Do You Still Need to Put a 20% Down Payment On a House?

By Dana Webb · January 23, 2024 · 7 minute read

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Do You Still Need to Put a 20% Down Payment On a House?

Saving up enough money for a down payment on your first home is a major life goal. But sometimes it feels like the goalpost is always moving. How much do you need to save for a down payment, exactly? Friends say they put down 10%. Your parents talk about a 20% benchmark. And some programs allow borrowers to put down just 3%.

Bottom line: There are traditional numbers that many people stand by, but these days, the old guidelines don’t always apply. And that’s a good thing, given that at the end of 2023, the median home listing price in the U.S. was $384,683, according to Zillow. Twenty percent of that —almost $70,000 — is a substantial chunk of change for most people.

This article will demystify how different down payment amounts can impact your mortgage choices and help you better identify the home mortgage loan that bests fit your financial scenario to put you on the road to owning your own home.

Why Does a 20% Down Payment Seem like the Magic Number?

If you’re thinking about buying your first home, you’ve likely heard that a 20% down payment has traditionally been the standard. Generally speaking, putting down this much on your new home helps lenders view you as a less risky borrower, which may ultimately help you get a better deal on your loan terms.

In addition, having this significant chunk of equity in the home allows for value fluctuations and the borrower is less likely to find themselves underwater or upside down on their mortgage in a declining market.

Plus, with a 20% down payment, you won’t have to buy private mortgage insurance (PMI). PMI protects the lender in case of loan default but it can cost anywhere from 0.140% to 2.33% of your total loan amount annually depending upon many factors. (Don’t confuse PMI with MIP, which is the Mortgage Insurance Premium required by the Federal Housing Administration on its FHA loans.)

And then there’s the most obvious perk of a 20% down payment: Putting more money down up front means that you’ll owe less, which normally equates to lower monthly mortgage payments and less interest charged over the life of the loan.

But let’s face it: Even if you’re making a decent — heck, a pretty awesome — salary, saving up 20% of the total cost of a home can be difficult, especially if you’re paying rent, juggling student loans, and trying to reach other long-term goals, including saving for retirement. That’s likely why many buyers put down less than 20%. In the 2023 National Association of Realtors® Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers report, first-time homebuyers financed an average of 92% of their home’s cost and repeat buyers financed 81% of the purchase price.

There may be some very valid reasons why it would be beneficial for you to put down less than 20% on your dream house. Again, it will depend on your exact financial circumstances and long term goals, but it could be worth considering the following:

💡 Quick Tip: SoFi’s Lock and Look + feature allows you to lock in a low mortgage financing rate for 90 days while you search for the perfect place to call home.

First-time homebuyers can
prequalify for a SoFi mortgage loan,
with as little as 3% down.

Preserving Your Nest Egg

Putting 20% down on a home might force you to rely heavily on funds you’ve worked hard to save, and liquidating these funds, even for an investment like a home, may not always be in your best interest.

Allocating a big chunk of change to a house before you’ve covered your other important life expenses — such as an emergency fund equal to at least three months of expenses — may not be the most prudent option for you in the long run. (You’ll also want to make sure you keep in reserve funds for closing costs and any moving expenses and furnishing expenses associated with purchasing a home.)

And then there’s retirement savings: You may be able to borrow money to pay for school, to buy a new car, and to buy a home, but you definitely can’t borrow money to pay for your retirement. So you may want to consider alternatives before you dip too deeply into your retirement savings.

While you can withdraw qualified funds up to $10,000 from a traditional or Roth IRA without penalty to buy your first home, there are still taxes to consider. With a traditional IRA, you have to pay taxes on the amount you withdraw, but with a Roth IRA, no taxes will be due if you’ve had the account for at least five years. Taking the $10,000 could help you in the long run, especially if you expect income boosts as you make strides in your career.

If you are considering putting other financial goals on hold in order to buy your home, it might make sense to take a step back and look at your overall financial profile. This could help you see what makes the most sense for your circumstances. Our in-depth first-time homebuyer guide extensively covers such topics.

Protecting Your Other Big Financial Goals

By putting less money down on your home, you’ll likely be able to make more headway on other short-term financial goals, such as paying off student loans and credit cards, as well as your long-term goals, such as saving up for retirement.

You may also be able to invest more, which could help you grow your hard-earned cash. If you have other important financial goals that need achieving, you may want to consider waiting until you’ve reached them before buying a home, or you could choose to put less money down so that you don’t have to abandon your other financial objectives.

Exploring Your Down Payment Options

If you’re considering putting down less than 20%, it is a good idea to try plugging different down payment amounts into a home affordability calculator to see how they affect your monthly payments. Also take a look at your monthly income vs. your ongoing monthly expenses — which could include car payments, insurance premiums, credit card bills, and any other debts.

Mortgage lenders, whether banks or mortgage brokers, are required to figure out a borrower’s ability to repay the loan before making it. So you can also get prequalified for a home loan in order to see what type of interest rate and borrowing power a lender might feel you qualify for based on your income, expenses, and estimated down payment.

💡 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%.1

The Right Down Payment Percentage is Personal

Everyone’s financial picture looks different, so if you find yourself in a situation where you can’t afford to put down a full 20% but still want to purchase a home, there are numerous options. If you’ve done your homework and gotten prequalified, you know how your down payment might affect your loan terms. You can also look into whether or not you are eligible for a VA loan, backed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which allows for 100% financing? Or perhaps you qualify as a first-time homebuyer, which may allow for as little as 3% down? (You might be surprised to learn that if you haven’t owned a primary residence in the last three years, you are considered a first-time homebuyer.)

An FHA loan could also be an option. Borrowers with FICO® credit scores of 580 or more may qualify for a down payment of 3.5%. You will have to pay the FHA mortgage insurance premium (MIP), mentioned above, but it could be worth it, especially if putting down a smaller down payment allows you to get in the housing market instead of paying high rent, or own in a place where home prices seem to be on an upward trajectory.

The Takeaway

When searching for the perfect home, you’ll want to shop around in order to find your best fit — there’s no one size fits all. The same is true of your down payment percentage. But rest assured, although a 20% down payment might be tradition, it’s hardly a loan requirement, and there are many home loans that will allow you to put down less than 20% — and many financial circumstances in which a lower down payment amount is the right choice.

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.

SoFi Mortgages: simple, smart, and so affordable.

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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.

+Lock and Look program: Terms and conditions apply. Applies to conventional purchase loans only. Rate will lock for 91 calendar days at the time of preapproval. An executed purchase contract is required within 60 days of your initial rate lock. If current market pricing improves by 0.25 percentage points or more from the original locked rate, you may request your loan officer to review your loan application to determine if you qualify for a one-time float down. SoFi reserves the right to change or terminate this offer at any time with or without notice to you.

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.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.


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