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How Can I Afford a Down Payment on a House?

Written by Steve Cook on August 4, 2014 in Newsletter  |   7 comments

Down payments have always been one of the greatest barriers to homeownership. Zero-money-down mortgages have largely disappeared, but there are still a few ways you can afford a down payment on a house without breaking the bank.

how-can-i-afford-a-down-payment-on-a-houseDown payments have always been the greatest barrier to first time homebuyers—and, unfortunately, they still are.

For a brief period ten years ago, lenders marketed mortgages with no money down, which made it possible for buyers to circumvent the down payment requirements that would have kept them out of the market. When home values plummeted, these borrowers were some of the first to default. They had invested nothing in their home, and often showed a greater likelihood of simply walking away.

As a result, zero-money-down mortgages have virtually disappeared, and lenders know that a borrower who has little or no “skin in the game” is a higher default risk than a borrower who has put down a significant amount of money.

How to afford a down payment on a house

Today’s large down payment requirement can be a barrier to buying a home, but there are a few ways you can qualify for a loan without putting down 20 percent of the home’s sale price.

Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans. The FHA’s guaranteed loan program requires only 3.5 percent down from most buyers, though these loans can be often be more expensive than conventional loans. In the past three years, the FHA has raised mortgage insurance premiums and tightened credit standards in an effort to avoid seeking government aid to cover deficits caused by defaults.

Gifts. You can ask your friends and relatives for help in the form of a gift. There may be caps on how big a gift you can accept, so it’s important to talk to your lender ahead of time.

In addition, your lender will want to ensure the gift is not actually a loan that needs to be repaid, as this could throw off your debt-to-income ratio and disqualify you from obtaining the mortgage. The gift-giver will have to sign a gift letter that states the relationship between the parties, the address of the purchased property, the amount of the gift, and (sometimes) the source of the funds used to make the gift. The letter also must clearly state that the funds are a gift and that the recipient does not have to repay them.

Down payment assistance. Take advantage of hyper-local assistance programs sponsored by your local or state housing finance agency. The programs, which often aren’t widely publicized, encourage buyers to settle down in a certain area by offering loans or grants to cover the cost of a down payment. Over 1,600 programs are available nationwide for buyers who qualify. Programs are local and qualifications vary, though most have income limits.

Many of these programs are workforce housing initiatives to encourage people such as law enforcement officers, firefighters, teachers, and nurses to live close to their work, while others are designed to attract young professionals to neglected neighborhoods. Some even provide down payments to encourage buyers to purchase and renovate foreclosures. Find out more about down payment assistance available in your community by visiting www.DownPaymentResource.com.

Steve Cook is executive vice president of Reecon Advisors and covers government and industry news for the Reecon Advisory Report. He is a member of the National Press Club, the Public Relations Society of America, and the National Association of Real Estate Editors, where he served as second vice president. Twice he has been named one of the 100 most influential people in real estate. In addition to serving as managing editor of the Report, Cook provides public relations consulting services to real estate companies, financial services companies, and trade associations, including some of the leading companies in online residential real estate.

The information contained in this blog post is designed to generally educate and inform visitors to the Equifax Finance Blog. The blog posts do not give, and should not be assumed to provide, personalized tax, investment, real estate, legal, retirement, credit, personal financial, or other professional advice. Before making any financial decision, you should always consult with the appropriate professionals who can explain your options, rights, and legal responsibilities, and advise you on any tax, legal, credit, or business implications that may result from those decisions. The views and opinions expressed by the authors of blog posts are their own views and may not be the views or opinions of Equifax, Inc. and/or its affiliates.


  1. Michelle says:

    I’m not sure I would be too comfortable asking my friends and family for a “gift” as far as a down payment goes. My family would be thinking that if I had to ask for a handout, then I was not ready to purchase a house. That is just my family though.

  2. roberto says:

    I’m a veteran and in the process of applying g for a VA Loan. Do lenders require a down paint on VA Loans? My understanding is that it is a no money down loan. Appreciate some feed back in this area. Thank you

    • EFX Moderator says:

      Roberto, VA loans can be used to refinance an existing mortgage as well as rehab or repair a home. However, a down payment will still be required for the balance of the loan if you’re using the VA program to buy a house. Click here for more information. I hope this helps.

  3. Ida says:

    I agree with Michelle, if you have to ask your friends and family to help with the down payment, perhaps you are not really ready to purchase a home.

  4. Chris C. says:

    One thing that was forgotten in this message was closing costs. I am a first time home buyer and thought the bulk of the money was the down payment. Had to come out of pocket an additional $11,000 for closing costs.

  5. CLIFF HAMMONS says:


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