7 Programs That Help First-Time Homebuyers

Finding the Right Mortgage, Mortgages
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Buying a home is so hard, they should make it an Olympic event. It’s not just the paperwork; it’s the terminology, the fees and the number of people involved. It’s natural to want to agree to whatever, sign everything and just get through the process as fast as you can. But while that may make you a medalist in downhill skiing, it won’t earn you many style points in life’s uphill battle to financial well-being.

Here are some of the most useful homebuyer programs that you might overlook if you rush the process. They may score you some big savings.

FHA                                                  

This is the go-to program for many Americans, especially first-time homebuyers and those who have a credit history that’s … let’s say shaky. The Federal Housing Administration guarantees a portion of home loans, which frees lenders to broaden their acceptance standards. With FHA backing, borrowers can qualify for loans with as little as 3.5% down.

» MORE: How to calculate your monthly mortgage payment

FHA loans do have an up-front and ongoing additional cost built in: mortgage insurance premiums. This protects the lender’s stake in the loan if you default.

You can search a list of FHA lenders near you at HUD.gov.

VA

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs helps servicemembers, veterans and surviving spouses buy homes. The program is especially generous, often requiring no down payment or mortgage insurance. But like a lot of military operations, the approval track is built for accuracy, not speed.

USDA

This one may surprise you. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a homebuyers assistance program. And no, you don’t have to live on a farm. The program targets rural areas and allows 100% financing by offering lenders mortgage guarantees. There are income limitations, which vary by region.

Home upgrade programs

Here are a couple of programs that allow you to buy more home for your money.

  • The Energy Efficient Mortgage program extends your borrowing power when you buy a home with energy-saving improvements or upgrade a home’s green features. If you qualify for a home loan, you can add the EEM benefit to your regular mortgage. It doesn’t require a new appraisal or affect the amount of your down payment. The program simply allows your lender the flexibility to extend loan limits for energy efficiency improvements.
  • There are also HUD 203(k) loans, designed for buyers who want to tackle a fixer-upper. This special FHA-backed loan considers what the value of the property will be after improvements and allows you to borrow the funds to complete the project as part of your main mortgage. 

Good Neighbor Next Door

This initiative was originally called the Teacher Next Door Program but was expanded to include law enforcement, firefighters and emergency medical technicians, hence the snappy “Good Neighbor” name. A HUD-sponsored program, it allows 50% discounts on the list price of homes located in revitalization areas. Yes, half off. Who knew? You just have to commit to living in the property for at least 36 months. These homes are listed — for just seven days — on the Good Neighbor Next Door sales website.

Dollar Homes

This sounds like one of those late-night television offers, but HUD claims to offer $1 homes that have been acquired by the FHA through foreclosures. Needless to say, this is a tiny pool of houses. At last check, only a handful of listings appeared on the website. Curiously, one home we checked out in the Dollar Home category seemed to be listed for $17,900. We’re not sure what that’s about, but shop carefully.

» MORE: 5 Tips for Finding the Best Mortgage Lenders

Fannie and Freddie

They sound like classic ’70s rock bands, but Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are the engines behind the home loan machine. These government-sanctioned companies work with local lenders to offer some appealing mortgage options, such as 3% down payments.

Even more help

In addition to these national programs, many state and local governments offer assistance to homebuyers. The Department of Housing and Urban Development has links to additional information.

Tapping one of these resources may help you buy a home with less of a down payment, lower your interest rate, or even find a bargain in your neighborhood. Then you can have your own opening ceremony in your new home.

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Hal Bundrick is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: hal@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @halmbundrick


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