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Down Payment Considerations

The route for each buyer or investor really does depend on their situation and personal preferences. The summary below reviews four issues that all home buyers and investors should consider about down payment:

  • Down payment options
  • Cost of lower down payments
  • Benefits of lower down payments
  • Personal considerations

Down Payment Options

You can purchase a single-family home or condominium with as little as 3% down payment. Keeping in mind, there is a price for lower down payments on conforming loans: mortgage insurance (often called PMI, private mortgage insurance).

Mortgage insurance is required when the conforming loan amount is MORE than 80% of the purchase price (practical translation: down payment is less than 20%). Also, the lower the down payment, the higher the premium ratio charged.

Military veterans who qualify for a VA loan have the easiest route to buying a home with the need for no money down. VA loans can provide up to 100% financing for qualified military personnel and veterans. There are also non-conforming mortgage loan programs available that allow for 80/20 set-ups, which allow borrowers to obtain a second mortgage to cover the 20% down payment.

Even if you have lower income or less-than-perfect credit, we may have a program that fits your needs.

Cost of a Lower Down Payment

Low or no down payment programs have two primary costs:

  • Higher interest rates
  • Higher mortgage insurance premiums

The possible downside of a small down payment, whether you are using a conforming loan or a non-conforming program, is that you may have higher interest rates and need to pay for mortgage insurance.

Mortgage insurance is calculated against the loan amount, so you get hit with a double-whammy. A lower down payment means a higher loan amount, and, consequently, a higher mortgage insurance rate.

Mortgage insurance can be removed once sufficient equity is produced. So if the property shows at least 20% equity in a few years, the mortgage insurance can be refinanced away, or with some programs, removed once sufficient equity has been documented, typically with a new appraisal of your home.

A related burden of lower down payments is obviously higher loan amounts, which translates into higher monthly payments.

Consider, for example, the purchase of a $250,000 condominium with market interest rates of 4.500%.

  • With a 5% down payment, the loan of $237,500 would have monthly principle and interest payments of $1,203.
  • However, a 10% down payment would decrease the loan amount to $225,000 and the payment to only $1,140 per month.

During the first few years of the mortgage loan, the bulk of your monthly payments are for interest—which is normally tax-deductible. So you actually get a bit of your monthly payments back at the end of the year in the form of tax deductions.

Benefits of Lower Down Payments

Though the disadvantages of low down payments seem serious, there are also advantages. Take time to weigh the two and assess which is the best for you. The chief benefits of lower down payment include the following:

  • Increased liquidity.
  • Higher rate of return. You property’s appreciation will be the same whether you put 3%, 5% or 20% down payment. In fact, your rate of return actually decreases as you make a larger down payment, as discussed below.
  • More time to build equity. With a lower down payment, you get into your own home sooner, rather than spending your housing budget paying your landlord’s mortgage.
  • Opportunity cost. In some cases, the smart investor can make more money from available cash by placing it in other investments.

Personal Considerations

How much to put down should be carefully thought out. You must make your own personal calculation of the monthly payment that you can afford. The lender will qualify you for a certain level, based on your income. The qualification level may be different from the level that you feel comfortable with.

You may qualify for a monthly mortgage payment of $1,500 but feel that you can realistically afford only $1,200 per month. If that is the case, you must lower the loan amount by increasing the down payment or finding a less expensive property.

Consult with your loan officer about the best situation for you, as well as ways to eliminate or minimize mortgage insurance.

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