Buying a home when you’re short on cash

by Dan Krell ©2012

Buying a homeGiven how the lending industry has changed, it’s easy to understand that you might think you need perfect credit and a 20% down payment to buy a home. Although credit requirements have been tightened, buying a home with little or no money is still possible.

Yes, it’s true that the financial and housing crisis forced banks and mortgage lenders to re-think the idea of easy money. Sure minimum credit scores have been raised to qualify for a mortgage, and you better believe that increased underwriting scrutiny and due diligence is the rule (rather than the exception). But, that doesn’t mean that you can’t get a mortgage if you don’t have a lot of cash. Depending on your situation, you may find yourself comparing conventional loans to FHA and VA.

Conventional mortgages have been traditionally thought of as requiring a 20% down payment; however, you may obtain a conventional loan with as little as a 5% down payment. The misconception that a conventional mortgage requires such a high down payment may have stemmed from the fact that you need a 20% down payment to circumvent private mortgage insurance. Additional confusion about conventional mortgages arises from the distinct programs that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac offer for specific home buyers. For example, Fannie Mae offers a mortgage for as little as a 3% down payment through their “HomePath” financing– but this is only available to purchase Fannie Mae owned foreclosures.

Conventional financing typically allows you to receive financial assistance in the form of a gift and/or seller closing cost assistance. The documented gift must be from a relative. Although gift guidelines for some conventional programs have recently become more lenient; generally, you may be required to have a “minimum borrower contribution” (from your own funds) as your down payment decreases. However, a minimum borrower contribution may not be required if your down payment is 20% or more. Seller closing cost assistance may be limited depending on your down payment.

Buy a homeAs conventional mortgage credit requirements became increasingly strict, more home buyers found that the FHA mortgage remained somewhat flexible. Certainly, buyers with credit dings found that FHA underwriting is more forgiving (provided borrowers provide substantiating documentation) than conventional; but another attraction to FHA financing is the low down payment. Although FHA increased the required minimum down payment- you may find that the current 3.5% down payment is still relatively low. Not having the 3.5% down payment does not have to deter you either; your down payment can be from a documented gift of funds. If you’re still short of funds, FHA allows the seller to assist with your closing costs (not to 6% of the sale price).

If you’re an eligible veteran or active duty service personnel, you may find that the VA offers a very good mortgage. As a benefit to your service, you could buy a home with no down payment (provided the purchase price does not exceed the VA appraisal of reasonable value and loan limits). Additionally, the VA allows the seller to pay your lender’s fees. Eligibility and other information can be checked on the VA website (

Even though mortgage options exist, program guidelines change frequently- so check with your lender about qualifying. One final word: be prepared to document everything and follow your lender’s instructions.

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This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of March 5, 2012. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2012 Dan Krell.

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