First-Time Home Buyer Class: Why Take It?

A first-time home buyer class can be the ticket to grants, down payment assistance and a lower monthly payment.
Hal M. Bundrick, CFP®
By Hal M. Bundrick, CFP® 
Edited by Amanda Derengowski

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A first-time home buyer class has been suggested to you — perhaps by a lender, friend or real estate agent. And you're thinking, "What's the point?"

But what if you were paid a nice chunk of change to take the class? In effect, that may actually be the case.

A first-time home buyer class, and the certificate you earn from completing it, can be the ticket to a grant or down payment assistance. At the very least, it can show you how to save hundreds or maybe thousands of dollars on a mortgage.

All of which can lead to a lower monthly mortgage payment.

What is a first-time home buyer class?

It's a course featuring content guided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. While HUD doesn't dole out grants or down payment assistance, many of the states, local governments and nonprofits that do will require you to take a HUD-approved "housing counseling" class.

These educational workshops are designed to help borrowers qualify for a mortgage and navigate the homebuying process.

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What is covered in a first-time home buyer class?

Melinda Opperman is an executive vice president of, a nonprofit personal finance education provider. The company offers homebuying courses in Southern California as well as online through

Opperman says first-timers, as well as so-called boomerang buyers bouncing back from a past financial hardship, find the classes worthwhile.

Many buyers taking the course, particularly those reentering homeownership following the loss of a home, say, "'I didn't know any of this. I sure would have done things a lot differently,'" Opperman says.

A typical class will cover topics such as:

When should you take a first-time home buyer education course?

While many borrowers take the class as a lender requirement to qualify for a particular loan or assistance, Opperman says many participants say they wish they had taken the course much earlier in the homebuying process.

Potential home buyers should take the course before they do anything.
Melinda Opperman, executive vice president of

In fact, she says potential home buyers should take the course "before they do anything."

"If they make the decision that they want to purchase a home, they should take the class," Opperman says. "We show them how to comparison shop several different lenders. How to interview and locate a Realtor, and then comparison shop three different Realtors."

The class helps buyers avoid "shoehorning themselves into homes that are just beyond reach," Opperman adds.

Participants who complete the course receive a HUD-approved certificate that helps qualify borrowers for grant and down payment assistance programs, dependent on their financial eligibility.

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How much does a home buyer class cost?

Some home buyer education courses are free. If there is a charge, Opperman says, in-person classes may cost as little as $15 to $30, mostly offsetting the cost of materials.

Online courses, which can be six to eight hours long, can range from $75 to $125, but they allow the convenience of completing the course in your spare time and at your own pace.

How to find a home buyer education course

It's a good idea to search close to home, with the housing agency in your state that offers first-time home buyer assistance programs. Even if you don't financially qualify for a grant or down payment help, it's likely they can point you in the direction of homebuying education.

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