Arkansas First-Time Home Buying Assistance Programs for 2024

Arkansas First-Time Home Buying Guide

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    By Kim Franke-Folstad

    (Last Updated – 03/2024)

    If you’re a first-time homebuyer hoping to put down roots in the “Natural State,” you can look forward to many homes priced well below the U.S. median sale price of $402,242.

    The median selling price of an Arkansas home hit $238,900 in January 2024, a 5.4% increase in 12 months, according to Redfin. In some areas, the increases were much more steep. Farmington, Searcy, and Bentonville all saw double-digit percentage increases in prices year-over-year; and Bentonville’s median home price is now $429,500.

    Fortunately, buyers who are struggling with the costs of purchasing their first home in Arkansas may be able to get some financial help through programs offered by the state and some cities. There also are longstanding federal programs that could improve a buyer’s chances of success.

    Recommended: First-Time Homebuyer Guide

    Who Is Considered a First-Time Homebuyer in Arkansas?

    Here’s something you should know as you start your search for a home loan: For most programs in Arkansas, there is no first-time buyer requirement. For those that do have a requirement, applicants are considered first-time homebuyers if they haven’t owned a home for at least the past three years. (Veterans, veterans’ spouses, and those buying in targeted areas also may qualify for this program.)

    Before you start any application process, whether it’s offered by a state or city, it’s a good idea to be clear on the specific eligibility standards.

    Recommended: Understanding Mortgage Basics

    3 Arkansas Housing Programs for First-Time Homebuyers

    Most homebuyer programs in Arkansas are designed for low- to moderate-income buyers who need help finding affordable loan terms or coming up with a down payment and/or closing costs.

    Program participants typically must meet requirements regarding their income, credit scores, and debt-to-income (DTI) ratio. There also may be limits on how much the home that’s being purchased can cost, and the home must be owner occupied. Also, at least one borrower may have to complete a homebuyer education course.

    The Arkansas Development Finance Authority (ADFA) offers several assistance programs first-time homebuyers might want to consider.

    1. ADFA Move-Up Mortgage Program

    The ADFA’s Move-Up program provides an affordable 30-year fixed-rate mortgage to qualifying low- to moderate-income homebuyers. Borrowers can choose from several different mortgage types, including conventional, FHA, VA, or USDA loans.

    Benefits and qualifications include:

    •  Low-income buyers who are at or below 80% of the area median income may qualify for a lower interest rate

    •  Loan can be combined with other ADFA programs (down payment assistance and mortgage credit certificate)

    •  Annual income limit is $142,000

    •  Minimum credit score of 640

    •  Maximum DTI of 45%

    •  Must take homebuyer education course if you’re a first-time buyer with a conventional mortgage

    •  Terms may vary based on type of loan

    •  Maximum purchase price is $424,100

    •  Type of homes allowed may vary based on loan type

    More information: Move Up (

    You can get started by working with a participating lender .

    2. ADFA Smart Start

    ADFA makes use of IRS rules to issue tax-exempt mortgage revenue bonds. The savings, generated from the tax-exemption, are passed along to low- and middle-income homebuyers, who receive a below-market interest rate30-year fixed-rate mortgage loan and a lower monthly payment.

    Benefits and qualifications include:

    •  Applicants must be first-time homebuyers or experienced homebuyers who are buying in a select group of counties

    •  Purchase price of a home cannot exceed $425,000

    •  Minimum credit score: 640

    •  Household income cannot exceed limits, which vary by location

    •  Can be combined with ADFA Down Payment Assistance program (see below)

    More information: ADFA (

    You must work with an ADFA-approved lender to apply for this program.

    3. ADFA Down Payment Assistance

    If you qualify for an ADFA first mortgage, you also may benefit by pairing it with a second mortgage for a down payment or closing costs from the ADFA Down Payment Assistance Program. The assistance ranges from $1,000 to $15,000 and comes in the form of a 10-year second mortgage with a rate that matches your ADFA first mortgage.

    Benefits and qualifications Include:

    •  Borrowers may receive cash back at closing to cover items paid outside of closing

    •  Must be paired with ADFA first mortgage

    •  Must meet ADFA Move-Up program guidelines

    •  Cannot be combined with Arkansas Dream Down Payment Initiative

    More information: DPA (

    A participating lender can help you apply for this program.

    Other Arkansas Homebuyer Programs by Location

    If you’ve already chosen the part of Arkansas you hope to make your home, you also may want to research local buyer assistance programs. (And if you aren’t sure where to put down roots, check out a guide to the best affordable places in Arkansas to live.)

    Check back occasionally for new offers. Some first-time homebuyer programs base their opportunities (and deadlines) on the funds they expect to become available. When their money runs out, they may press pause.

    Some local programs include:

    Crawford-Sebastian Community Development Council Programs

    The Crawford-Sebastian Homeownership and Asset Development Center provides homebuyer counseling and education programs as well as down payment assistance in the form of grants and forgivable loans. For information on the benefits and requirements of various programs, you can check out the Homeownership Program page, email [email protected], or call 479-785-2303.

    City of Jonesboro Homeownership Assistance Program

    Jonesboro’s Homeownership Assistance Program was created to help low- and moderate-income homebuyers who wish to purchase a property in the city. The program offers qualifying first-time homebuyers a grant that can be used for their down payment and closing costs. For information, you can go to the Homeownership Assistance Program page, email [email protected], or call 870-336-7071.

    City of Little Rock Down Payment Assistance Program

    Little Rock’s down payment assistance program offers up to $5,000 to qualifying low- and moderate-income first-time homebuyers through a forgivable second loan. For information, check out the program brochure or ask your Arkansas lender about applying.

    City of Pine Bluff Homebuyer Assistance Program

    Pine Bluff’s Economic and Community Development Department offers this program, which was created to help low- and moderate-income buyers. Qualified applicants may receive assistance of $2,000 for a down payment and up to $3,000 for closing costs. For requirements and approved lenders, check out the program’s brochure .

    How to Apply to Arkansas Programs for First-Time Homebuyers

    Follow the links under each program to find participating lenders or other contacts.

    Federal Programs for First-Time Homebuyers

    Several federal government programs are designed for people who have low credit scores or limited cash for a down payment. Although most of these programs are available to repeat homeowners, like state programs, they can be especially helpful to people who are buying a first home or who haven’t owned a home in several years.

    The mortgages are generally for single-family homes, two- to four-unit properties that will be owner occupied, approved condos, townhomes, planned unit developments, and some manufactured homes.

    Federal Housing Administration (FHA) Loans

    The FHA, which is part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), insures mortgages for borrowers with lower credit scores. Homebuyers choose from a list of approved lenders that participate in the FHA loan program. Loans have competitive interest rates and require a down payment of 3.5% of the purchase price for borrowers, who typically need FICO® credit scores of 580 or higher. Those with scores as low as 500 must put at least 10% down.

    In addition to examining your credit score, lenders will look at your debt-to-income ratio (DTI, your monthly debt payments compared with your monthly gross income). FHA loans allow a DTI ratio of up to 50% in some cases, vs. a typical 45% maximum for a conventional loan.

    Gift money for the down payment is allowed from certain donors and will be documented in a gift letter for the mortgage.

    FHA loans always require mortgage insurance: a 1.75% upfront fee and annual premiums for the life of the loan, unless you make a down payment of at least 10%, which allows the removal of mortgage insurance after 11 years. For a $300,000 mortgage balance, upfront MIP would be around $5,250 and monthly MIP, at a rate of 0.55%, would be around $137. You can learn more about these loans, including FHA loans for refinance and rehab of properties, by reading up on FHA requirements, loan limits, and rates.

    Freddie Mac Home Possible Mortgages

    Very low- and low-income borrowers may make a 3% down payment on a Home Possible® mortgage. These loans allow various sources for down payments, including co-borrowers, family gifts, employer assistance, secondary financing, and sweat equity.

    The Home Possible mortgage is for buyers who have a credit score of at least 660.

    Once you pay 20% of your loan, the Home Possible mortgage insurance will be canceled, which will lower your mortgage payments.

    Fannie Mae HomeReady Mortgages

    Fannie Mae HomeReady® Mortgages allow down payments as low as 3% for low-income borrowers. Applicants generally need a credit score of at least 620; pricing may be better for credit scores of 680 and above. Like the Freddie Mac program, HomeReady loans allow flexibility for down payment financing, such as gifts and grants.

    For income limits, a comparison to an FHA loan, and other information, go to this Fannie Mae site .

    Fannie Mae Standard 97 LTV Loan

    The conventional 97 LTV loan is for first-time homebuyers of any income level who have a credit score of at least 620 and meet debt-to-income criteria. The 97% loan-to-value mortgage requires 3% down. Borrowers can get down payment and closing cost assistance from third-party sources.

    Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Loans

    AActive-duty members of the military, veterans, and eligible family members may apply for loans backed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. VA loans, which can be used to buy, build, or improve homes, have lower interest rates than most other mortgages and don’t require a down payment. Most borrowers pay a one-time funding fee that can be rolled into the mortgage.

    Another benefit of VA loans is that they do not require private mortgage insurance (PMI) for borrowers who make a down payment of less than 20%. And they have more flexible credit score requirements. In some cases, even those who have previously been in foreclosure or bankruptcy can qualify.

    Borrowers applying for a VA loan will need a Certificate of Eligibility from the VA so make sure to review a guide to qualifying for a VA loan as a first step in the process.

    Native American Veteran Direct Loans (NADLs)

    Eligible Native American veterans and their spouses may use these no-down-payment loans to buy, improve, or build a home on federal trust land. Unlike VA loans listed above, the Department of Veterans Affairs is the mortgage lender on NADLs. The VA requires no mortgage insurance, but it does charge a funding fee.

    US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Loans

    No down payment is required on these loans to moderate-income borrowers that are guaranteed by the USDA in specified rural areas. Borrowers pay an upfront guarantee fee and an annual fee that serves as mortgage insurance.

    The USDA also directly issues loans to low- and very low-income people. For loan basics and income and property eligibility, head to this USDA site .

    HUD Good Neighbor Next Door Program

    This program helps police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and teachers qualify for mortgages in the areas they serve. Borrowers can receive 50% off a home in what HUD calls a “revitalization area.” They must live in the home for at least three years.

    First-Time Homebuyer Stats for 2024

    Here are some stats on homebuyers and the homebuying process.

    •  Percentage of buyers nationwide who are first-time buyers: 32%

    •  Median age of first-time homebuyers nationally: 35

    •  Median home price in Arkansas: $238,900

    •  Median gross rent in Arkansas: $868

    •  66.2% of Arkansas housing units were owner-occupied

    •  Average credit score in Arkansas: 696

    Additional Financing Tips for First-Time Homebuyers

    In addition to federal and state government-sponsored lending programs, there are other financial strategies that may help you become a homeowner. Some examples:

    •  Traditional IRA withdrawals. The IRS allows qualifying first-time homebuyers a one-time, penalty-free withdrawal of up to $10,000 from their IRA if the money is used to buy, build, or rebuild a home. The IRS considers anyone who has not owned a primary residence in the past three years a first-time homebuyer. You will still owe income tax on the IRA withdrawal. If you’re married and your spouse has an IRA, they may also make a penalty-free withdrawal of $10,000 to purchase a home. The downside, of course, is that large withdrawals may jeopardize your retirement savings.

    •  Roth IRA withdrawals. Because Roth IRA contributions are made with after-tax money, the IRS allows tax- and penalty-free withdrawals of contributions for any reason as long as you’ve held the account for five years. You may also withdraw up to $10,000 in earnings from your Roth IRA without paying taxes or penalties if you are a qualifying first-time homebuyer and you have had the account for five years. With accounts held for less than five years, homebuyers will pay income tax on earnings withdrawn.

    •  401(k) loans. If your employer allows borrowing from the 401(k) plan that it sponsors, you may consider taking a loan against the 401(k) account to help finance your home purchase. With most plans, you can borrow up to 50% of your 401(k) balance, up to $50,000, without incurring taxes or penalties. You pay interest on the loan, which is paid into your 401(k) account. You usually have to pay back the loan within five years, but if you’re using the money to buy a house, you may have up to 15 years to repay.

    •  State and local down payment assistance programs. Usually offered at the regional or county level, these programs provide flexible second mortgages for first-time buyers looking into how to afford a down payment.

    •  The mortgage credit certificate program. First-time homeowners and those who buy in targeted areas can claim a portion of their mortgage interest as a tax credit, up to $2,000. Any additional interest paid can still be used as an itemized deduction. To qualify for the credit, you must be a first-time homebuyer, live in the home, and meet income and purchase price requirements, which vary by state. If you refinance, the credit disappears, and if you sell the house before nine years, you may have to pay some of the tax credit back. There are fees associated with applying for and receiving the mortgage credit certificate that vary by state. Often the savings from the lifetime of the credit can outweigh these fees.

    •  Your employer. Your employer may offer access to lower-cost lenders and real estate agents in your area, as well as home buying education courses.

    •  Your lender. Always ask your lender about any first-time homebuyer grant or down payment assistance programs available from government, nonprofit, and community organizations in your area.

    The Takeaway

    Low- and moderate-income first-time homebuyers in Arkansas may be able to pair a mortgage with down payment assistance. Other first-time buyers can shop for a mortgage on their own that’s a good fit.

    Looking for an affordable option for a home mortgage loan? SoFi can help: We offer low down payments (as little as 3% - 5%*) with our competitive and flexible home mortgage loans. Plus, applying is extra convenient: It's online, with access to one-on-one help.

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    Should I take first-time homebuyer classes?

    Yes! Good information is key to a successful home-buying experience for anyone, but especially for newcomers, who can easily be overwhelmed by the jargon, technicalities, and magnitude of applying for a mortgage and purchasing a home. First-time homebuyer classes can help. Indeed they are required for many government-sponsored loan programs.

    Do first-time homebuyers with bad credit qualify for homeownership assistance?

    Often they do. Many government and nonprofit homeowner assistance programs are available to people with low credit scores. And often, interest rates and other loan pricing are competitive with those of loans available to borrowers with higher credit scores. That said, almost any lending program has credit qualifications.

    What credit score do I need for first-time homebuyer assistance in Arkansas?

    Most homebuyer programs in Arkansas require a minimum credit score of 640.

    Requirements may vary from one program or organization to the next, though, and some programs may use criteria other than credit scores to determine a borrower’s eligibility.

    Is there a first-time homebuyer tax credit in Arkansas?

    Not at present, although there are other programs to help first-time homebuyers.

    Is there a first-time veteran homebuyer assistance program in Arkansas?

    Veterans may qualify for an ADFA mortgage and mortgage credit certificate.

    What is the average age of first-time homebuyers?

    The median age is 35, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

    Photo credit: iStock/BlazenImages

    *SoFi requires Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) for conforming home loans with a loan-to-value (LTV) ratio greater than 80%. As little as 3% down payments are for qualifying first-time homebuyers only. 5% minimum applies to other borrowers. Other loan types may require different fees or insurance (e.g., VA funding fee, FHA Mortgage Insurance Premiums, etc.). Loan requirements may vary depending on your down payment amount, and minimum down payment varies by loan type.

    ¹FHA loans are subject to unique terms and conditions established by FHA and SoFi. Ask your SoFi loan officer for details about eligibility, documentation, and other requirements. FHA loans require an Upfront Mortgage Insurance Premium (UFMIP), which may be financed or paid at closing, in addition to monthly Mortgage Insurance Premiums (MIP). Maximum loan amounts vary by county. The minimum FHA mortgage down payment is 3.5% for those who qualify financially for a primary purchase. SoFi is not affiliated with any government agency.

    †Veterans, Service members, and members of the National Guard or Reserve may be eligible for a loan guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. VA loans are subject to unique terms and conditions established by VA and SoFi. Ask your SoFi loan officer for details about eligibility, documentation, and other requirements. VA loans typically require a one-time funding fee except as may be exempted by VA guidelines. The fee may be financed or paid at closing. The amount of the fee depends on the type of loan, the total amount of the loan, and, depending on loan type, prior use of VA eligibility and down payment amount. The VA funding fee is typically non-refundable. SoFi is not affiliated with any government agency.

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