come right off the top for closing costs leaving you with $20,000 as a down payment, still meeting the cash to close requirements on an FHA loan.

No-Money-Down Options

  • The VA loan program allows for no-money-down, 100% financing, for U.S. military veterans only.
  • The USDA loan program also allows for no-money-down, 100% financing, as long as you are purchasing a home in a rural area and you meet the USDA’s annual low-income thresholds.

Other Sources of Money

Alternatively, gift monies can be used to purchase a home. Typically, lenders like gift monies to come from a blood relative, but check with your lender for specifics. Here are additional funds that can be used for the acquisition of a home, though they each come with their own individual downsides and may not be a good fit for you. Consider all of your options:

  • Stocks, bonds, IRA and 401(k) monies can be pulled from these accounts to purchase a home, usually with special provisions.
  • Gift money, as long as it can be documented in some form of a bank account can also be used, along with an executed gift letter.
  • Selling of personal property — a boat or a motorcycle, for example, can be used for a down payment and/or closing costs — documented with a bill of sale and paper trailing of the funds.
  • A security deposit refund on you current rental obligation can also be used, but needs to be planned for on the front end so as to properly communicate timeframe expectations with your landlord.
  • Tax return refund.
  • Cash can be used as long as the funds have been seasoned in some form of a bank account for the past 60 days.

If want to buy a home or want to get on the path of doing so in the future, here are some steps to consider to help meet this goal:

  1. Identify what monies you have in the bank now, and from what sources.
  2. Next, get “read” on what housing prices are like in your area, through online research or connecting with a good local real estate agent
  3. Take the amount of cash you have and divide that figure by an estimated sales price range in your area so you can get a feel for how much cash you will need to purchase XYZ home. Closing costs become another crucial factor, but the main goal is determining if you have enough cash to play with. Based upon these action steps, talking with a mortgage lender about getting qualified or how much money you’ll need to save in the longer-term picture can be a prudent step in making your future home purchase a success.

Another factor that can affect how much home you can afford is your credit score, because that is a major factor in determining your interest rate. Checking your credit at least several months in advance of starting the home buying process can show you where you stand and help you consider whether you should take steps to improve your credit in the coming months. You can get your credit reports for free once a year from AnnualCreditReport.com, and there are many ways to get your credit scores for free, including through Credit.com.

[Offer: If you’re buying a house and concerned about errors on your credit report, you can hire companies – like our partner Lexington Law – to manage the credit repair process for you. Learn more about them here or call them at (844) 346-3296 for a free consultation.]

More on Mortgages & Homebuying:

Image: iStock

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Credit.com receives compensation for the financial products and services advertised on this site if our users apply for and sign up for any of them.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team