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Federal Housing Administration. FHA loans, which allow as little as 3.5 percent down, have traditionally been the go-to source for buyers with low down payments.
FHA loans have the advantage of allowing down-payment money from a gift or grant from other agencies.
The rising costs of FHA loans and the mortgage insurance that is required of FHA borrowers, though, have made the loans less attractive. In addition, the insurance premium on new FHA loans, unlike on other loans, is for the life of the loan.
• Veterans Affairs. VA loans, which are available to active or honorably discharged veterans and their spouses, require no down payment and no private mortgage insurance
• U.S. Department of Agriculture. Like VA loans, USDA loans require no down payment. They are available only in areas considered rural by the federal government, have income restrictions and can carry large upfront fees.
Conventional loans. Conventional loans have gotten more flexible for those who can’t afford a full 20 percent down.
Many banks will lend up to 90 or even 95 percent of the property’s value. Such loans require a monthly private mortgage insurance fee, but the cost of such insurance has dropped while the cost of FHA insurance has risen, making conventional loans more attractive for those who can’t put 20 percent down.
Generally, the better a borrower’s credit score and the lower the debt-to-income ratio, the more likely a lender will allow a lower down payment.
“Conventional mortgage insurance now is much less expensive than FHA insurance,” Pausche said. “If you have the credit scores to qualify conventionally, it may be cheaper to put down 5 percent instead of going with FHA.”
In addition, Fannie Mae, the federal buyer of home mortgages, offers a program called My Community Mortgage that allows low- to moderate-income buyers to put down as little as 3 percent on a home.
Freddie Mac offers a similar program called Home Possible that allows buyers into homes with as little as 5 percent down, all of which can come from gifts.