Tag: Buying a home

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Life Events, Mortgage

The Best Mortgages That Require No or Low Down Payment

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

If you’re considering buying a home, you’re probably wondering how much you’ll need for a down payment. It’s not unusual to be concerned about coming up with a down payment. According to Trulia’s report Housing in 2017, saving for a down payment is most often cited as the biggest obstacle to homeownership.

Maybe you’ve heard that you should put 20% down when you purchase a home. It’s true that 20% is the gold standard. If you can afford a big down payment, it’s easier to get a mortgage, you may be eligible for a lower interest rate, and more money down means borrowing less, which means you’ll have a smaller monthly payment.

But the biggest incentive to put 20% down is that it allows you to avoid paying for private mortgage insurance. Mortgage insurance is extra insurance that some private lenders require from homebuyers who obtain loans in which the down payment is less than 20% of the sales price or appraised value. Unlike homeowners insurance, mortgage protects the lender – not you – if you stop making payments on your loan. Mortgage insurance typically costs between 0.5% and 1% of the entire loan amount on an annual basis. Depending on how expensive the home you buy is, that can be a pretty hefty sum.

While these are excellent reasons to put 20% down on a home, the fact is that many people just can’t scrape together a down payment that large, especially when the median price of a home in the U.S. is a whopping $345,800.

Fortunately, there are many options for homebuyers with little money for a down payment. You may even be able to buy a house with no down payment at all.

Here’s an overview of the best mortgages you can be approved for without 20% down.

FHA Loans

An FHA loan is a home loan that is insured by the Federal Housing Administration. These loans are designed to promote homeownership and make it easier for people to qualify for a mortgage. The FHA does this by making a guarantee to your bank that they will repay your loan if you quit making payments. FHA loans don’t come directly from the FHA, but rather an FHA-approved lender. Not all FHA-approved lenders offer the same interest rates and costs, even for the same type of loan, so it’s important to shop around.

Down payment requirements

FHA loans allow you to buy a home with a down payment as low as 3.5%, although people with FICO credit scores between 500 and 579 are required to pay at least 10% down.

Approval requirements

Because these loans are geared toward lower income borrowers, you don’t need excellent credit or a large income, but you will have to provide a lot of documentation. Your lender will ask you to provide documents that prove income, savings, and credit information. If you already own any property, you’ll have to have documentation for that as well.

Some of the information you’ll need includes:

  • Two years of complete tax returns (three years for self-employed individuals)
  • Two years of W-2s, 1099s, or other income statements
  • Most recent month of pay stubs
  • A year-to-date profit-and-loss statement for self-employed individuals
  • Most recent three months of bank, retirement, and investment account statements

Mortgage insurance requirements

The FHA requires both upfront and annual mortgage insurance for all borrowers, regardless of their down payment. On a typical 30-year mortgage with a base loan amount of less than $625,500, your annual mortgage insurance premium will be 0.85% as of this writing. The current upfront mortgage insurance premium is 1.75% of the base loan amount.

Casey Fleming, a mortgage adviser with C2 Financial Corporation and author of The Loan Guide: How to Get the Best Possible Mortgage, also reminds buyers that mortgage insurance on an FHA loan is permanent. With other loans, you can request the lenders to cancel private mortgage insurance (MIP) once you have paid down the mortgage balance to 80% of the home’s original appraised value, or wait until the balance drops to 78% when the mortgage servicer is required to eliminate the MIP. But mortgage insurance on an FHA loan cannot be canceled or terminated. For that reason, Fleming says “it’s best if the homebuyer has a plan to get out in a couple of years.”

Where to find an FHA-approved lender

As we mentioned earlier, FHA loans don’t come directly from the FHA, but rather an FHA-approved lender. Not all FHA-approved lenders offer the same interest rates and costs, even for the same type of loan, so it’s important to shop around.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has a searchable database where you can find lenders in your area approved for FHA loans.

First, fill in your location and the radius in which you’d like to search.

Next, you’ll be taken to a list of FHA-approved lenders in your area.

Who FHA loans are best for

FHA loans are flexible about how you come up with the down payment. You can use your savings, a cash gift from a family member, or a grant from a state or local government down-payment assistance program.

However, FHA loans are not the best option for everyone. The upfront and ongoing mortgage insurance premiums can cost more than private mortgage insurance. If you have good credit, you may be better off with a non-FHA loan with a low down payment and lower loan costs.

And if you’re buying an expensive home in a high-cost area, an FHA loan may not be able to provide you with a large enough mortgage. The FHA has a national loan limit, which is recalculated on an annual basis. For 2017, in high-cost areas, the FHA national loan limit ceiling is $636,150. You can check HUD.gov for a complete list of FHA lending limits by state.

SoFi

For borrowers who can afford a large monthly payment but haven’t saved up a big down payment, SoFi offers mortgages of up to $3 million. Interest rates will vary based on whether you’re looking for a 30-year fixed loan, a 15-year fixed loan, or an adjustable rate loan, which has a fixed rate for the first seven years, after which the interest rate may increase or decrease. Mortgage rates started as low as 3.09% for a 15-year mortgage as of this writing. You can find your rate using SoFi’s online rate quote tool without affecting your credit.

Down payment requirements

SoFi requires a minimum down payment of at least 10% of the purchase price for a new loan.

Approval requirements

Like most lenders, SoFi analyzes FICO scores as a part of its application process. However, it also considers factors such as professional history and career prospects, income, and history of on-time bill payments to determine an applicant’s overall financial health.

Mortgage insurance requirements

SoFi does not charge private mortgage insurance, even on loans for which less than 20% is put down.

What we like/don’t like

In addition to not requiring private mortgage insurance on any of their loans, SoFi doesn’t charge any loan origination, application, or broker commission fees. The average closing fee is 2% to 5% for most mortgages (it varies by location), so on a $300,000 home loan, that is $3,000. Avoiding those fees can save buyers a significant amount and make it a bit easier to come up with closing costs. Keep in mind, though, that you’ll still need to pay standard third-party closing costs that vary depending on loan type and location of the property.

There’s not much to dislike about SoFi unless you’re buying a very inexpensive home in a lower-cost market. They do have a minimum loan amount of $100,000.

Who SoFi mortgages are best for

SoFi mortgages are really only available for people with excellent credit and a solid income. They don’t work with people with poor credit.

SoFi does not publish minimum income or credit score requirements.

VA Loans

Rates can vary by lender, but currently, rates for a $225,000 30-year fixed-rate loan run at around 3.25%, according to LendingTree. (Disclosure: LendingTree is the parent company of MagnifyMoney.)

Down payment requirements

Eligible borrowers can get a VA loan with no down payment. Although the costs associated with getting a VA loan are generally lower than other types of low-down-payment mortgages, Fleming says there is a one-time funding fee, unless the veteran or military member has a service-related disability or you are the surviving spouse of a veteran who died in service or from a service-related disability.

That funding fee varies by the type of veteran and down-payment percentage, but for a new-purchase loan, the funding fee can run from 1.25% to 2.4% of the loan amount.

Approval requirements

VA loans are typically easier to qualify for than conventional mortgages. To be eligible, you must have suitable credit, sufficient income to make the monthly payment, and a valid Certificate of Eligibility (COE). The COE verifies to the lender that you are eligible for a VA-backed loan. You can apply for a COE online, through your lender, or by mail using VA Form 26-1880.

The VA does not require a minimum credit score, but lenders generally have their own requirements. Most ask for a credit score of 620 or higher.

If you’d like help seeing if you are qualified for a VA loan, check to see if there’s a HUD-approved housing counseling agency in your area.

Mortgage insurance requirements

Because VA loans are guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, they do not require mortgage insurance. However, as we mentioned previously, be prepared to pay an additional funding fee of 1.25% to 2.4%.

What we like/don’t like

There’s no cap on the amount you can borrow. However, there are limits on the amount the VA can insure, which usually affects the loan amount a lender is willing to offer. Loan limits vary by county and are the same as the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s limits, which you can find here.

HomeReady

 

The HomeReady program is offered by Fannie Mae. HomeReady mortgage is aimed at consumers who have decent credit but low- to middle-income earnings. Borrowers do not have to be first-time home buyers but do have to complete a housing education program.

Approval requirements

HomeReady loans are available for purchasing and refinancing any single-family home, as long as the borrower meets income limits, which vary by property location. For properties in low-income areas (as determined by the U.S. Census), there is no income limit. For other properties, the income eligibility limit is 100% of the area median income.

The minimum credit score for a Fannie Mae loan, including HomeReady, is 620.

To qualify, borrowers must complete an online education program, which costs $75 and helps buyers understand the home-buying process and prepare for homeownership.

Down payment requirements

HomeReady is available through all Fannie Mae-approved lenders and offers down payments as low as 3%.

Reiss says buyers can combine a HomeReady mortgage with a Community Seconds loan, which can provide all or part of the down payment and closing costs. “Combined with a Community Seconds mortgage, a Fannie borrower can have a combined loan-to-value ratio of up to 105%,” Reiss says. The loan-to-value (LTV) ratio is the ratio of outstanding loan balance to the value of the property. When you pay down your mortgage balance or your property value increases, your LTV ratio goes down.

Mortgage insurance requirements

While HomeReady mortgages do require mortgage insurance when the buyer puts less than 20% down, unlike an FHA loan, the mortgage insurance is removed once the loan-to-value ratio reaches 78% or less.

What we like/don’t like

HomeReady loans do require private mortgage insurance, but the cost is generally lower than those charged by other lenders. Fannie Mae also makes it easier for borrowers to get creative with their down payment, allowing them to borrow it through a Community Seconds loan or have the down payment gifted from a friend or family member. Also, if you’re planning on having a roommate, income from that roommate will help you qualify for the loan.

However, be sure to talk to your lender to compare other options. The HomeReady program may have higher interest rates than other mortgage programs that advertise no or low down payments.

USDA Loan

USDA loans are guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Although the USDA doesn’t cap the amount a homeowner can borrow, most USDA-approved lenders extend financing for up to $417,000.

Rates vary by lender, but the agency gives a baseline interest rate. As of August 2016, that rate was just 2.875%

Approval requirements

USDA loans are available for purchasing and refinancing homes that meet the USDA’s definition of “rural.” The USDA provides a property eligibility map to give potential buyers a general idea of qualified locations. In general, the property must be located in “open country” or an area that has a population less than 10,000, or 20,000 in areas that are deemed as having a serious lack of mortgage credit.

USDA loans are not available directly from the USDA, but are issued by approved lenders. Most lenders require a minimum credit score of 620 to 640 with no foreclosures, bankruptcies, or major delinquencies in the past several years. Borrowers must have an income of no more than 115% of the median income for the area.

Down payment requirements

Eligible borrowers can get a home loan with no down payment. Other closing costs vary by lender, but the USDA loan program does allow borrowers to use money gifted from friends and family to pay for closing costs.

Mortgage insurance requirements

While USDA-backed mortgages do not require mortgage insurance, borrowers instead pay an upfront premium of 2% of the purchase price. The USDA also allows borrowers to finance that 2% with the home loan.

What we like/don’t like

Some buyers may dismiss USDA loans because they aren’t buying a home in a rural area, but many suburbs of metropolitan areas and small towns fall within the eligible zones. It could be worth a glance at the eligibility map to see if you qualify.

At a Glance: Low-Down-Payment Mortgage Options

To see how different low-down-payment mortgage options might look in the real world, let’s assume a buyer with an excellent credit score applies for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage on a home that costs $250,000.

As you can see in the table below, their monthly mortgage payment would vary a lot depending on which lender they use.

 

Down Payment


Total Borrowed


Interest Rate


Principal & Interest


Mortgage Insurance


Total Monthly Payment

FHA


FHA

3.5%
($8,750)

$241,250

4.625%

$1,083

$4,222 up front
$171 per month

$1,254

SoFi


SoFi

10%
($25,000)

$225,000

3.37%

$995

$0

$995

VA


VA Loan

0%
($0)

$250,000

3.25%

$1,088

$0

$1,088

HomeReady


homeready

3%
($7,500)

$242,500

4.25%

$1,193

$222 per month

$1,349

USDA


homeready

0%

$250,000

2.875%

$1,037

$5,000 up front,
can be included in
total financed

$1,037

Note that this comparison doesn’t include any closing costs other than the upfront mortgage insurance required by the FHA and USDA loans. The total monthly payments do not include homeowners insurance or property taxes that are typically included in the monthly payment.

ANALYSIS: Should I put down less than 20% on a new home just because I can?

So, if you can take advantage of a low- or no-down-payment loan, should you? For some people, it might make financial sense to keep more cash on hand for emergencies and get into the market sooner in a period of rising home prices. But before you apply, know what it will cost you. Let’s run the numbers to compare the cost of using a conventional loan with 20% down versus a 3% down payment.

Besides private mortgage insurance, there are other downsides to a smaller down payment. Lenders may charge higher interest rates, which translates into higher monthly payments and more money spent over the loan term. Also, because many closing costs are a percentage of the total loan amount, putting less money down means higher closing costs.

For this example, we’ll assume a $250,000 purchase price and a loan term of 30 years. According to Freddie Mac, during the week of June 22, 2017, the average rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was 3.90%.

Using the Loan Amortization Calculator from MortgageCalculator.org:

Assuming you don’t make any extra principal payments, you will have to pay private mortgage insurance for 112 months before the principal balance of the loan drops below 78% of the home’s original appraised value. That means in addition to paying $169,265.17 in interest, you’ll pay $11,316.48 for private mortgage insurance.

The bottom line

Under some circumstances, a low- or no-down-payment mortgage, even with private mortgage insurance, could be considered a worthwhile investment. If saving for a 20% down payment means you’ll be paying rent longer while you watch home prices and mortgage rates rise, it could make sense. In the past year alone, average home prices increased 16.8%, and Kiplinger is predicting that the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate will rise to 4.1% by the end of 2017.

If you do choose a loan that requires private mortgage insurance, consider making extra principal payments to reach 20% equity faster and request that your lender cancels private mortgage insurance. Even if you have to spend a few hundred dollars to have your home appraised, the monthly savings from private mortgage insurance premiums could quickly offset that cost.

Keep in mind, though, that the down payment is only one part of the home-buying equation. Sonja Bullard, a sales manager with Bay Equity Home Loans in Alpharetta, Ga., says whether you’re interested in an FHA loan or a conventional (i.e., non-government-backed) loan, there are other out-of-pocket costs when buying a home.

“Through my experience, when people hear zero down payment, they think that means there are no costs for obtaining the loan,” Bullard says. “People don’t realize there are still fees required to be paid.”

According to Bullard, those fees include:

  • Inspection: $300 to $1,000, based on the size of the home
  • Appraisal: $375 to $1,000, based on the size of the home
  • Homeowners insurance premiums, prepaid for one year, due at closing: $300 to $2,500, depending on coverage
  • Closing costs: $4,000 to $10,000, depending on sales price and loan amount
  • HOA initiation fees

So don’t let a seemingly insurmountable 20% down payment get in the way of homeownership. When you’re ready to take the plunge, talk to a lender or submit a loan application online. You might be surprised at what you qualify for.

Janet Berry-Johnson
Janet Berry-Johnson |

Janet Berry-Johnson is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Janet here

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2 Times an Adjustable-Rate Mortgage Makes Perfect Sense

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

The interest rate on your loans determines how expensive it is to borrow money. The higher the interest rate, the more expensive the loan.

With a conventional, 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, borrowers with the best credit can expect to receive a 4.23% interest rate on that loan. The average homebuyer borrows about $222,000 when they take out a mortgage, which means paying a staggering $168,690 in interest over the term of the loan.

When you need to repay balances in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, even half a point of interest can make a huge difference in how expensive your mortgage is. If you borrowed the same amount but had a rate of 4.73% rate, you’d pay $192,190 in interest — or almost $24,000 more for the same loan.

Given that interest rates make such a big impact on how much your mortgage costs, it makes sense to do what you can to get the lowest rate possible. And this is where adjustable-rate mortgages can start to look appealing. In two cases especially, it makes perfect sense to go with an ARM: when you plan to pay off your mortgage quickly, or you plan to move out of the home within a few years.

Adjustable-Rate Mortgages Can Allow You to Borrow at Lower Rates

An adjustable-rate mortgage, also known as an ARM, is a home loan with a variable interest rate. That means the rate will change over the life of the loan.

ARMs are usually set up as 3/1, 5/1, 7/1, or 10/1. The first number indicates the length of the fixed rate period. If you look at a 3/1 ARM, the initial fixed rate period lasts 3 years. The second shows how often the interest rate will adjust after the initial period.

Some ARMs come with interest rate caps, meaning there’s a limit to how high the rate can adjust. And their initial rate is often much lower than traditional fixed-rate loans.

This can help you buy a home and start paying your mortgage at a lower monthly cost than you could manage with a fixed-rate mortgage. Borrowers with the best credit scores can access a 5/1 ARM with an interest rate of 3.24% right now.

The Risks ARMs Pose to Average Homebuyers

“The main advantage of an ARM is the low, initial interest rate,” explains Meg Bartelt, CFP, MSFP, and founder of Flow Financial Planning. “But the primary risk is that the interest rate can rise to an unknown amount after the initial, fixed period of just a few years expires.”

Homebuyers can enjoy extremely low interest rates for a month, a quarter, or 1, 5, 7, or 10 years, depending on the term of their adjustable-rate mortgage. But borrowers have no control over the interest rate after that.

The rate can rise to levels that make your mortgage unaffordable. Remember our earlier example, where just half a point of interest could mean making the entire mortgage $24,000 more expensive?

ARMs adjust their rates periodically, and the new rate is partly determined by a broad measure of interest rates known as an index. When the index rises, so does your own interest rate — and your monthly mortgage payment goes up with it.

The variable nature of the interest rate makes it difficult to plan ahead as your mortgage payment won’t be static or stable.

“Imagine at the end of year 5, rates start going up and your mortgage payment is suddenly much higher than it used to be,” says Mark Struthers, a CFA and CFP who runs Sona Financial. “What if your partner loses their job and you need both incomes to pay the mortgage?” he asks. In this situation, you could be stuck if you don’t have the credit score to refinance and get away from the higher rate, or the cash flow to handle the extra cost.

“Once you get in this spiral, it is tough to get out,” says Struthers. “The spiral just gets tighter.”

And yes, adjustable-rate mortgages can go down. While that’s possible, it’s more likely that the rate will rise. And some ARMs will limit how high and how low your rate can go.

Struthers puts it plainly: “ARMs are higher-risk loans. If you can handle the risk, you can benefit. If you can’t, it can crush you. Most people do not put themselves in a position to handle the risk.”

Who Can Make an ARM Work in Their Favor?

That doesn’t mean no one can benefit from adjustable-rate mortgages. They do come with the benefit of the lower initial interest rate. “If you plan to pay off the mortgage during that initial fixed period, you eliminate the risk [of getting stuck with a rising interest rate],” says Bartelt.

That’s exactly what she and her husband did when they bought their own home.

“In my situation, we had enough savings to buy our house with cash. But the cash was largely in investments, and selling all the investments would push our income into significantly higher tax brackets due to the gains, with all the cascading unpleasant tax effects,” Bartelt explains.

“By taking an ARM, we can spread the sale of those investments out over 5 years, minimizing the income increase in each year. That keeps our tax bracket lower,” she says. “We avoided increasing our marginal tax rate by double digits in the year of the purchase of our home.”

She notes that another benefit of taking the ARM in her situation was the fact that she and her husband could continue to pay the mortgage past that initial 5 years if they chose to do so. “The interest rate won’t be as favorable as if we’d initially locked in a fixed rate,” she admits. “But that option still exists, and having options is power.”

Planning for a Quick Sale? An ARM Might Work for You

Another way ARMs can provide benefits to homeowners? If you won’t live in the home for long. Buying the home and also selling it before the initial rate period expires could provide you with a way to access the lowest possible rate without having to deal with the eventual rise in mortgage payment when the rate increases.

“ARMs are typically best for those who are fairly certain they won’t be in the house for a long period of time,” says Cary Cates, CFP and founder of Cates Tax Advisory. “An example would be a person who has to move every two to four years for their job.”

He says you could view taking out an ARM as a way to pay “tax-deductible rent” if you already know you don’t want to stay in the house for more than a few years. “This is an aggressive strategy,” he explains, “but as long as the house appreciates enough in value to cover the initial costs of buying, then you could walk away only paying tax-deductible interest, which I am comparing to rent in this situation.”

Cates says you’re obviously not actually paying rent, but you can mentally frame your mortgage payment that way. But you need to know the risk is owing on your mortgage if you go to sell and the home hasn’t realized enough appreciation to cover what you spent to buy.
He also reminds potential homebuyers that you take on the risk of staying in the home longer than you expected to. You could end up dealing with the rising interest rate if you can’t sell or refinance.

What You Need to Know Before Taking an ARM

Before applying for an adjustable-rate mortgage, make sure you ask questions like:

  • What is the initial fixed-interest rate? How does that compare to another mortgage option, and is it worth taking on a riskier mortgage to get the initial fixed rate?
  • How long is the initial fixed rate period?
  • How often will the ARM adjust after the initial rate period?
  • Are there limits to how much your ARM’s rate can drop?
  • How high can the ARM’s rate go? How high can your monthly mortgage payment go?
  • If the mortgage’s interest hit the maximum rate, could you afford the monthly payment?
  • Do you have a plan for selling the home within the initial rate period if you want to sell before paying the adjusted rate?
  • Could you pay off the mortgage without selling if you did not want to pay the adjusted rate?

Do your due diligence and understand the risks and potential pitfalls before making a final decision. But depending on your specific situation, your finances, and your plans for the next 5 years, you could make an ARM work for you.

Kali Hawlk
Kali Hawlk |

Kali Hawlk is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Kali at Kali@magnifymoney.com

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Guide to Getting a Mortgage When You’re Self-Employed

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

For some Americans, self-employment is the ultimate dream. Roughly 15 million people (10.1% of the total U.S. workforce) were self-employed in 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Self-employment offers workers the kind of flexibility that can be hard to find in a traditional 9-to-5 job, not to mention the potential for higher earnings.

However, self-employment does come with its own challenges, and, unfortunately, one of these difficulties can be homeownership. Despite earning a solid income, self-employed borrowers face a unique set of hurdles when it comes to determining whether they are eligible for a mortgage. In this guide, we will cover a number of requirements borrowers should begin preparing for as early as possible into their home-buying journey.

The Self-Employed Challenge

In order to gain a deeper understanding of what it takes to be approved for a mortgage as a self-employed borrower, it’s helpful to know how mortgages work in the U.S. For starters, most banks bundle up mortgages and sell them to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or private investors.

To make those investments as safe as possible, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have a strict set of guidelines for lenders to follow when deciding which borrowers qualify for a mortgage. Because self-employed borrowers’ income can be unpredictable, they are considered higher-risk borrowers than W-2 workers. That means these guidelines are especially strict for self-employed borrowers.

Requirements for Self-Employed Borrowers: Fannie and Freddie

Although there are a variety of options for mortgages available, we are going to focus on eligibility requirements for self-employed borrowers seeking financing through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Why? If you’re eligible for these loans, you will have access to the lowest interest rates and safest mortgages.

Fannie Mae

Fannie Mae’s Selling Guide outlines a strict set of rules about income for self-employed borrowers. Fannie Mae notes your business income (from a partnership or S corporation) reported on IRS Form 1040 may not necessarily represent the income that has been distributed to you. They point out it’s important to review business income distributions that have been made or could have been made while determining the viability of your business.

Eligibility for Fannie Mae

First and foremost, all borrowers (whether self-employed or not) need to meet Fannie Mae’s normal eligibility requirements:

  • You must be a natural person (living human being) who has reached the age at which a mortgage is legal in the area where the property is located. There is no maximum age limit for the borrower.
  • You must have a valid Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.
  • Per Fannie Mae’s Eligibility Matrix, credit scores must meet the following criteria:
    • Manually underwritten loans – 620 for fixed-rate loans, 640 for adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs)
    • Desktop Underwriter loans – 620 for both fixed-rate and ARMs
    • Mortgages insured or guaranteed by a federal government agency (HUD, FHA, VA, and RD) – 620
  • The purchase of a single unit principal residence must have a loan-to-value (LTV) of no higher than 97%. If your loan-to-value ratio is less than 75%, a credit score as low as 620 is allowed.
  • Your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio should be no greater than 36%. If your DTI ratio falls between 36% and 45%, a credit score above 680 is required.
  • Fannie Mae now offers a 3% down payment option.

In addition to these requirements, self-employed borrowers have some additional hoops to jump through.

Verification of Income

In order to verify your employment and income, a lender will ask for a copy of your signed income tax returns (individual and sometimes business, as well) from the past two years. This paperwork must include all applicable forms.

A lender may also use IRS-issued transcripts from your individual and business federal income tax returns from the past two years. If you are using these, the information must be complete and legible.

If you use two years of signed individual federal tax returns, the lender may waive the need to see your business tax returns if:

  • you are using your own personal funds to fund the down payment and closing costs and can satisfy the reserve requirements;
  • you have been self-employed in the same business for at least five years; and
  • your individual tax returns show an increase in self-employment income over the past two years.

In certain situations, Desktop Underwriter, Fannie Mae’s automated underwriting system, will only require one year of personal and/or business tax returns if lenders document your income by:

  • obtaining signed individual and business federal income tax returns for the most recent year,
  • confirming the tax returns reflect at least 12 months of self-employment income, and
  • completing Fannie Mae’s Cash Flow Analysis (Form 1084) or any other type of cash flow analysis form that applies the same principles.

Analysis of Your Personal Income

Your lender will prepare a written evaluation of your personal income, including your business’s profit or loss, as reported on your income tax returns. This will help them determine how much stable and continuous income you have. It’s important to note this step isn’t required if you qualified using income you didn’t receive from self-employment. Examples include qualifying for the loan using a traditional W-2 salary or your retirement income.

Freddie Mac

Freddie Mac’s Selling Guide also provides an outline for lenders on how to assess the income for self-employed borrowers. Although there are differences, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae use similar criteria when it comes to assessing self-employed borrowers.

Freddie Mac uses Loan Product Advisor, an enhanced automated underwriting system, to help ensure loans meet their eligibility requirements. Even if you aren’t using self-employed income to qualify for a Freddie Mac mortgage, they must enter your self-employed status into this software.

Verification of Income

Your lender will calculate your average monthly income based on a review of your complete federal individual income tax returns (Form 1040) including W-2s and K-1s and your complete business tax returns (Forms 1120, 1120S, and 1065).

Analysis of Your Personal Income

If you are self-employed but not using self-employment income to qualify, your lender will request to see your individual federal tax returns to see if there is a business loss that may have an impact on the stable monthly income used to qualify. If a business loss is reported on your individual tax returns, your lender may need to obtain additional tax returns to fully assess the impact of a business loss on income for qualifying.

Eligibility for Freddie Mac

In addition to these special requirements for self-employed borrowers, you also must meet Freddie Mac’s normal eligibility:

  • If you are a non-U.S. citizen who is lawfully living in the U.S. as a permanent or nonpermanent resident alien, you are eligible for a mortgage on the same terms as a U.S. citizen.
  • For a manually underwritten mortgage, your credit history must have at least three credit accounts (on or off your credit report) or four noncredit payment references. Noncredit payment references must have existed for at least 12 months.
  • You must have a valid Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.
  • Per Freddie Mac’s Minimum Indicator Score Requirements, credit scores must meet the following criteria:
    • For a single unit and primary residence with an LTV less than or equal to 75%, you must have a minimum credit score of 620.
    • For a single unit and primary residence with an LTV greater than 75%, you must have a minimum credit score of 660.
  • Your monthly housing expense-to-income ratio should be no greater than 25% to 28%.
  • Your monthly debt-to-income ratio should be no greater than 33% to 36% of your stable monthly income. If your debt-to-income ratio exceeds 45%, you won’t be eligible for a Freddie Mac loan.
  • The purchase of a single unit principal residence must have an LTV of no higher than 97%.
  • Freddie Mac now offers a 3% down payment option.

Requirements for Your Business

In addition to looking at your personal financial situation, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac also are required to evaluate the financial health of your business.

Fannie Mae

Fannie Mae says you are self-employed if you have 25% or greater ownership interest in a business. In order to qualify, Fannie Mae also analyzes several components of your business.

Length of Self-Employment

Fannie Mae asks lenders to review a two-year history of your previous earnings. However, if you have a shorter period of self-employment (12 to 24 months), your most recent signed federal tax return must reflect your income. It’s important your past income was earned in a field similar to your current business. In these cases, the lender will give careful consideration to your level of experience and the amount of debt your business has acquired.

Analysis of Your Business Income

If you are relying on self-employed income to qualify for a mortgage, and you don’t meet the requirements to waive your business tax returns (as mentioned in the previous section), your lender will also prepare a written evaluation of your business income. Your lender will use their knowledge of your industry to help determine the long-term stability of your business.

The primary goal of this analysis is to:

  • consider the recurring nature of your business income, including identification of pass-through income that may require additional evaluation;
  • measure year-to-year trends for gross income, expenses, and taxable income for your business;
  • determine (on a yearly or interim basis) the percentage of gross income attributed to expenses and taxable income; and
  • determine a trend for the business based on the change in these percentages over time.

Your lender may use Fannie Mae’s Comparative Income Analysis or other methods to determine your business’s viability.

Use of Your Business’s Assets

If you are planning to use assets from your business for a down payment, closing costs, or financial reserves, your lender will need to perform a cash flow analysis to make sure this transaction won’t have a negative impact on your business. This may require additional documentation, like several months of recent business asset statements, to evaluate your cash flow needs over time.

Freddie Mac

Freddie Mac also characterizes self-employed borrowers as people who own at least 25% of a business. Your business can be a sole proprietorship, a partnership, an S corporation, or a corporation. You may notice several similarities when it comes to how Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac evaluate your business. However, there are some distinctions you should be aware of.

Length of Self-Employment

For Freddie Mac, the lender will be required to document a two-year history of your self-employment to ensure your income is stable. If your self-employment history is less than two years, the lender must evaluate your company’s products and services in the marketplace. They will also need to document your two-year history prior to self-employment to show you’re currently earning the same or a greater income in a similar occupation. The lender must consider your experience in the business before looking at your income, and your tax returns must show at least one year of self-employment income.

Analysis of Your Business Income

Your lender will analyze your tax returns and provide a written analysis of your self-employed income. Noncash items like depreciation, depletion, and amortization can be added back to your adjusted gross income. Documented nonrecurring losses and loss carryovers from previous tax years can also be added back to your adjusted gross income.

If you are using self-employment income to qualify, Freddie Mac requires lenders to analyze tax returns and provide a written analysis of your self-employed income. If your income has significantly increased or decreased, you will need to provide sufficient documentation to prove your income is stable. Additional tax returns may be needed if your self-employment income has fluctuated.

Freddie Mac recommends lenders be careful when including additional income you have drawn from your corporation, partnership, or S corporation as qualifying income. Your lender will need to confirm you have a legal right to that additional income. Your lender also needs to verify your percentage of ownership from a review of your business’s tax returns.

Location of Your Business

If you are moving to another region, your lender must consider your company’s service or products in the new marketplace before reviewing your income. You will need to document how your income will continue to be stable in a new location.

Use of Your Business’s Assets

If your business’s assets are used for a down payment, closing costs, financing costs, prepaid or escrows, and reserves, these assets must be verified and must be related to the business you own. The withdrawal of assets from a sole proprietorship, partnership, or corporation may have a negative impact on your business’s ability to continue operating. The impact of this transaction will be considered in your lender’s analysis of your self-employed income. You will need to provide documentation of cash flow analysis for your business using your individual and/or business tax returns. You can learn more about the required documentation here.

What Types of Properties Are Eligible for a Fannie or Freddie Mortgage?

When you are comparing mortgage options, it’s important to know which types of properties are eligible. Here are the basics to keep in mind as you are assessing each choice.

Fannie Mae

Fannie Mae is willing to purchase first-lien mortgages that are secured by residential properties for dwellings that consist of 1-4 units. However, there are some cases where the number of units may be restricted. The property must be located in the United States, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, or Guam.

The property must be safe, sound, and structurally secure and must be adequately insured per Fannie Mae’s guidelines for property and flood insurance. It must be the best use of the property, must be readily accessible by roads that meet local standards, and must be served by local utilities. Lastly, the property must be suitable for year-round use.

Freddie Mac

Freddie Mac expects lenders to equally assess both a borrower’s eligibility and the adequacy of the property as collateral. Freddie Mac is willing to purchase mortgages secured by residential properties in urban, suburban, and rural market areas. The property must be residential, be an attached or detached dwelling unit(s) located on an individual lot.

The property must be safe, sound, and structurally secure and must be covered by property insurance that meets Freddie Mac’s hazard requirements. It must be the best use of the property, have legal access, and have utilities and mechanical systems that meet local standards. It must be suitable for year-round use and not be subject to a pending legal proceeding.

Where to Go if Fannie and Freddie Reject You

If you don’t qualify for a mortgage backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, there are a number of private lenders worth exploring. These are considered nontraditional lenders. Some of the more reputable ones include SoFi, Quicken Loans, and PenFed, among many others. Additionally, you may want to reach out to major banks to learn about their nonconforming product options.

SoFi

SoFi’s unique proprietary underwriting uses free cash flow as the primary criterion in determining your eligibility. They also look at a history of financial responsibility and professional responsibility. For qualified borrowers, they offer mortgages with 10% down payments and no mortgage insurance for their 15-year and 30-year mortgage products. They also offer a 30-year 7/1 ARM. This is a hybrid mortgage that begins with seven years at a fixed rate, and changes every year after that.

Interest rates depend on your qualifications and the overall mortgage rate environment, but typically fall in the low 3% to low 5% range for both 15-year and 30-year mortgages.

SoFi estimates 10% of their borrowers are self-employed, so they are well equipped to assess each individual’s unique financial position. They cite their unique underwriting model and commitment to personal service as creating a friendly environment for self-employed borrowers. Additionally, SoFi doesn’t impose restrictions or rate adjustments for self-employed borrowers.

Quicken Loans

According to Quicken Loans, self-employed borrowers are eligible for all the same loans and terms as traditionally employed W-2 borrowers. The key difference is self-employed borrowers need to provide tax returns documenting their business’s income. They like to see two full years of tax returns with stable to increasing income. However, there are some situations on conventional loans that only require one year of tax returns if your business has existed for 5 or more years.

Quicken Loans points out some self-employed borrowers tend to keep all of their assets in business accounts. This can complicate documentation requirements when funds for closing are not from personal accounts. In these types of situations, they usually require business tax returns to review cash flow. This ensures the funds being used to buy a home won’t jeopardize the health of the company.

Conventional loans over 80% LTV require mortgage insurance, while FHA and VA loans have insurance built into the program, regardless of LTV.

Here are their general credit and debt-to-income guidelines for each type of loan:

  • Conventional – minimum FICO 620 and maximum DTI 45%.
  • FHA and VA – minimum FICO varies but is typically 580. DTIs will vary by lender but typically are permitted to 50%.
  • Jumbo – minimum FICO is typically 700 and the maximum DTI is typically 43%.

When it comes to eligibility, there is no difference between self-employed and traditionally employed borrowers for credit score, loan-to-value, or debt-to-income ratios. Quicken Loans also noted self-employment isn’t a deciding factor for interest rates. However, it’s important to know you probably won’t be approved with an income decline of more than 25%.

PenFed

PenFed, a national credit union headquartered in Alexandria, VA, verifies income of self-employed borrowers through copies of personal and business federal tax returns from the past two years. You are required to provide complete tax returns, including all schedules and supporting documents. In some cases, you may also need to provide corporate tax returns for companies you have significant ownership in.

PenFed reviews and averages your net income from self-employment that is reported on your tax returns to determine your income that can be used to qualify. If your income hasn’t been reported on your tax returns, it won’t be considered. Usually PenFed requires a one-year and sometimes a full two-year history of self-employment to prove your income is stable.

Nonconforming Loans from Traditional Lenders

It may not be the first option that springs to mind, but some banks do originate loans. These loans tend to be nonconforming and have higher interest rates.

For example, Chase offers jumbo mortgages for loans between $417,000 and $3 million. These are both fixed-rate and ARM loans for up to 30-year terms.

For these types of products, Chase typically will only work with existing customers, depending on their assets. If you don’t have a prior relationship with the bank, you won’t be eligible. If you’re interested in a nonconforming product, Chase recommends starting by applying for pre-qualification here.

In order to be approved for these types of products, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Credit score – 680 minimum
  • Down payment – 15% without mortgage insurance
  • Reserve balance – 18 to 24 months
  • Debt-to-income ratio – no more than 45%

When it comes to interest rates, Chase factors in all the above criteria. However, the larger the loan, the better rates are available. They prefer to use your pre-qualification information as a starting point and work through interest rate options from there.

How to Comparison Shop for a Mortgage Loan

Did you know nearly half of mortgage borrowers don’t comparison shop? A recent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) study found 77% of borrowers only apply with one lender or broker. These same borrowers were quick to rely on salespeople rather than doing their own research.

As we have outlined, mortgages are available through a variety of types of lenders. Because the process of qualifying for a mortgage when you are self-employed requires additional legwork, and may be more expensive, it’s even more important to shop around.

The CFPB’s interest rates tool is a great place to start. By plugging in your credit score, state, home price, and down payment percentage, you can see a graph of lenders and interest rates being offered in your region. Although this tool doesn’t state which lenders are offering these rates, you can Google the rate + your state + mortgage to find out exactly where it is being offered.

Remember, lenders want your business, and knowing what else is available will only give you more leverage. Like any other mortgage, you will want to ask about points, mortgage insurance, and closing costs. You can compare each lender’s Loan Estimates before making a final decision.

For conforming loans, backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, you can try the above tactic for shopping around. You can also try local banks and credit unions. For private lenders like SoFi, Quicken Loans, or PenFed, you are better off reaching out to these companies directly. For nonconforming loans from traditional lenders, it’s easiest to start with banks you have an existing relationship with.

Here is an example to help you determine what is right for you:

Conforming Loan from Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac

This example is for the state of Tennessee:

Credit score – 680-699
Home price – $200,000
Down payment – $6,000 (3%)
Loan amount – $194,000
Rate type – fixed
Loan term – 30 years
Interest rates – 4%-4.625%
Total cost for interest rates at 4% – $333,360
Total cost for interest rates at 4.625% – $358,031

Nonconforming Loan from SoFi

Credit score – 680-699
Home price – $200,000
Down payment – $20,000 (10%)
Loan amount – $180,000
Rate type – fixed
Loan term – 30 years
Interest rates – 3%-5%
Total cost for interest rates at 3% – $273,240
Total cost for interest rates at 5% – $347,860

Keep in mind credit score, home price, and down payment will all affect your interest rates. You should ask about points, mortgage insurance, and closing costs, which are not included in these examples.

Start Preparing Now

The entire process may feel daunting, but there are a number of things you can start doing now in order to put your best financial foot forward:

  • Stay Organized Keeping pristine records of your company’s profits and/or losses is a smart practice whether you are applying for a mortgage or not. Staying on top of paperwork from the beginning will be helpful for both you and your loan officer.
  • Avoid Co-Mingling Funds One of the biggest mistakes self-employed individuals make is co-mingling personal and business funds. Lenders may want to see separate statements for your credit card, checking, and savings accounts. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the process, you can start by comparing our favorites.
  • Improve Your Credit Score A recent Zillow study found self-employed borrowers are twice as likely to have a FICO score below 680. It’s never too soon to start making improvements. Start by pulling free reports from all three credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — once per year from AnnualCreditReport.com. Once you are armed with your current scores, you can take action with our credit score guide.
  • Pay Down Debt Regardless of your employment status, it is nearly impossible to be approved for a mortgage if your debt-to-income ratio is above 45%. In most cases, a maximum debt-to-income ratio of 33%-36% is preferred. If you are above that range, paying down debt will improve your chances of being approved.
  • Save a Larger Down Payment Offering a larger down payment may provide additional leverage when it comes to eligibility.
  • Build Up Your Cash Reserves Having a sizable emergency fund can signal to lenders you are prepared for the inevitable dips in income self-employed borrowers face. Help ease your bank’s nerves about irregular income by having extra cash on hand.
  • Carefully Evaluate Tax Deductions If you are planning to purchase a home within the next few years, it’s critical to begin weighing the pros and cons of your business’s tax deductions now. It may be worth writing off fewer business expenses in order to qualify for a less expensive conforming mortgage. This step is worth discussing with a trusted tax professional. For more information on self-employed taxes, you can visit the Self-Employed Individuals Tax Center.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to homeownership, there is a lot to think about, and being approved for a mortgage is just the beginning. The stress of buying a home is only elevated for self-employed borrowers, who face additional hurdles each step of the way. However, the process doesn’t have to be overwhelming. By crafting a game plan as early as possible, and sticking with it, you will have the best possible chance of being approved.

Kate Dore
Kate Dore |

Kate Dore is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Kate at kate@magnifymoney.com

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Mortgage Broker vs. Loan Officer: The Best Way to Shop for a Mortgage

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Senior businessman showing a document to sign to a couple

When you need to take out a loan to buy a home, you generally have two options. You can work with a lender’s loan officer or hire a mortgage broker. Loan officers and mortgage brokers are not the same thing, although the terms are often used interchangeably.

Loan officers work for a bank or a lender and will only be able to show you mortgage options from that financial institution. In contrast, mortgage brokers are individuals or firms that are licensed by a state to act as middlemen between you and multiple banks or mortgage lenders. Because brokers aren’t beholden to a particular lender, they can shop around and try to find you a loan with terms that best fit your circumstances.

Why should you consider working with a mortgage broker?

One of the biggest benefits to working with a mortgage broker is that they take over the job of shopping for a loan. You might be able to do this on your own, and in some cases, you could find a better loan than the broker, but it can be a time-consuming and complicated process.

A broker can help collect and organize the documents you need to apply for a mortgage, such as your proof of employment and income, tax returns, a list of your assets and debts, and credit reports and scores. The broker can then use the information to look for loans, compare rates and terms, and apply for mortgages on your behalf.

Casey Fleming, a mortgage adviser and author of “The Loan Guide: How to Get the Best Possible Mortgage,” says one of the big benefits is that brokers are generally “on your side,” while a loan officer represents the lender’s interest. Brokers are also incentivized to find you a loan that meets your needs and see the deal through closing because they don’t get paid until you close on the home.

Additionally, brokers might have access to lenders that don’t work directly with consumers, meaning you wouldn’t be able to get a loan from the lender even if you tried. And in some cases, brokers can leverage their relationship with a lender to get it to waive fees you’d otherwise have to pay.

Are there risks involved with using a mortgage broker?

While working with a broker could be a good idea, there are potential drawbacks to consider. “Not all brokers are created equal,” says Fleming. “Many have only a few sources for loans, and may not be able to find the best pricing.” There are also some mortgage lenders that don’t work with brokers and will only offer loans directly to consumers (through one of the lender’s loan officers).

Using a mortgage broker can also be expensive. Although you may find the services are worth paying for, consider the costs of using a broker:

Mortgage broker fees

Mortgage brokers are often paid in one of two ways. You may be able to choose how you’d like to pay the broker, or opt for both payment methods.

Some mortgage brokers will charge you a commission based on the loan you take out, often about 1% of the loan. For example, that’s a $3,000 fee on a $300,000 mortgage loan. You’ll pay this fee as part of your closing costs when you close on the home.

Other brokers may offer you a fee-free mortgage. However, what likely happens in this case is that the mortgage broker arranges a loan with a higher interest rate, leaving room for the lender to give the broker a cut. This route could cost you more over the lifetime of the loan but might be the better option if you want to minimize costs now.

Where to find a good mortgage broker

“Word of mouth is very useful when it comes to finding a good [mortgage broker],” according to Professor David Reiss, a real estate law professor at the Brooklyn Law School in Brooklyn, N.Y. You could ask friends or family members who’ve recently bought a home if they used a mortgage broker, as well as your real estate agent if he or she can recommend a broker.

However, don’t settle for the first recommendation you receive. The Federal Trade Commission recommends interviewing several brokers and trying to find one who’ll be a good fit for your home search.

Ask about their experience with buyers like you in the area, the fees they charge, and how many lenders they work with. “You want to know whether the mortgage broker can find competitive mortgage products, is well organized so that loans close in a timely manner, and whether it keeps away from bait-and-switch tactics that can be so difficult to deal with when buying a home,” says Reiss.

You can also look for reviews of the mortgage broker online, and check for complaints against the company with the Better Business Bureau. The National Association of Mortgage Brokers (NAMB) also has a directory of state associations and regulators, which you can use to check the broker’s license and standing.

Louis DeNicola
Louis DeNicola |

Louis DeNicola is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Louis at louis@magnifymoney.com

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3 Investing Strategies to Save for a New Home

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

3 Investing Strategies to Save for a New Home

Buying a home is one of the most significant financial decisions you will make in your lifetime. For many Americans, saving for a purchase of that magnitude can feel impossible. The good news is there is no shortage of strategies you can choose from. The number one factor to consider (apart from your income) is how much time you have to save. Depending on when you plan on buying, some options may be better than others.

Here’s a guide to saving for a new home with various timelines in mind.

If you want to buy a home in the next 3 years…

Every investment option comes with a degree of risk, and with only a few short years to save, it’s likely not a wise idea to take big risks with your savings. The last thing you want is for the money to lose value without enough time to recover.

In this case, you should be looking for savings options that offer safety rather than growth, like a high-yield savings account and certificates of deposit (CDs). These are very low risk and, best of all, come with guaranteed returns on investment. If you’re looking for the highest paying savings accounts in your area, you can use our free comparison tool. We also have a list of the best CDs for the month.

If you want to buy a new home in 4 to 7 years…

The longer you have to save for a home, the more creative you can be with your investing strategy. The key is to strike the right mix between safety and growth. You want your money to grow at a comfortable enough pace to beat inflation but maintain enough conservative investments to offset any potential losses you might experience in the market.

You may be able to achieve this with a 25/75 portfolio.

The 25/75 portfolio strategy is pretty simple — no more than 25% of your money is invested in stocks, and the remaining 75% are in bonds. This blend of stocks and bonds should allow your money to grow modestly while keeping safety top of mind. You can start this process by opening a brokerage account and choosing your own mutual funds to reach the right mix. But do your research first. For example, U.S. News & World Report maintains a list of funds that are ranked for their allocation, fees, and performance. 

If you want to buy a home in 8 to 10 years…

Time is certainly on your side if you’ve got nearly a decade to save for your dream home. The key is taking on the right amount of risk. Because you have so much time to save, you can afford to take riskier investment bets, which can potentially reap much higher rewards in the long run.

Consider a 50/50 investment strategy: You’ll invest 50% of your savings in stocks and 50% in bonds. You should have just enough risk to ensure you’ll beat inflation and then some, but still be conservative enough to be able to weather any downturns in the market. To achieve the perfect 50/50 mix, you could split your money evenly between your own selection of stocks and bonds. For those who like a more hands-off approach, U.S. News & World Report has a ranking of mutual funds that are preset to give you the 50/50 allocation. There you can select the fund you feel suits you best. 

Deciding where to invest 

Where you invest your money matters. Save your money in the wrong place and taxes could eat up a portion of your gains each year. You could also be in a situation where taking the money out to buy a home could cause a penalty as well.

If you plan on buying a home in five years or more, strategically using a Roth IRA could be your best option. With a Roth IRA you can withdraw all of your contributions without penalty; additionally, you can withdraw $10,000 of the earnings without tax or penalty for a first-time home purchase. 

Lastly, a plain brokerage account may suit you. There are no tax advantages to investing here, but if you’re using the account to buy a home in the future, there may be more benefits in other areas. You can only contribute $5,500 ($6,500 after age 50) in a Traditional IRA or Roth IRA, and withdrawals are subject to strict rules. A regular brokerage account, on the other hand, has no limits to what you can put in or take out for home purchases or any other purchases. Take a look at your situation and see which options fit you best.

What about my 401(k)?

A common question most people ask is whether they should use their 401(k) to grow the money and then use it to buy a home. This is usually a bad idea. If you withdraw the money before age 59½, you would be subject to a 10% penalty, plus income taxes on top of that amount. In addition, the amount that you withdraw could severely alter your retirement goals. This is called an opportunity cost.

A better idea, though still not one we recommend, is taking a loan from your 401(k). You are allowed to take a loan of up to $50,000 or half the value of the account balance, whichever amount is less. This is still a loan, however, meaning it could affect your ability to qualify for a mortgage. You also have to pay this loan back. Depending on your company’s 401(k) rules, if you leave the company, the entire balance of the loan might come due within 60 to 90 days after you leave. If you stay with the company, you could be required to pay the loan back within five years.

Thankfully, your 401(k) isn’t your only option. Taking money from a Traditional IRA is a bit better. You are allowed to withdraw $10,000 without penalty for a first-time home purchase. This may change your tax situation as any withdrawal would have to be counted as part of your regular income. For most people this still isn’t the best option but certainly better than dipping into your 401(k).

Making a clear goal

Do some research to see what home prices are like in your desired area. Then make a clear savings goal. An easy way to do this is to take 10 to 20% of the average home value in your area to estimate your downpayment. Use this calculator to see how long it will take you to reach your goal.

Kevin Matthews II
Kevin Matthews II |

Kevin Matthews II is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Kevin here

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Do You Need to Buy a Home by 30?

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Purchase agreement for house

About once a month, someone walks up my driveway and rings the doorbell. Sometimes it’s a representative from some sort of home repair company that’s fixing up the house down the street, telling all the neighbors that they might also want to consider updating this or that. Other times it’s a realtor passing out business cards. Occasionally it’s kids from local schools selling stuff for a fundraiser.

No matter who it is, though — from fellow Gen Yer installing the neighbor’s new windows to some sort of salesperson blatantly ignoring the community’s “no soliciting sign” — when I open the door I’m usually greeted with the same question:

“Hi there! Is there a parent at home I can speak with?”

I’m 25. I’ve held a college degree and maintained an actual, grown-up career for four years now. I run a business. I’ve opened multiple retirement accounts. I do all sorts of grown-up stuff. And still: are your parents at home?

Annoying, although I get it. I do look young — especially considering that I also happen to own the door that people knock on.

Jumping into Home Ownership as Soon as Possible

I was 22 and one year out of college when I bought my first house. Yes, I was in a hurry and for good reason: the housing market finally found the bottom but was slowly recovering.

Buying early meant the potential to get in at the bottom – and then selling at the top (or at least, considerably higher than what it cost me to get into the market). In other words, I was looking at making an investment. That’s the biggest reason I bought a home and why I encourage other millennials to think about doing the same before they enter their 30s.

As it turns out, buying my house ended up as a good investment. Three years after closing on that first home I’m about to close on it again, but as the seller this time. It was on the market for about 10 days and sold for $40,000 more than the price I paid.

In my experience, home ownership has been a positive thing. It enabled me to leverage my assets in order to grow wealth.

Buying a house won’t be right for everyone. But I urge you to consider home ownership, in some form or fashion, by age 30. Real estate can be an amazing tool to boost your wealth when you’re young if the right situation presents itself.

Advantages of Home Ownership

One of the biggest current advantages of home ownership: crazy-low interest rates. Our parents paid 10% in interest on their home loans when they bought their first houses back in the 70s and 80s. Today, millennials with good credit scores can secure interest rates as low as 3.5%.

This is a wonderful opportunity if you know you want to stay in a particular area for the next few years. This allows you to leverage your assets – in this case, cash for a down payment – to finance a larger asset for an extremely low fee. (The interest rate on the mortgage is the fee you pay for borrowing the money.)

This allows you to maintain a place to live while freeing up the rest of the cash you earn each month for investments that will more than make up for the cost of the interest on the loan. Here’s what taking out a mortgage to finance a home purchase allowed me to do in my early twenties, with my low income:

  • Provided me with a place to live for less than the cost of renting a home or an apartment in the same area.
  • Allowed me to possess a large asset for a relatively low cost.
  • Freed up cash flow: I could take money left over after living expenses were paid each month and invest it in the market to continue to grow wealth. (The interest rate on my first mortgage was 3.7%. I earned about 18% on the cash I invested in the stock market over the last year.)
  • Gave me an opportunity to continue leveraging assets to grow wealth: I put $16,500 cash down on my first home and I’m walking away from the sale of that house with about $45,000 in cash. That’s what’s left from the sale after paying off the mortgage and paying the realtor’s commissions.

There are other major benefits of homeownership. Homeowners who sell their properties and make a profit get an enormous tax break; if you’ve owned and lived in a house for at least two out of the last five years you receive a capital gains tax exemption. You can also write off mortgage interest on your taxes each year.

Under the right circumstances, buying a home can allow millennials to accelerate the rate at which they build wealth. Of course, there are cons to buying a house too. It’s important that you think about these and understand how they can impact you before starting a home search. Here are some of the most common cons for Gen Y:

  • More debt may be the last thing someone with tens of thousands of dollars worth of student debt wants to take on. A mortgage becomes an added financial obligation that may just be too much.
  • Real estate is costly to buy and sell. Closing costs and realtor commissions alone can be tens of thousands of dollars when all is said and done. Understand what the costs will be before you look into buying a home or securing a mortgage.
  • In normal markets, you need to hold on to your property for 5 to 7 years before seeing a return on your investment. There are exceptions to this, but it’s a good general rule of thumb to keep in mind.
  • You’re the only person responsible for maintaining your home and making repairs.
  • Property taxes can increase, making cost of ownership more expensive than you planned on when you bought.

When It Makes Sense to Buy a Home

I believe buying a home in your 20s can pay off if the conditions are right. It helps to start in a low cost-of-living area, where both real estate prices and annual property taxes are relatively inexpensive when compared to other regions. The South and Midwest may provide 20-somethings with the best financial shot at home ownership.

Before buying, you should check out the local rental market. Selling real estate isn’t always easy, it’s never cheap, and it might be a long process. If the rental market in the area is strong, becoming a landlord is a smart backup plan should you ever want to relocate to a new city, travel full-time, or ease the financial burden of carrying a mortgage. There’s also the option of buying a home with the sole purpose of renting it out to tenants.

And of course, you want to consider the housing market in general. If you’re local to the area, it will be easier for you to spot and correctly identify trends and changes. You may see potential in a nearby neighborhood before real estate prices reflect increasing popularity.

Do your research and due diligence. It makes sense to consider buying a home if you can reasonably assume the value of the home will steadily rise over the next few years. And it only makes sense if you can actually afford the home you want to purchase.

Your housing expenses should not exceed about 30% of your income. Ideally, they should be less. Think long and hard about getting into a house generating monthly expenses that will cost you more than 30% of what you make monthly.

Do You Need to Buy a Home?

Let’s face it: you need someplace to live and call home. Does it need to be a home you own? No, it’s not necessary.

But it is an option that more Gen Yers should consider as they pay down student loan debts and start investing money to build wealth. If you’re interested in homeownership at a young age, approach the situation from a purely financial standpoint and leave your emotions at the door.

Most people can’t afford their dream home in their 20s, and that’s okay. Consider resale value and rental opportunities when you consider buying a home before 30 to make sure it’s a smart choice. If the numbers don’t work out in your favor, keep looking.

The only time you “need” to buy a home by 30 if it fits within your financial game plan. Do your research, ensure your costs are manageable, and have a backup plan.

Kali Hawlk
Kali Hawlk |

Kali Hawlk is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Kali at Kali@magnifymoney.com

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