Published March 09, 2012
Between student loans, credit card payments and day-to-day expenses, the thought of saving for a house may feel like the thought of climbing Mount Everest.
While a mortgage will help you finance the purchase, you will still need to pay 10 to 20% of the house’s price for a down payment. It may seem impossible right now, but with thoughtful money management, you could be on your way to your dream home. To get you started on the right track, here is a guide to saving for your down payment:
Figure out how much you need. As mentioned, you will have to pay at least 10% of the sale price for a down payment. With this in mind, determine your ideal budget for a house. To give you a sense of how high to aim, lenders usually suggest that your mortgage payment should take up no more than 28% of your monthly income. A few online services can help you calculate your monthly mortgage payment. You should also research neighborhoods where you might want to live and see how much houses there cost. If the price range for your ideal location is different from your target amount, you may have to readjust your budget or look at alternate neighborhoods.
Set a timeline. Once you have decided on the approximate amount you need to save, you can gauge when you might be ready to take the plunge. Determine how much you can set aside each month, then figure out how long it will take for your savings to add up to a down payment. You might find that it will take you several years to save up that amount, but at least you know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
Budget with the future in mind. You can save for a much shorter amount of time if you are able to set aside more funds every month. Generally, any money that goes to your down payment ends up coming out of your normal spending. When you start saving for a down payment, you will want to reassess your usual budget. If you see places where you can cut the fat, start putting that money toward your house fund. Some tactics for saving money could include eating out less or moving to a cheaper place if you are renting.
Put your money in the right place. Hiding your money under your mattress is generally a bad idea. Putting all of your savings into your normal checking or savings account is also not a great idea, as it becomes easily mixed up with your spending money. Some experts suggest opening a savings account dedicated to your down payment. This will help you keep track of your progress, and it makes sure your money is going to the right place. If this is your first time buying a home, another smart investment option is investing your money in a traditional investment retirement account (IRA). Your deposits will accrue interest toward your retirement, and first-time home buyers can withdraw up to $10,000 without the usual penalty fee.
Check for government benefits. There are often government incentives available to encourage potential home buyers. Since the Great Depression, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) has offered insured mortgage loans for people with less-than-perfect credit or insufficient funds for a down payment. Applying for an FHA loan is a lot like applying for a regular mortgage, and FHA loans are offered in banks across the country. You can locate an FHA lender on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s website. Research the laws and real estate practices around where you live, as you never know what benefits you might find.