Scraping together the down payment on their mortgage is the biggest challenge facing many would-be homebuyers. And lots of those would probably like to use a personal loan to top up their savings so they reach their lender’s threshold. But can they do that?
The short answer is that few lenders would give their consent to a borrower looking to use a personal loan for their down payment. You would be taking on new debt and then taking on even more debt on top of that…not exactly the greatest solution.
The good news is that there are lots of different options out there for low down payment mortgages and even assistance programs that can help you get together funds for a down payment.
How Much Do I Really Need For A Down Payment?
Let’s make sure you know how big your down payment needs to be. Because, if you are a bit fuzzy on that, you are not alone. And you could be in for some good news.
A survey of professionals at a 2017 conference hosted by the Mortgage Bankers Association revealed a persistent myth: Twenty-eight percent of respondents thought “consumers still mistakenly believe that a 20 percent down payment is a requirement for purchasing a home.” And another four in 10 respondents thought that even those who knew 20 percent isn’t necessary still believed they’d find it difficult to buy a home with less.
Those consumers couldn’t be more wrong. Creditworthy buyers can usually get approved for a mortgage with a down payment as small as 3 or 3.5 percent. And some (more than you may think) who qualify for specialist mortgage programs need put down nothing. Discover more about all those options below.
Here are the minimum down payments required for a selection of mortgages.
The Best Mortgages for a Low Down Payment
Type of Loan
Down Payment Requirement
Credit Score Requirement
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
No mortgage insurance required
Typically 700 or higher
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
3% and up
Mortgage insurance required when homebuyers put down
No down payment required
Ongoing mortgage insurance not required, but borrowers pay an upfront fee of 2% of the purchase price
Conventional loans (one not backed by a government program)
A conventional loan is simply a type of mortgage loan that isn’t backed by a government program. Usually these loans require a 5 to 20 percent down payment, though that can be as low as 3 percent using offerings such as Fannie Mae’s HomeReady or Freddie Mac’s Home Possible mortgages. You will need to be reasonably creditworthy.
SoFI offers mortgage loans for minimum down payments of 10 percent. You can borrow between $100,000 and $3 million. And you will not have to pay for private mortgage insurance (we’ll talk more about PMI below), even though you have not reached the usual 20 percent down payment threshold. But you will need to have good-to-great credit and sound finances.
Federal Housing Administration mortgage (FHA loan)
FHA mortgages require a 3.5 percent down payment if your credit score is 580 or higher. This can be good if your credit score is less than stellar, but it may be more costly than other options. That is because you will be liable for mortgage insurance premiums (MIPs), which will be added to your monthly mortgage payments.
U.S. Dept. of Agriculture mortgage (USDA loan)
USDA loans require no down payment, unless you have significant assets. There are various eligibility criteria, including your having a low to moderate income. And you must purchase in an eligible area, although those areas make up 97 percent of the nation’s land mass. You can check if you and your area qualify using a tool on the USDA website.
Veterans Affairs mortgage (VA loan)
VA loans also require no down payment. These are for veterans, those still serving in the military and related groups. You can check your eligibility on the VA website. If you qualify, it is highly likely this will be the best mortgage you can get.
Learn more by checking out our guide to The Best Mortgages That Require No or Low Down Payment.
3 Ways To Get Help With Your Mortgage Down Payment
Down payment assistance programs
Before exploring ways of borrowing to top up your down payment funds, you should definitely check out your eligibility under various assistance programs. These are typically targeted at middle- and low-income buyers, and you may have to use a lender that participates in the program.
Some programs provide outright grants or gifts that do not have to be repaid. And they are often available to both first-time buyers and existing homeowners.
Many of these down payment assistance (DPA) programs are state-based. You can click through to your local offering, if any, from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) website, which has a link for each state. You should also call your city or county to see if it operates a similar, parallel program.
Others are run across multiple states by nonprofits, such as the National Homebuyers Fund. Freddie Mac recommends a look-up tool on the private Down Payment Resource website as a way of tracking down DPA programs for which you might be eligible.
Finally, do not forget to check with your human resources department. Some employers offer help.
Using a gift from family or friends
Suppose you cannot get help from a mainstream DPA or your employer. Perhaps your parents or another close relative, fiancé, fiancée or domestic partner may be willing to give you a gift toward your down payment. Your lender should normally have no problems with this arrangement. But it is very likely to apply a couple of industry-standard rules:
- You must meticulously document the gift process and provide copies of the donor’s withdrawal slip or check, and the recipient’s deposit slip. If appropriate, a copy of the donor’s check to the closing agent is fine.
- You must provide a letter or form signed by the donor declaring that the payment is a gift and not a loan. This must include certain information and statements, and you can download a sample gift letter from the NOLO legal website.
Many lenders will allow this gift to cover 100 percent of the down payment. However, some may prefer you to provide some of the funds yourself.
Expect your loan officer to be mildly suspicious of large gifts. Some applicants try to sneak through money that is actually a loan in disguise, risking jail time or fines for mortgage fraud. If you raise any red flags, your loan officer can investigate the funds in great detail, including their ultimate source.
It is generally fine to borrow money from friends or relations for part of your down payment, providing you declare the loan(s) to your lender. It can then include your repayments when it assesses your ability to afford your mortgage.
Central to that assessment is your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio. As the name suggests, that is the proportion of your monthly income that goes out in debt payments, including minimum payments on credit cards and standard payments on instalment loans, such as auto, student and personal loans, as well as your new mortgage. You should also include any regular commitments for alimony or child support.
LendingTree, our parent company, has a DTI calculator that can help you determine yours. If you plan on borrowing for your down payment, include the payments on the loan(s) from your family or friends when you use it. It is unlikely a lender will allow your DTI to be higher than 50 percent. Some types of mortgage require 43 percent, and many lenders prefer it to be in the 30s.
Borrowing from yourself
One way to keep your DTI low is to borrow from yourself because not all lenders count repayments of such loans in your DTI, even if you have to make them. But you need to check your lender’s policy before you proceed, and either rule out this option or find a more sympathetic source for your mortgage.
How do you borrow from yourself? By raiding your retirement pot. You may be able to make a withdrawal or take a loan from your 401(k), IRA or Roth IRA to fund your down payment.
But, unless you are a tax accountant, you should take professional advice before doing so. No, really. This is a big step with lots of potential implications.
Potential implications of raiding your retirement funds
- Unless you use money in a Roth IRA, you could find yourself with significant tax liabilities if the loan isn’t repaid.
- If you withdraw money from your 401(k), your employer could demand immediate repayment in full if you switch jobs or otherwise leave.
- Some 401(k) funds have rules against this sort of borrowing.
- Whatever you do, there is a high chance your retirement fund will take a big hit.
As previously suggested, take advice from a trusted, reputable professional.
Advantages of making a 20 percent down payment
There’s a reason that 20 percent down payment myth survives. It may well be that, decades ago, your parents or grandparents had to find that much as a minimum.
And 20 percent remains an important threshold for borrowers. Put down that much or more, and you won’t have to pay for private mortgage insurance (PMI).
You have to pay the premiums for PMI (they are mostly wrapped up in your monthly mortgage payment, but you may have to make an upfront payment too), but the only benefit you get from them is an ability to borrow with a smaller down payment. If any claim is made on the policy, probably because you have defaulted on your loan, the payout will go directly to the lender.
The biggest downside to a low down payment: PMI
Like we mentioned, most mortgage loans that come with a low down payment requirement have a big caveat — the added cost of private mortgage insurance.
The amount you pay for PMI will depend on the type of mortgage you choose and maybe your personal circumstances:
- Conventional loan — You will get a quote from your lender. Monthly payments are typically lower than on some other types of mortgage and will depend on your credit score and the size of your down payment. Your upfront payment is likely to be small or sometimes zero.
- SoFi loan — There is no PMI and so no MIPs on these loans with a down payment equal to or higher than 10 percent.
- FHA loan — This is often the most expensive type of PMI. But its costs are not affected by your credit score, and the size of your down payment tends to have less impact. So this is a good bet if your credit is iffy and you don’t have substantial savings. At the time of writing, in 2017, you can expect to pay 1.75 percent of the loan value as an upfront charge, and then anything between 0.45 percent and 1.05 percent annually, depending on how much you borrowed and the sizes of your original loan and down payment. Although calculated on an annual basis, ongoing premiums are spread evenly through the year and collected through your monthly payments. If you cannot afford the upfront payment, it may be possible to wrap it up in your overall loan.
- USDA loan — This is similar to the FHA loan’s PMI model, but typically has lower upfront and monthly payments. As with FHA loans, if you cannot afford the upfront payment, it may be possible to wrap it up in your overall loan.
- VA loan — You do not pay ongoing monthly premiums with one of these. However, you do pay an upfront cost, called a “funding fee.” For first-time buyers in 2017, these range from 1.25 percent to 2.4 percent, depending on your type of service and the size of your down payment. For regular military with a zero down payment, it is 2.15 percent. If you cannot afford that funding fee, you may be able to wrap it up in your overall loan.
Most sorts of PMI terminate (either automatically or on request) when your mortgage balance reaches 80 percent of the contract price or the property’s appraised value when you bought your home. However, that does not apply to FHA loans. You will likely be on the hook for PMI premiums for those until you move or refinance.
Should you wait to get a mortgage until you can avoid PMI?
By now you may be pondering a dilemma: Should you jump into the market now and swallow those PMI costs? Or might you be better off holding back until you have the whole 20 percent down payment, thus avoiding PMI altogether?
Your smart choice largely depends on the real estate market where you want to buy. It might also depend on the market where you are selling, if you are not a first-time buyer. And it is mostly down to math.
A matter of math
Research home-price trends in your target neighborhood to see whether they are rising (they are in most places) and, if so, how quickly. Bear in mind that some forecasting companies expect growth to continue, but more slowly. For example, CoreLogic calculated home prices grew 6.7 percent nationwide in the year ending July 2017, but expects that to slow to 5 percent by July 2018.
It makes sense to go ahead and jump into the housing market if you anticipate that the value of your home will increase sufficiently year after year to offset the added cost of PMI.
Once you have a feel for those price trends, use a calculator like MagnifyMoney parent company LendingTree’s mortgage calculator to model your options. It will itemize your PMI as part of your total monthly payment. Work out how much you could save by avoiding PMI, and compare that with how much you stand to lose in home-price inflation if you wait to save that 20 percent.
You are now in a position to make an informed decision over whether to buy now or carry on saving. Of course, if in the meantime you find the home of your dreams, you can always choose to go with your heart rather than your head.
For more information, read What Is PMI and Is It Really That Bad?
One last thing about personal loans…
There are lots of things to like about personal loans. They are easy, quick and relatively cheap (or often free) to set up. They almost always have lower interest rates than credit cards for equivalent borrowers. And they make budgeting simple, because you know how much you will pay each month, subject to rate hikes.
However, typically their rates are noticeably higher than secured loans, such as mortgages and home equity products. And you need good credit to get a low interest rate.
Some lenders advertise personal loans for as much as $100,000. Others have more modest caps. How much you will be able to borrow will depend on many factors, including how easily you can afford to repay it and your credit score.
Find out more at Shopping for Personal Loans.