How Much Do We Need as a Down Payment to Buy a Home?

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It can be confusing to understand the amount of money you'll need for a down payment on a home because of the availability of different loan programs. Many people, anxious to buy their first home, want to find a loan that requires the smallest percentage down payment.

For example, say that a couple has been saving to buy a home, and so far, they have about $2,000 in the bank. Some of their friends say they should come up with a down payment that is at least 3 percent of their targeted home's sale price. For a $200,000 home, that's $6,000 for a down payment, which may seem like not much money. So how much is the couple really required to put down to buy a home? What is the minimum down payment they can get away with for home buying?"

It's admirable that the couple is saving up for a down payment to buy a home. Some potential buyers go driving around on a Sunday, spot an open house, stumble inside and end up making an offer without giving home buying a second thought. Putting your finances in order and making sure you have enough of a down payment saved, plus closing costs, gets you started off on the right foot as a new homeowner.

Conventional wisdom says you should put down as much as you feel comfortable putting down to buy a home. Generally, more is better than less, but don't wipe out your savings account to do it. You will still need to have funds set aside for a rainy day and for things to buy after buying a home.

Types of Minimum Down Payments

The amount of minimum down payment required will depend on the type of loan that you choose. Each mortgage loan type carries its own guidelines. Gone are the days of 80 / 20 combo loans and liar loans, also known as stated income loans. Today, underwriters closely scrutinize a borrower's ability to repay the loan. They don't want borrowers to overextend themselves and end up in foreclosure or a short sale down the road.

  • Minimum Down Payment for a VA Loan: A VA loan, created by the government in 1944, is one of the best deals going in America. It offers competitive rates and attractive terms to past and present military members of our armed services. The best thing about a VA loan? No down payment. That's right. Zero down to qualified vets.
  • Minimum Down Payment for an FHA Loan: Another government program, the FHA loan, has been around even longer than the VA loan program. FHA loans have been part of the American mortgage system since 1934. The minimum down payment requirement for an FHA loan is 3.5 percent. For a $100,000 sales price, the minimum down payment is $3,500. There is also an MI premium that can be folded into the loan.
  • Minimum Down Payment for a Conventional Loan: Most conventional loans are fixed-rate mortgages. These types of loans have offered flexible down payment plans in the past, but the push for the future is to increase the down payment minimums. While 100 percent loans are not available, typically you can find, with a high enough FICO score, a loan for a 3 percent down payment. Some special conventional loans for certain classes of professional people such as teachers, for example, can require zero down.

    Other Loan Types

    You can also find 10-percent down payment and 15-percent down payment loans. All three of these types of loans involve private mortgage insurance, or PMI. As time goes on, the push will be for a minimum 20 percent down payment. If you can afford to put 20 percent down, you won't need to pay PMI.

    What's Earnest Money?

    Be careful that you don't confuse a down payment with an earnest money deposit. A down payment is a percentage of the sales price that a home buyer pays out of pocket. The remainder of the purchase price after your down payment is deducted equals the amount of your mortgage.

    An earnest money deposit is the amount of money paid to secure a purchase contract. It is part of your down payment and is generally dictated by local home buying customs. The earnest money deposit can vary from a small amount such as $100 or $500 to a larger amount such as $1,000 to $50,000, depending on the sales price.

    Earnest money is generally 1 percent to 3 percent of the sales price. This money can be at risk if a buyer defaults on the contract, known as liquidated damages. Paying earnest money shows you have good faith intentions to buy the home.

    In multiple-offer situations, buyers who put down a larger earnest-money deposit often gain an advantage. Even though it's all the same money in the end to the seller, sellers often see a big earnest money deposit as a sign the buyer is committed and serious.