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Mortgage

How I Bought My Dream Home for No Money Down  

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Like many young professionals, 31-year-old Brittany Pitcher thought her dream of homeownership dream would never quite line up with the reality of her financial outlook. Pitcher, an attorney in Tacoma, Wash., earns a good salary, but a large chunk of her take-home pay goes toward paying down her debt from law school, not leaving much room to save for her dream home — especially when most experts recommend coming up with at least a 20 percent down payment. 

“With my law school student loans, I could have never saved 20 percent down for a house,” Pitcher told MagnifyMoney. “Twenty percent is an outrageous amount of money to save.” 

But Pitcher managed to find a more affordable solution, and in 2015 she was able to purchase her dream home for $0 down.

Here’s how she did it:

A loan officer suggested Pitcher look into securing a grant from the National Homebuyers Fund (NHF), a Sacramento, Calif.-based nonprofit that works with a network of lenders nationwide to make the home-buying process more affordable, offering assistance for down payments, closing costs, mortgage tax credits and more. She applied and was awarded an $8,000 grant, which covered her down payment and closing costs. 

Each lender that works with the NHF to offer downpayment assistance has different eligibility requirements for borrowers. In Pitcher’s case, she had to earn less than $85,000 annually to qualify for the grant. She also had to take an online class driving home the importance of paying her mortgage. 

There were other stipulations, too. She was required to use a specific lender and agree to a Federal Housing Administration mortgage with a rate of 4.5%. Since FHA mortgage loans require only a 3.5 percent down payment, the grant fully covered her down payment.

But like all FHA mortgage holders, Pitcher soon learned there was a price to pay for such a low down payment requirement — she had to pay a monthly mortgage insurance premium (MIP) on top of her mortgage payment, which added an additional $112 per month.  

With the grant, Pitcher successfully purchased her first home in 2015, trading up from a one-bedroom rental to a three-bedroom house. And even with the added cost of MIP, her monthly mortgage payment was still roughly $100 less than what she would pay if she continued renting in the area.  

“When I bought my house, with my student loans, my net worth was like negative $120,000 or something horrible like that,” says Pitcher. “Now my house has appreciated enough to where my net worth is only negative $60,000. It’s been an incredible investment that’s totally paid off.” 

After she moved into her home, she came up with a strategy that would ultimately get rid of her MIP and secure a lower interest rate. Within a year, her house had increased in value enough for her to refinance out of the FHA loan and into a conventional loan, which both lowered her interest rate and eliminated her mortgage insurance premium. 

Pitcher’s experience highlights how the 20 percent down payment rule of thumb might actually be more myth than a hard-and-fast rule.  

“Historically, the typical first-time homebuyer has always put less than 20 percent down,” says Jessica Lautz, Managing Director of Survey Research and Communications for the National Association of Realtors (NAR).  

According to NAR’s 2016 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers report, the typical down payment for a first-time homebuyer has been 6 percent for the last three years.  

How to get a house with a low down payment  

There are plenty of programs out there that can help first-time homebuyers get approved for a mortgage without needing a 20 percent down payment.  

Type of Loan

Down Payment Requirement


Mortgage Insurance

Credit Score Requirement

FHA

FHA

3.5% for most

10% if your FICO credit score is between 500 and 579

Requires both upfront and annual mortgage insurance for all borrowers, regardless of down payment

500 and up

SoFi

SoFi

10%

No mortgage insurance required

Typically 700 or higher

VA Loan

VA Loan

No down payment required for eligible borrowers (military service members, veterans, or eligible surviving spouses)

No mortgage insurance required; however, there may be a funding fee, which can run from 1.25% to 2.4% of the loan amount

No minimum score
required

homeready

HomeReady

3% and up

Mortgage insurance required when homebuyers put down
< 20%; no longer required once the loan-to-value ratio reaches 78% or less

620 minimum

homeready

USDA

No down payment required

Ongoing mortgage insurance not required, but borrowers pay an upfront fee of 2% of the purchase price

620-640 minimum

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, for example, has a tool where homebuyers can search for programs local to their area. 

“There might be programs there that first-time homebuyers could qualify for that either allow them to put down a lower down payment or help them with a tax credit in their local community, or even property taxes for the first couple of years after purchasing the home,” Lautz says. “Those programs are available. It’s just a matter of finding them.” 

Case in point: Maine’s First Home Program provides low, fixed-rate mortgages that require a small, or sometimes zero, down payment. Similarly, the Massachusetts Housing Partnership, a public nonprofit, boasts its ONE Mortgage Program. The initiative offers qualified homebuyers low down payments with no private mortgage insurance. 

Generally speaking, where low- or no-down-payment loans are concerned, potential homebuyers have a number of options. An FHA mortgage loan, funded by an approved lender, is perhaps the most popular. Folks whose credit scores are 580 or above can qualify for a 3.5 percent down payment. That number goes up to 10 percent for people with a lower credit score. The catch is that you’ll have to pay an upfront insurance premium of 1.75 percent of the loan amount along with closing costs. 

Veterans, active-duty service members, and military families may also be eligible for a VA loan, which comes without the burden of mortgage insurance. They do charge a one-time funding fee, but no down payment is required, and the rates are attractive. 

Check out our guide to the best low down payment mortgage options > 

Christina Noone, 34, and her husband Eric, 33, bought their first home in Canadensis, Pa., in 2011 with a USDA loan. USDA home loans are backed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The couple put 0 percent down for a $65,000 loan with no private mortgage insurance requirement. 

“Putting money down makes your payments lower, but this specific type of loan, designed for rural areas, is manageable,” Christina says of their $650 monthly payment, which includes their mortgage and taxes. “I might have liked to wait until we had money to put down so we could have bought a nicer house for the same payments, but with zero down, we were able to get into a house easily.” 

The biggest downside for Eric and Christina, who own a local restaurant, is that their house is “a big fixer-upper,” something the couple hasn’t financially been able to tackle yet. This is precisely why Steven Podnos, M.D., a Certified Financial Planner and CFP Board Ambassador, stresses the importance of having a three- to six-month emergency fund before buying a house — especially since putting down less than 20 percent often necessitates paying for private mortgage insurance. He also suggests keeping your overall housing costs under 30 percent of your income. When it comes to finding a lender, he adds that shopping around is in your best interest. 

“It’s a competitive process,” he says. “I always tell people: get more than one offer. Go to more than one institution because different banks at different times have different standards, different amounts of money they’re willing to lend, and different risks they’re willing to take.”

Marianne Hayes
Marianne Hayes |

Marianne Hayes is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Marianne here

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Here’s Proof You Don’t Need to Go to College to Land a Good Job

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Michelle Laydon earns $80,000 per year as a senior network engineer in Santa Paula, Calif. She’s been working in the IT field for close to 20 years without a college degree, instead working her way up in the field through a mix of on-the-job training and a number of professional certificates, which she has actively renewed throughout her career.

“I’ll be quite honest, we have folks who come in to interview who may have a college degree and claim to know this stuff, but who’ve honestly never had their hands on it,” says Laydon, 50. “When they sit down in my department, it’s very intimidating because if you don’t know it, you don’t know it. With IT, there’s just so much to be gained by that hands-on experience.”

Workers without a B.A. currently make up about 64% of today’s workforce, spanning across a number of industries that go beyond traditional blue-collar jobs. And, despite popular belief, there are plenty of good jobs to be had that don’t require a bachelor’s degree — about 30 million, to be precise. The news comes from fresh research released Wednesday by Georgetown University and J.P.Morgan Chase & Co., which sought to find out how many workers are in good jobs (defined as those that pay at least $35,000) that don’t require a B.A.

The “New Collar” Job Market

The “Good Jobs That Pay Without a B.A.” report found that while manufacturing jobs on the whole are declining, they’re being more than made up for by good jobs in other skilled-service industries like health services, information technology, and financial services; the report’s lead author Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, refers to these as “new collar” jobs.

“The dominant narrative was that the American economy was hollowing out, that we were losing all the jobs in the middle, that in the end we’re going to end up with an economy that only hired brain surgeons and pool cleaners,” Carnevale told MagnifyMoney.

It turns out there is some truth to that — the abundance of blue-collar manufacturing jobs is indeed decreasing — but we’re simultaneously seeing a spike in these “new collar” jobs that pay well without requiring a B.A. The takeaway?

“The hollowing-out story, in a way, is being oversold,” says Carnevale.

To be certain, college experience does matter in the job market these days.

For the most part, Carnevale says that having some college experience will likely give you a leg up in the job market — professional certificates, some college, associate’s degrees, two-year degrees, etc.

“That’s where the most striking growth has been,” he says. “In a sense, for a lot of these jobs that used to require only high school, there’s been an upward shift in the education requirements for these jobs now.”

How to Get a “Good Job” These Days

Despite suffering major job losses, blue-collar industries continue to represent the greatest source (55%) of good jobs for folks without a B.A., according to the report. And while there has been a slight increase in good jobs that pay without a four-year degree, their overall share of good jobs has actually dropped from 60% down to 45%. According to Carnevale’s findings, this is because B.A.-holders are still scooping up more and more of these gigs.

This may be the case, but as “new collar” jobs grow and evolve, workers without a B.A. can still earn a solid living. In some cases, they can even out-earn their higher-educated colleagues.

“You can get a one-year certificate in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, and you’ll make more than 30% of the people who get A.A.s, and a fair percentage of the people who get B.A.s, actually,” says Carnevale. “In the old days, it was: go to college, get a B.A., earn more money. It’s more complicated now. It’s more about the field of study.”

He adds that the idea that more education translates to more money is still generally true — but there’s a whole lot of variation.

“If you get a certificate in engineering or computers, for instance, you’ll make more than somebody who gets an A.A. in an academic subject,” he says.

There’s a wide range of good jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree, from nurses to police officers; electricians to plumbers; bookkeepers to customer service representatives. The report points to a computer support technician earning $60,000 as a perfect example of this new worker demographic.

College Debt vs. Career Prospects

Matt Eyre, an assistant manager at a Tampa, Fla., restaurant, still carries student loan debt from the associate’s degree in music engineering and production he earned a decade ago. But he has no plans to return to school to complete his four-year degree.

“I switched career tracks and have been in restaurant management for about six years now, earning more than I think I’d get in music production,” says Eyre, 35. “I honestly don’t think having a degree would unlock any new opportunities for me; if anything, it would drive me further into debt.”

Eyre made the career jump in New York City, where his entry salary landed at $50,000. After three years of positive reviews from employers and consistent raises, he was earning $60,000 by the time he moved to Tampa in 2014. Despite taking a pay cut (he now earns $48,000 per year), he is still earning more than the $41,250 average salary of assistant managers in the U.S., according to Glassdoor’s estimate.

“In my field, performance speaks louder than degrees,” says Eyre. “I’ve worked with managers who had bachelor’s degrees in hospitality management, and I actually made more than they did because of my experience.”

Location Matters

When it comes to his career, Eyre has fortunately lived in states ripe with “new collar” job opportunities; according to Carnevale’s team, both Florida and New York are among the top four states that offer the largest number of good jobs that don’t require a B.A. degree. Texas and California take the top spot on the list, which is good news for Laydon, who works in the Golden State.

According to career resource Glassdoor, the average salary for a senior network engineer like Laydon in the U.S. is just over $104,000. Could Laydon hit that number if she had a B.A.? Maybe, but at this point in her career, like Eyre, she has no interest in taking out loans to pursue a higher degree.

The larger your state’s population, the better odds you might have of landing a good job without a B.A. According to the report, California, Texas, Florida, and New York, which happen to be the more populous states, offer up most of these jobs. Illinois and Pennsylvania are right behind.

Marianne Hayes
Marianne Hayes |

Marianne Hayes is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Marianne here

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