Home prices are on the rise again, especially in large metro areas, after a lull leading into 2023. Seven cities, including Atlanta, Charlotte, Detroit, and Miami are at all-time highs as measured by the Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price NSA Index. So saving for a down payment for your first house can be tough. This is especially true if you’re trying to buy that first home while you also have student loans to pay off. And if you’d like to purchase that home super fast before prices soar higher, it can feel impossible.
But here’s the good news: It’s definitely doable, even within just 12 months, if you accelerate your savings and prepare wisely. Follow our strategy below to take that big step into home ownership fast.
💡 Quick Tip: When house hunting, don’t forget to lock in your home mortgage loan rate so there are no surprises if your offer is accepted.
Months 1–3: Save Like You’ve Never Saved Before
Do the Math
The median home price in the U.S. in late 2023 was $431,000. Saving 10% for a down payment on a home at that price is far more manageable than following the old 20%-down school of thought, especially when you have student loans to pay off. To succeed at saving $43,100 in a year’s time, you’ll need to save $3,592 a month, which seems slightly more plausible if you take a breath and break it down into 52 weeks, at $829 a week. Of course, you’ll want to crunch the numbers for the type of home you’re looking to purchase. If you can find a well-priced property and put even less than 10% down, you may need significantly less cash on hand.
But don’t put your calculator away yet.
In addition to saving for the down payment, you’ll need to factor in closing costs, which typically amount to about 3% of the home price. So for a home that costs $431,000, you would need to add $249 to your weekly savings goal.
Yeah, that’s a big chunk of change. But don’t panic; the first step is always the hardest. Just imagine yourself landing your first job or hosting your first big party. You managed that and you’ll manage this too. And remember to consider student loan refinancing, which can help lower your interest rate, monthly payments, and ultimately save you money.
Revise Your Budget
Hunker down and take a hard look at your budget. If you’ve decided to refinance your student loans, don’t forget to adjust your monthly fixed expenses to account for your lower payments. Compare your income and expenses to get a clear view of your spending habits, and then make the necessary changes to meet your weekly savings goals.
Look closely at your expenses to see what you can give up to increase your savings, and what costs you can cut back on. Can you join a rideshare group to save on gas? Part with a streaming subscription or two? Also, consider setting limits on eating out and buying clothing or gadgets you don’t really need.
Recommended: Home Affordability Calculator
Flex your Negotiation Muscles
Put your savvy bargaining skills to use to get lower interest rates on existing credit cards and auto loans, or discounted rates on subscription services.
Start a Home Fund
Open a savings account just for your down payment, and avoid dipping into it. This will help you keep careful tabs on your progress.
Reach out to Your Family and Friends
Within your 12 months of saving, you’ll have a birthday and celebrate gift-giving holidays. Let your friends and family in on your major goal of buying a house, and ask that they contribute money toward a down payment in lieu of material presents.
Just remember that if you receive unusually large sums or a large number of deposits in the months leading to your home purchase, you may need gift letters from the generous people in your life, indicating that there is no expectation of repayment. Depending on the mortgage loan, rules vary when it comes to how much of your down payment can come from gifts.
Months 3–6: Keep Saving. And Focus on Earning More
Ramp up Your Income
Think of creative ways to use your expertise and skills to boost your income. You did invest a substantial amount of time and money in your education, after all, so maximize the ROI to rake in some extra cash to put toward your home fund.
Perhaps you can roll out an e-course or teach a professional seminar at your local community college. Or look for a way to make extra money from home. And, if the time is right, ask for a raise.
Months 7–9: Build Your Credit (and Keep Saving)
Review Your Credit Report
Check your credit report to make sure it is error-free and that your credit score is as high as it can be. And mind the cardinal rule of credit scores: Pay your credit cards, student loans, and bills on time.
Check your credit utilization ratio (the amount of your credit card balances against their limits), too; you want that number to be low.
Now is also the time to be wary of applying for new lines of credit, as that will result in lenders doing a “hard pull” on your credit. Too many of these within a 6-month time frame could ding your credit score.
Recommended: First-Time Homebuyer Guide
Keep an Eye on Your DTI
Make sure your debt-to-income ratio (DTI) is as low as possible. Your DTI is a key part of securing a home mortgage loan, and while the lower the better, it should fall below 36% — although for certain types of mortgage the DTI can be as high as 43%.
💡 Quick Tip: Don’t have a lot of cash on hand for a down payment? The minimum down payment for an FHA mortgage loan is as low as 3.5%.
Months 10–12: Learn About the Mortgage Process (While You Keep Saving)
Do Your Mortgage Application Prep
Your mortgage company will require quite a bit of paperwork to get your loan approved. Familiarize yourself with the mortgage loan application process. Also check your credit score once more to make sure it’s still solid.
Explore Homebuyer Assistance Programs
There are many different programs designed to help first-time homebuyers gain access to home ownership. A loan from the Federal Housing Administration, for example, may help you purchase a home even if you haven’t saved a heap of cash for a down payment or if your credit score isn’t at the highest level.
If a fixer-upper is your goal, a HUD loan may be worth exploring. And depending on where you’re looking to buy, you might find city- or state-specific homebuyers assistance programs.
Saving for a down payment and the associated costs of buying a home is a big endeavor, but with persistence and discipline, both in terms of your spending and your home-search process, you can find a home and have the down payment necessary to purchase it. The same careful planning that got you to college and helped you secure a student loan will help you achieve your dream of becoming a homeowner.
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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*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.