Pennsylvania First-Time Home Buying Assistance Programs & Grants for 2023
By Susan Guillory
(Last Updated – 08/2022)
Thinking of buying a home in Pennsylvania? The average prices are below the country’s, but some pockets are hot.
While home sales prices rose 10.6% from May 2021 to May 2022, to a median of $291,000, Redfin reported, the number of homes for sale dropped by 10.3%. That means you may have to compete to get the home you want, especially in cities like Quakertown (home prices up 47.4% in a year) and Lansdale (up 36.2%).
If you’re a first-time homebuyer in Pennsylvania, you can use all the help you can get. If your income is generally low to moderate and your credit decent, help is exactly what you might well find.
Who Is Considered a First-Time Homebuyer in Pennsylvania?
According to federal and Pennsylvania housing authorities, a first-time homebuyer is someone who has not owned a primary home in the last three years.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) adds:
• A single parent who has only owned a home with a partner while married
• A displaced homemaker who has only owned a home with a spouse
• Someone who has owned a principal residence not permanently affixed to a permanent foundation
• Someone who has only owned a property that wasn’t in compliance with state, local, or model building codes
Keep in mind that veterans and people buying in federally targeted areas often qualify for the same lending advantages as first-time buyers.
💡 Recommended: SoFi’s First-Time Homebuyer’s Guide
5 Pennsylvania Programs for First-Time Homebuyers
The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency offers mortgage loans and down payment and closing cost assistance to first-time and repeat buyers. In general, you should know your FICO® credit score and household income.
And you might have a good idea of how much home you can buy, but getting the details with a home affordability calculator can’t hurt.
1. HomeFirst Down Payment Assistance Program
Pennsylvania Housing provides a 30-year fixed-rate conventional loan to qualifying buyers, who do not have to be first-time buyers. The mortgage comes with a reduced mortgage insurance coverage requirement.
There are household income limits , and you must have an “acceptable” credit history to qualify. You must put down at least $1,000 toward the home and show the ability to make your monthly payments. Pre-closing homebuyer education is required.
Borrowers obtaining an HFA Preferred loan may qualify to receive a Pennsylvania Housing grant of $500 for a down payment and closing costs. To apply, contact a participating lender .
2. PHFA: Keystone Home Loans
This mortgage program does not require you to be a first-time homebuyer, though you need to be purchasing a home in a targeted county (or be a discharged veteran).
To qualify, you must meet household income and purchase price limits. Additionally, you need an “acceptable” credit history and be able to demonstrate that you can afford your mortgage payments.
To see if you qualify, contact a participating lender .
3. PHFA: HOMEstead Down Payment and Closing Cost Loan
This program offers up to $10,000 in down payment and closing cost assistance through a no-interest second mortgage. The loan is forgiven over five years.
Buyers participating in the Keystone Home Loan Program are eligible to apply if they meet income and home purchase price limits .
4. PHFA: Keystone Advantage Assistance Loan
Keystone Advantage provides a second mortgage of up to 4% of the purchase price (or $6,000, whichever is less) for the down payment and closing costs. The loan has 0% interest and has monthly payments for 10 years.
To qualify, you must have a credit score of 660 or higher. Your liquid assets cannot be more than $50,000.
5. City and County Programs
It’s a good idea to look into assistance from the city or county where you plan to put down roots. Pennsylvania homebuyers might try an option on this list .
How to Apply to Pennsylvania Programs for First-Time Homebuyers
For the Pennsylvania Housing programs, contact a participating lender to make sure you qualify, start your application, and get guidance on assistance that may pair with your mortgage.
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.
💡 How much is a down payment? Learn what the average down payment on a house is.
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 program. Loans have competitive interest rates and require a down payment of 3.5% of the purchase price for borrowers with FICO® credit scores of 580 or higher. Those with credit scores as low as 500 must put at least 10% down.
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. You can learn more about FHA loans in general and FHA lending limits in Massachusetts by county on the HUD website .
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
Active-duty members of the military, veterans, and eligible family members may apply for loans backed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. VA home loans, 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.
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.
U.S. 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 2022
Here’s some data about Pennsylvania home sales.
• Median sales price in Pennsylvania (May 2022, Redfin): $291,000
• 3% down payment in Pennsylvania: $8,730
• 20% down payment: $58,200
• Average credit score in Pennsylvania (average U.S. score is 714):723
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. After reading up on how to choose a mortgage term, check out these tips on how to lower your mortgage payment:
• 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.
First-time homebuyers in Pennsylvania of moderate means may be able to get a mortgage and down payment assistance through the state or a local agency. Other first-time buyers can shop for an advantageous mortgage on their own.
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 some 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.
Is there a first-time homebuyer tax credit in Pennsylvania?
Yes. Pennsylvania Housing has a mortgage credit certificate program for first-time homeowners and those who buy in targeted areas. With it, borrowers can claim a portion of mortgage interest paid as a tax credit, up to $2,000.
Is there a first-time veteran homebuyer assistance program in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania Housing offers a VA loan that can be coupled with assistance for those who qualify. Veterans need not be first-time buyers.
What credit score do I need for first-time homebuyer assistance in Pennsylvania?
It depends on the program; an informed lender can advise you. The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency mentions only having an “acceptable” credit history. The Keystone Advantage Assistance Loan requires a credit score of 660 or higher.
What is the average age of first-time homebuyers in Pennsylvania?
The median age of first-time buyers nationwide is 33.
Photo credit: iStock/benedek
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