Is a Cash-Out Refinance for Home Improvements Right for You?

If you’re looking at your chipping laminate countertops, you’re probably wondering what it would take to replace them — and maybe your whole kitchen, for that matter. That leads to the big money question: How are you going to pay for home improvements?

One option is to cash out the equity you have in your home in order to fund improvements on it, by doing a cash-out refinance. A cash-out refinance replaces your current mortgage with a new one and refunds you the difference in cash. You can use the cash however you would like.

However, it’s not your only option, and not every situation is the same. You’ll need to consider what it means to refinance for home improvements and whether or not it’s right for you.

How Cash-Out Refinancing for Home Improvement Works

When you cash out equity for home improvements, you can get a new mortgage and have some equity refunded to you in the form of cash. It’s best to look at how cash-out refinancing works with an example.

Let’s say you own a home worth $800,000 and your current mortgage amount is $500,000. Lenders allow a refinance of around 80% of the home’s value, so 80% of $800,000 is $640,000. $640,000 is the maximum amount that the lender will loan.

Let’s suppose you qualify for that loan. Next, the lender will pay off your original mortgage of $500,000. After you subtract $500,000 from $640,000, you’ll have $140,000 left. You’ll receive $140,000 in cash after you close on the loan (minus the closing costs on the loan). Your new loan amount will be $640,000.

If you want to take a closer look at how much money you would want to have on hand for a renovation, you can use a home improvement cost calculator to form an estimate of potential expenses.

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


What Can You Use the Cash For?

According to Fannie Mae guidelines, which are the regulations mortgage lenders follow for conforming loan types, you can use the cash from a cash-out refinance for anything. That includes whatever home improvement dreams you have — a pool, new kitchen, she-shed, pickleball court — so dream big!

Pros and Cons of a Cash-Out Refinance for Home Improvements

Benefits

Cash-out refinancing for home improvement has some benefits to consider.

•   A better loan. When you apply for a cash-out refinance loan, your loan terms will change with the new mortgage. It’s not guaranteed, but you could end up with a lower interest rate than the one you had on your previous mortgage. Depending on the scenario, it is possible that a refinance could lower the payment for the borrower while accessing cash and shortening the term.

•   Increased property value. When you refinance for home improvements, the renovations could increase your property value. New flooring or an updated kitchen could increase the value of your home by more than the amount of money you pour into the project.

•   One payment. With a cash-out refinance, there’s one payment for both your mortgage and the cash you take out for home improvement projects. It’s convenient and usually offers a lower monthly payment than other financing methods.

•   Lower interest rates than other types of loans. A mortgage has a lower interest rate than other loan types, such as credit cards or personal loans, which can reach an APR of 30%. Just keep in mind that financing over another 15- or 30-year term could add a significant amount of interest to your loan, so be judicious in how much debt you add to your home.

Drawbacks

As with any financing option, there are some drawbacks you’ll want to consider before refinancing for home improvement with a cash-out refi.

•   Loan terms may change. If you have very favorable loan terms on your original mortgage, you won’t necessarily get those same ones when you refinance. If interest rates have risen since your original closing, the mortgage refinancing cost could make your new mortgage more expensive than an old one.

•   What you can borrow depends on equity. You need a substantial amount of equity to be able to do a cash-out refinance. Your lender may only want to lend on 80% of the home’s current market value. That means you’ll need to have an original mortgage amount even further beneath that amount to be able to cash out equity for home improvements.

•   Closing costs. With a new mortgage come new closing costs, which are never fun to pay. There are usually fewer closing costs to pay with a refinance, but it’s still a cost you need to consider.

•   Long-term costs. Increasing the amount of your mortgage over a long period brings large interest costs. Take a look at an amortization table or mortgage calculator so you know exactly what the total cost of your mortgage will now be.

Requirements for a Cash-Out Refinance

To qualify for a cash-out refinance, you’ll need to qualify for a mortgage again. A lender will look at your credit score, debt-to-income ratio, as well as the amount of equity you have in your home.

Credit Score Minimum

When you’re looking to qualify for a mortgage, you want your credit score as high as possible so you can qualify for the best available mortgage rates. For the best rates, aim for a credit score of 740 or above. A credit score of 620 is needed for most home loan types, though you may be able to get a home with a credit score around 500, depending on the type of mortgage or program available in your area.

Home Equity Requirements

The amount of your new mortgage will retain around 20% equity before refunding cash (sometimes less, depending on the lender or the program). If your home is worth $500,000, that means they’ll likely be willing to lend up to $400,000 on the home. If your current mortgage sits at $300,000, the most cash you would be able to access with a cash-out refinance is $100,000.

Debt-to-Income Ratio (DTI)

A debt-to-income (DTI) ratio is the total sum of your debts divided by your income. Generally, lenders look for a DTI ratio at 43% or lower. There are exceptions, so be sure to consult with your lender.

Cash-Out Refinance vs Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC)

Another way to pay for home improvements is with a home equity line of credit (more commonly referred to as a HELOC). A HELOC is a second mortgage loan that uses the equity in your home as collateral. It acts like a line of credit and you only borrow what you need. It’s flexible and easy to use.

It makes sense to use a HELOC instead of a cash-out refinance in a few scenarios:

•   When the interest rate on your current mortgage is very low. Changing your current mortgage to a higher-interest mortgage with a cash-out refinance would be very expensive. Paradoxically, a HELOC or personal loan will have an even higher interest rate than what you can get on a primary mortgage, but because you’re paying the HELOC or personal loan off sooner, you will spend far less in interest.

•   You can make a larger HELOC payment. A HELOC usually won’t take 30 years to pay off. On a HELOC that is paid off sooner, the monthly payment amount will be higher, but if the numbers make sense (meaning, you’re able to access enough money for your home improvements from a HELOC at a competitive interest rate and you can cover the payments), then you probably want to go with a HELOC instead of a cash-out refinance.

•   You’re not sure how much you need. With a HELOC, you apply for a credit line and are approved up to a limit, kind of like a credit card. You only take out what you need, which is convenient when you’re planning a project and are not sure exactly how much it will cost.

The Takeaway

Cashing out the equity for home improvements can be an affordable way to update, repair, or improve your home — but only if the circumstances are right. While a lump sum of cash can be a great way to pay for home improvements, be sure to factor in all the costs before you choose this method. There are other financing tools available to you if this one is too costly.

Turn your home equity into cash with a cash-out refi. Pay down high-interest debt, or increase your home’s value with a remodel. Get your rate in a matter of minutes, without affecting your credit score.*

Our Mortgage Loan Officers are ready to guide you through the cash-out refinance process step by step.

FAQ

Can I use a cash-out refinance for ongoing or future home improvement projects?

The cash you get from refinancing your home can be used for any purpose.

How long does the process typically take for a cash-out refinance for home improvements?

The cash-out refinance process averages 30 to 45 days regardless of what purpose the excess funds will be used for.

Can I use a cash-out refinance to fund home improvements on an investment property?

Yes, however the requirements for a cash-out refinance on an investment property may be different from those on your personal residence, so it’s best to consult with a mortgage lender.

Are there any restrictions on how I can use the funds from a cash-out refinance for home improvements?

No, there are no restrictions on how to use funds from a cash-out refinance. You can pay for whatever home improvements you would like. There are restrictions, however, on whether or not you can deduct the interest you pay on the loan on your taxes. Ask your tax preparer for guidance.

Can I apply for a cash-out refinance for home improvements if I have a second mortgage or existing liens on my property?

Yes, but the second mortgage and other liens will likely need to be paid for a lender to issue a new mortgage for a cash-out refinance. There are some exceptions, so it’s best to consult with your mortgage professional on this one.


Photo credit: iStock/Kerkez

*Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.


SoFi Mortgages
Terms, conditions, and state restrictions apply. Not all products are available in all states. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information.


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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How and When to Refinance a Jumbo Loan

Jumbo loans are just that: jumbo. For 2023, conforming loan limits for houses in most counties — set by the Federal Housing Finance Agency — are $726,200. If you want to buy a more expensive home and need to finance more than that limit, you’ll be in the market for a jumbo loan.

Homeowners often refinance traditional (i.e., conforming) mortgages to get a lower interest rate, change their loan terms, or tap into home equity. But what about homeowners with a jumbo loan: Can they refinance as well?

A mortgage refinance for a jumbo loan is possible, but it may be a little more complicated. Let’s have a look at the process of a jumbo loan refinance.

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


When Can You Refinance a Jumbo Loan?

There is no set timeline for refinancing a jumbo mortgage loan. In theory, you could refinance at any point during your loan, but lenders typically have strict requirements before approving a jumbo mortgage refinance. If you’ve been paying down the loan for a while, it’s possible your refinance would fall within the conforming loan limits. To determine whether or not this is the case, take a look at the conforming loan limits for your specific area. If you still need a jumbo mortgage loan, this is what you’ll want to consider:

Credit Score

Unsurprisingly, getting approved for a jumbo refinance means you’ll need a strong credit score. To refinance to a 30-year fixed-rate loan, lenders typically want to see a credit score of 680 or higher. Refinancing to a 15-year fixed or adjustable-rate mortgage has an even tougher credit score threshold: 700 or higher. And if you’re looking for a refinance for an investment or rental property, you may need a credit score as high as 760.

Recommended: Does Having a Mortgage Help Your Credit Score?

Debt-to-Income Ratio

Similarly, lenders will analyze your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio when reviewing your jumbo refinance application. While lenders typically want a DTI of 50% or lower for conventional loans, you may need a DTI as low as 36% when refinancing a jumbo mortgage loan.

Cash Reserves

Lenders will also typically want to see that you have cash reserves set aside. The amount of mortgage reserves you need will vary by lender but could be as much as six months’ worth of mortgage payments in liquid assets, more if you are self-employed.

Other Considerations

In addition, lenders may consider your payment history. If you have made one or more late payments on your current jumbo mortgage loan, you might not get approved for a refinance.

Other lenders may want you to have a certain amount of equity in your home before permitting a refinance.

And if you’ve filed for bankruptcy, it can be much more challenging to refinance. You’ll usually need to wait until the bankruptcy (or a past foreclosure) vanishes from your credit history — potentially 10 years.


💡 Quick Tip: If you refinance your mortgage and shorten your loan term, you could save a substantial amount in interest over the lifetime of the loan.

Jumbo Loan Refinance Requirements

Assuming you have the right qualifications for a jumbo refinance, here’s what you’ll typically need to provide to the lender:

•   Two previous months of bank statements

•   Proof of income, like your most recent pay stub

•   Tax returns from the last two years, including all W-2s

•   A profit/loss and balance sheet if you’re self-employed

•   Any other documentation of income, such as 1099s, that can help your chances of approval

Of course you’ll also have to go through all the steps of refinancing a mortgage that would be required with any loan.


💡 Quick Tip: Your parents or grandparents probably got mortgages for 30 years. But these days, you can get them for 20, 15, or 10 years — and pay less interest over the life of the loan.

Pros and Cons of Refinancing a Jumbo Loan

As with regular refinancing, jumbo mortgage refinances have a number of pros and cons to consider:

Pros

•   Faster payoff: If you refinance to a mortgage with a shorter term, you’ll pay off your home sooner — and be free from that high monthly payment.

•   Less interest: If you get a lower interest rate, you could save money over the life of the loan.

•   Predictable payments: If you switch from an adjustable-rate mortgage to a fixed-rate loan, your monthly payments will be locked in.

•   No more PMI: You may be able to get rid of private mortgage insurance when you refinance your loan.

•   Home improvements: If you do a jumbo cash-out refi, you can leverage the equity you have in your home to make home improvements. You could also use the money to pay down debt or cover college costs.

Cons

•   Closing costs: Refinancing a home loan means you’ll have to close again, and that can get expensive. According to Freddie Mac, closing costs when refinancing average about $5,000.

•   Larger monthly payments: If you shorten your loan term when refinancing, be prepared for larger monthly payments. You’ll want to feel confident that if you face a job loss, have a new baby, or experience another big life change you can still afford the higher monthly payment.

•   Lost equity: With a cash-out refinance, you borrow against the equity in your home. While it’s helpful for funding home improvements or paying down high-interest debt, you lose out on that equity you’ve built.

Recommended: How Much Does It Cost to Refinance a Mortgage?

How Will Refinancing a Jumbo Loan Affect Your Mortgage?

Refinancing a jumbo loan can have a few intended effects, including:

Lower Rate

Mortgage rates fluctuate over time. If rates drop, you might want to refinance to take advantage of the lower interest rate.

Longer Loan Term

If your current monthly mortgage payment is too high for you to handle, you may be able to lower it by refinancing and lengthening the loan term. Keep in mind, you’ll likely pay more in interest over the life of the loan — but the tradeoff for lower monthly payments might be worth it.

Shorter Loan Term

On the flip side, you might be able to shorten the length of your loan by refinancing. Your monthly payments may go up, but you’ll likely pay less in interest, and you’ll be free from the burden of a mortgage payment significantly sooner.

Take Cash Out of Equity

Many homeowners do a cash-out refinance to take advantage of some of the equity they’ve built in their home. You might refinance to get a nice lump sum to put toward home renovations, high-interest credit card debt, or another big expense.

Change Interest Structure

If your jumbo loan is an adjustable-rate mortgage, you may have trouble predicting your monthly payments. When you refinance to a fixed-rate loan, you’ll get more dependable monthly payments, which can make it easier to budget.

The Takeaway

Refinancing a jumbo mortgage is possible and could yield several benefits, like a better interest rate, better terms, and a better interest structure. The requirements to refinance your jumbo loan may be stricter than refinancing a conforming loan. Work with a lender to understand when and how you can refinance your jumbo loan.

When you’re ready to take the next step, consider what SoFi Home Loans have to offer. Jumbo loans are offered with competitive interest rates, no private mortgage insurance, and down payments as low as 10%.

SoFi Mortgage Loans: We make the home loan process smart and simple.

FAQ

Can I refinance my jumbo mortgage loan with my current lender?

It may be possible to refinance your jumbo mortgage loan with your current lender. But refinancing is also a time to shop around and consider the terms other lenders have to offer. With any jumbo loan refinance, you’ll need to meet certain requirements; this might include a minimum credit score or DTI.

What are the risks associated with refinancing a jumbo mortgage loan?

Refinancing a jumbo mortgage will involve significant closing costs. Your credit score will also likely drop when you refinance because of the hard inquiry. And if it’s a cash-out refinance, you’ll lose some of the equity you’ve built in your home.

How often can I refinance my jumbo mortgage loan?

While there’s technically no limit to how often you can refinance a mortgage loan, you likely won’t want to do it too often. You’ll pay closing costs every time you refinance, and your credit score can take a hit each time.

Can I still refinance my jumbo mortgage loan if I’m self-employed?

It’s possible to refinance a jumbo mortgage loan if you’re self-employed. You may just have to jump through additional hoops to prove your income. That can mean providing a profit-and-loss and balance statement, tax returns or 1099s from recent years, and business bank statements.

Can I refinance my jumbo mortgage loan if I have an adjustable-rate loan?

Yes, you can refinance your jumbo mortgage if you have an adjustable-rate loan. One of the many reasons people consider refinancing a jumbo loan is to switch from an adjustable- to a fixed-rate mortgage.

What should I do if I’m having trouble making payments on my jumbo mortgage loan?

If you’re having trouble making payments on your jumbo mortgage loan, you may be able to refinance to get a better interest rate/and or lengthen the loan term. Both options could lower your monthly payment. However, if you’ve already missed one or more payments, getting approved for a jumbo refinance could be challenging.

How do I know if refinancing my jumbo mortgage loan is the right decision for me?

To determine if refinancing a jumbo mortgage loan is right for you, consider your current finances and long-term goals. If refinancing means your monthly payments will be more manageable, you’ll save money in the long term, or you’ll be able to leverage your equity to fund a home renovation or pay down high-interest debt, it may be a good strategy for you.


Photo credit: iStock/FG Trade

SoFi Mortgages
Terms, conditions, and state restrictions apply. Not all products are available in all states. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information.


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.


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.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

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31 Ways to Save for a Home

31 Ways to Save for a Home

You want to become a homeowner but aren’t sure how you’re going to save up for your down payment. Typically, you’re going to need at least 3% to 5% for a down payment for a conventional mortgage, or 20% on a loan that doesn’t require private mortgage insurance.

Fortunately, there are a number of methods you can use to stash away money for your future home. Here are some of the best ways to save for a house and get one step closer to your dream.

1. Creating a Budget

Living on a budget may not be easy, but in the long run it can help you save money to put toward a home purchase. Creating a budget to track where your money is going is a good first step in a house savings plan.

Some effective ways to do this are recording expenses in a spreadsheet or using a budgeting app to determine your spending practices and identify where changes can be made to meet your savings goal.


💡 Quick Tip: Want to save more, spend smarter? Let your bank manage the basics. It’s surprisingly easy, and secure, when you open an online bank account.

2. Using Cash Envelopes

The theory behind this method is that it may be harder to part with cash than it is to swipe a debit or credit card. The cash envelope budgeting method involves distributing cash each month (or pay period) into envelopes based on categories you establish. When you’re out of cash for each category, you stop spending.

3. Deleting Your Stored Cards

Do you store your payment information on Amazon or other e-commerce stores? If so, it’s time to consider deleting them from each store or from your browser settings. If you have to manually input your card each time you want to make a purchase, you may just stop spending so much money online.

4. Downsizing Your Life

Another one of the tips for saving for a house involves downsizing your life. This could mean moving to a smaller rental or to a more affordable area of town. Just keep in mind that there is always a flip side to downsizing. For instance, your smaller apartment may not include parking, so you might be taking on an expense you didn’t have before. Moving to a different part of town might mean spending more on transportation costs getting to work each day. It’s a good idea to weigh the pros and cons before making any big decisions.

5. Setting Up Automatic Transfers

Reaching your savings goals might happen faster by setting up automatic transfers from checking account to savings account each time you’re paid. If your paycheck is direct-deposited, you may also be able to split the deposit into more than one account, on a percentage or dollar-amount basis.

6. Postponing Vacation

This method can reap plenty of savings if your usual vacation is a costly one. Instead of taking a big trip, a staycation may be entertaining and less expensive. Check out your local newspaper’s website to find free activities and events in your area. Art museums sometimes offer free admission days, and area nature trails are generally free and can be a good way to have fun and get exercise in one fell swoop. Now is the time to be creative since you’re working on your house savings plan.

7. Tackling Your Debt

If you get 4.50% APY in your high-yield savings account, but you carry a credit card balance with an interest rate of 23.99%, it may make more sense to put your money towards your debt right now rather than savings.

8. Eating at Home

Dining out is expensive. The average American household spends more than $3,000 per year on eating out. By skipping the takeout and restaurants and cooking your meals at home, you can add that money to your house savings plan.

9. Making Your Own Coffee

It’s a cliche, but it’s true: If you skip the lattes, you could boost your savings. The average American spends $92 per month on coffee, which adds up to about $1,100 per year. Purchasing a coffee maker and brewing your own cup of joe as opposed to hitting up a coffee shop every day will likely improve your home savings plan.

10. Using Coupons at the Grocery Store

Looking for coupons for items you normally buy anyway can trim your grocery bill. Coupons can be found on coupon websites and on brands’ websites.

Recommended: Tips for Grocery Shopping on a Budget

11. Buying Things on Sale

Just because you want something doesn’t mean you need to have it right away. Waiting to buy things when they go on sale is another one of the best tips for saving for a house. Along with looking at stores’ advertised sales, you could always create a Google alert to find out when things go on sale by typing in your favorite stores’ names + sales on Google Alerts.


💡 Quick Tip: If you’re saving for a short-term goal — whether it’s a vacation, a wedding, or the down payment on a house — consider opening a high-yield savings account. The higher APY that you’ll earn will help your money grow faster, but the funds stay liquid, so they are easy to access when you reach your goal.

12. Using Promo Codes

Promo codes are like coupons for online purchases. Browser extensions that search the web for deals can bring those promo codes to you and save you precious search time and effort.

13. Cutting Out Cable

Cable television can be a major monthly expense for some households, sometimes hundreds of dollars every month. One of the best ways to save is to cut the cord, switch to streaming services, and potentially pay much less per month on your favorite entertainment by saving on streaming services.

14. Canceling Your Subscriptions

You may be spending money on monthly subscriptions without realizing how much. Canceling subscriptions to things like lifestyle boxes you aren’t using anymore or magazines you don’t read can add up to significant savings.

15. Making the Most of the Library

The local library is a fantastic resource. You can borrow books, magazines, and movies instead of buying them, and some libraries even offer access to free audiobooks. Libraries are funded by taxes, so you’re probably already contributing to this resource—there’s little reason to pay twice for items it provides as a public service.

16. Canceling Your Gym Membership

Gym memberships can be pricey, but exercise is not. Using free, online workout videos and things in your home as exercise equipment (e.g., stepping on your stairs, doing wall or table pushups, or using a chair for barre exercises), or walking around your neighborhood can save money over a gym membership.

17. Shopping Around for Insurance

You may be overpaying for insurance. Comparing rates and getting different quotes for your car, renter’s, pet, health, and other types of insurance can ensure you’re getting the best deal possible.

18. Steering Clear of Checking Account Fees

Is your bank charging you a monthly maintenance fee just to keep your account open? If so, it might be worth looking into switching banks or asking your bank how you can avoid these fees. For example, if you have a direct deposit into the account or maintain a minimum daily account balance, you may be eligible for a fee-free account.

19. Selling Your Stuff

Do you have things you never use anymore? Could they fetch some cash? Holding a garage sale or selling your stuff online might net a few dollars to add to your house savings plan. You’ll probably want to buy new things for your new home anyway, and selling your old things will allow you to save up.

20. Asking Your Boss for a Raise

During your annual performance review, consider asking for a raise, highlighting your accomplishments and why you deserve more money. Be specific about improvements you’ve made to the company by backing up your accomplishments with data.

21. Switching to a Better Job

If you aren’t making enough money in your current position, then consider switching to a higher-paying job. It’s a good idea to keep your current job until you find a new one, though.

22. Taking on a Side Hustle

If you have the time and energy, earning extra money on nights and weekends with a side hustle might be an option. For instance, you could start a dropshipping business, take up freelancing, or do affiliate marketing.

23. Signing Up for a Travel Rewards Credit Card

If you need to travel or you are still planning a vacation, using a travel rewards credit card may be a good idea. These cards offer certain rewards for different categories such as travel, gas, and dining out, and allow you to put your rewards towards flights, hotels, rental cars, and more. Plus, many of them offer other ways to save, such as providing you with rental car and baggage delay insurance or no foreign transaction fees.

Recommended: Credit Card Rewards 101: Getting the Most Out of Your Credit Card

24. Getting a Cash Back Credit Card

With a cash-back credit card, you can earn cash rewards every time you spend. Putting that cash back toward a statement credit or bank transfer will help accelerate your savings.

25. Renting Your Spare Room

If you have an extra room in your apartment that you aren’t using, you could get a roommate or list it on a rental site to reduce your overall living expenses. Just make sure that you get permission from your landlord before inviting anyone else to move in.

26. Renting Out Your Storage Space

Another one of the best ways to save for a house is to rent out your unused storage space on a peer-to-peer site. You could generate income without having to do much work at all, and you won’t have to live with someone else—just their stuff.

27. Making Your House Savings Plan Known

Your Aunt Mildred may always get you boxes of chocolates for your birthday, and your dad might give you gift cards for Amazon. But letting your family and friends know you’re trying to save for a home might plant the seed for them to give you cash instead. If you’re getting married, this is a time to tell people about your plans so that instead of registry gifts, they might give you cash for your future home.

28. Opening a High-Yield Savings Account

Putting your money into a regular savings account may not result in much of a return. However, putting money in a high yield savings account may net more interest and get you closer to reaching your savings goals. A high-yield savings account typically offers 20 to 25 times the national average of a typical savings account.

29. Hiring an Accountant at Tax Time

If you’ve been doing your taxes on your own every year, you may have missed potential tax savings you might be eligible for. A tax professional may be able to maximize your savings, possibly resulting in a larger refund, or minimize taxes you owe.

30. Saving Your Tax Refund

If you get a tax refund, consider saving it instead of spending it. The money can be a nice addition to your down payment, possibly even earning interest in high-yield savings account until you need it.

31. Changing Your Tax Withholding

Among the best ways to save for a house is by keeping more money from your paycheck. If your withholding is too high, the IRS is essentially holding your money for you all year round. Instead of getting a large tax refund, keeping your money now and investing it in an interest-bearing account will help you save up for your home.

The Takeaway

Saving for a house takes some time and effort, but there are many different ways to do it. For instance, by eating out less, you could potentially save thousands of dollars a year. Launching a side hustle could increase your income. And opening a high-yield savings account, which typically offers considerably higher interest rates than a traditional savings account, could also help your money grow — and help you achieve your dream of home ownership.

Interested in opening an online bank account? When you sign up for a SoFi Checking and Savings account with direct deposit, you’ll get a competitive annual percentage yield (APY), pay zero account fees, and enjoy an array of rewards, such as access to the Allpoint Network of 55,000+ fee-free ATMs globally. Qualifying accounts can even access their paycheck up to two days early.


Better banking is here with SoFi, NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for Best Checking Account Overall.* Enjoy up to 4.60% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.

Photo credit: iStock/Talaj


Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

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.

SoFi® Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. ©2023 SoFi Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.
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4.60% APY
SoFi members with direct deposit activity can earn 4.60% annual percentage yield (APY) on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Direct Deposit means a recurring deposit of regular income to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government benefit payments (e.g., Social Security), made by the account holder’s employer, payroll or benefits provider or government agency (“Direct Deposit”) via the Automated Clearing House (“ACH”) Network during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Deposits that are not from an employer or government agency, including but not limited to check deposits, peer-to-peer transfers (e.g., transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc.), merchant transactions (e.g., transactions from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.), and bank ACH funds transfers and wire transfers from external accounts, or are non-recurring in nature (e.g., IRS tax refunds), do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.

As an alternative to direct deposit, SoFi members with Qualifying Deposits can earn 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Qualifying Deposits means one or more deposits that, in the aggregate, are equal to or greater than $5,000 to an account holder’s SoFi Checking and Savings account (“Qualifying Deposits”) during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Qualifying Deposits only include those deposits from the following eligible sources: (i) ACH transfers, (ii) inbound wire transfers, (iii) peer-to-peer transfers (i.e., external transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc. and internal peer-to-peer transfers from a SoFi account belonging to another account holder), (iv) check deposits, (v) instant funding to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, (vi) push payments to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, and (vii) cash deposits. Qualifying Deposits do not include: (i) transfers between an account holder’s Checking account, Savings account, and/or Vaults; (ii) interest payments; (iii) bonuses issued by SoFi Bank or its affiliates; or (iv) credits, reversals, and refunds from SoFi Bank, N.A. (“SoFi Bank”) or from a merchant.

SoFi Bank shall, in its sole discretion, assess each account holder’s Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits throughout each 30-Day Evaluation Period to determine the applicability of rates and may request additional documentation for verification of eligibility. The 30-Day Evaluation Period refers to the “Start Date” and “End Date” set forth on the APY Details page of your account, which comprises a period of 30 calendar days (the “30-Day Evaluation Period”). You can access the APY Details page at any time by logging into your SoFi account on the SoFi mobile app or SoFi website and selecting either (i) Banking > Savings > Current APY or (ii) Banking > Checking > Current APY. Upon receiving a Direct Deposit or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits to your account, you will begin earning 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% on checking balances on or before the following calendar day. You will continue to earn these APYs for (i) the remainder of the current 30-Day Evaluation Period and through the end of the subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period and (ii) any following 30-day Evaluation Periods during which SoFi Bank determines you to have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits without interruption.

SoFi Bank reserves the right to grant a grace period to account holders following a change in Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits activity before adjusting rates. If SoFi Bank grants you a grace period, the dates for such grace period will be reflected on the APY Details page of your account. If SoFi Bank determines that you did not have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits during the current 30-day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, then you will begin earning the rates earned by account holders without either Direct Deposit or Qualifying Deposits until you have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits in a subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period. For the avoidance of doubt, an account holder with both Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits will earn the rates earned by account holders with Direct Deposit.

Members without either Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits, as determined by SoFi Bank, during a 30-Day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, will earn 1.20% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances.

Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 10/24/2023. There is no minimum balance requirement. Additional information can be found at https://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet.

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10 First-Time Homebuyer Mistakes to Avoid & 6 Smart Moves to Make

Buying a house for the first time is a major life moment, both emotionally and financially. For many people, it’s the biggest investment they will ever make. With the median price of a house hitting $436,800 in 2023 (ka-ching), it’s not a purchase to be made lightly.

If you’re buying your first home, you may expect it to be the same as those quick, fun-and-done experiences portrayed on reality TV shows. In truth, however, it’s a process with a steep learning curve and many moving parts, from figuring out your home-shopping budget to satisfying your final mortgage contingencies. There can be minor hiccups and major missteps along the way.

There are so many things to know as a first-time homebuyer, it’s better to educate yourself in advance rather than learn as you go. To that end, this guide will cover the 10 most common first-time homebuyer mistakes to avoid, including:

•   Not knowing how much house you can afford

•   Failing to include other factors, like insurance and repairs, in your budget

•   Waiving an inspection because you’ve found your dream house

10 Home-Buying Mistakes to Avoid

Home-buying mistakes are easy to make, especially when buying a house for the first time. Review these 10 common first-time homebuyer mistakes before searching for your dream home — so you can ensure you’ll avoid them.

Home-Buying Mistakes to Avoid

1. Forgetting to Check Your Credit

When’s the last time you checked your credit? It’s absolutely crucial to know your credit score when buying a house.

Why? You may not qualify for a mortgage if your credit score is too low. For most types of mortgage loans, you’ll need a 620, though lenders also consider other factors, like your down payment and your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio. You’ll get better rates if you wait to apply for a mortgage until your score is 740 or above.

The lesson? Don’t let a low credit score rule out buying your first home, but if it’s on the lower side, maybe consider taking some time to build your credit score before shopping for a house.

Recommended: Tips for Buying a House with Bad Credit

2. Not Being Realistic About What You Can Afford

Before you start looking at listings online or working with a real estate agent — and certainly before you try to get preapproved for a mortgage — calculate how much house you can afford.

Once you know the number, avoid looking at houses above your limit.

So how do you calculate how much house you can afford? There are a few easy methods:

•   DTI: Think about your debt-to-income ratio (your debts divided by your gross income). When adding a monthly mortgage payment into your current DTI calculation, the percentage shouldn’t pass 43%. That’s typically the highest ratio mortgage lenders will accept.

•   28/36 rule: With this method, your max mortgage payment should be 28% of your gross income, and your total debts — mortgage and otherwise — should be no more than 36% of your gross income.

•   35/45 rule: Spend no more than 35% of your gross income on debt and no more than 45% of your after-tax income on debt.

•   25% after-tax rule: After adjusting for taxes, your mortgage should not account for more than 25% of your income.



💡 Quick Tip: You deserve a more zen mortgage. SoFi Mortgage Loan Officers are dedicated to closing your loan on time — backed by a $5,000 guarantee offer.‡

3. Putting Too Much or Too Little Down

In their eagerness to become homeowners, many first-time buyers make the mistake of going overboard and directing every bit of money they have to the purchase.

If you have to drain your emergency savings to manage the down payment on a home, you might want to dial down the amount or wait and save up a bit more. Consider what could happen if the home needs a costly repair or, worse, if you or someone in your family suddenly has an expensive medical bill. That’s a good example of when to use an emergency fund.

Conventional wisdom says to put 20% down (and it does help you to avoid paying private mortgage insurance (PMI). But with housing costs so high, that’s all but impossible for most homebuyers. Instead, focus on the minimum down payments required for the type of loan you’re considering:

•   Conventional loan: As low as 3%

•   FHA loan: As low as 3.5%

•   VA loan: As low as 0%

Remember, though, that if you put down very little, you’ll need to borrow more. Your monthly payments will be higher, and you could pay more interest over the life of the loan.

4. Forgetting About Homeowners Insurance and Property Taxes

Your monthly mortgage loan payment is more than just the cost of your home. You’ll also need to cover the cost of homeowners insurance and property taxes, which are often paid into an escrow account. Depending on the type of mortgage and how much you’ve paid, you may also have to pay for PMI. Together, these all increase your monthly payment — sometimes substantially. When you look at a home, the real estate agent should be able to show you property tax history so you can get an idea of what you’d pay each year. You can also work with an insurance agent to simulate insurance quotes for various homes you’re considering.

Property taxes will change from year to year, and you can always change your homeowners insurance to lower the cost, even if you pay for it through the escrow account. It may be a good idea to bundle home and auto policies together to take advantage of a discount.

Recommended: How Much Homeowners Insurance Do You Need?

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


5. Failing to Budget for Home Repairs and Maintenance

Forgetting to budget for homeowners insurance and property taxes is one of the most common first-time homebuyer mistakes — but those expenses aren’t the only ones people forget to budget for when buying a house for the first time.

If you’ve been accustomed to calling a landlord whenever something breaks in a rental, reset your expectations. Now, you’ll have to take care of basic home maintenance — like replacing air filters, cleaning the gutter, resealing wood decks, and cleaning the chimney — and repairs. When the air conditioner is blowing hot air, the oven stops working, or your roof starts leaking, you’re on the hook for the repairs.

Some issues may be covered by homeowners insurance (but there’s still a deductible!), but other issues caused by general wear and tear are solely your responsibility. And then there are other possible costs, like higher utility bills and homeowners association fees, that can eat into your budget.

6. Not Hiring a Qualified Home Inspector

It may be tempting to waive the home inspection when you’re trying to buy the home of your dreams — especially if you have some stiff competition to be the winning bidder for an in-demand property.

Sorry to say, this is a risky strategy. A home inspection might reveal critical information about the condition of a home and its systems, from electrical problems to hidden mold; from a failing septic system to a leaky roof. What you learn in an inspection could reveal that your dream home is actually a money pit.

What’s more, your inspection report might serve as a useful negotiating tool: You could use it to ask for repairs or to work out a better price from the seller. And if you really aren’t happy with the inspection results, you may be able to use it to cancel the offer to buy.

And in the grand scheme of things, an inspection isn’t too expensive. The average home inspection costs $300 to $500.

Recommended: The Ultimate Home Inspection Checklist

7. Overlooking the Neighborhood and Surrounding Area

You may have fallen in love with a specific home, but when you buy a house, you’re also buying the neighborhood that comes with it, so to speak.

How are the surrounding properties maintained? Do the people seem friendly? If you have kids or are planning on having them, do you see other families with young children? How are the schools in the area? What’s the traffic like? How’s the noise level? What restaurants and stores are nearby?

Think about your ideal community — and then try to find a dream home in that type of community.

8. Letting Your Emotions Get the Best of You

Buying your first home or any home thereafter can be a roller coaster, so it’s important to prepare yourself psychologically as well as financially. If you’ve ever talked to someone buying a house, you know there are potential pitfalls all through the purchasing process.

You might fall in love with the perfect house and find it’s way over your budget. You might get annoyed with the sellers or their real estate agent, especially during the negotiation process. You might disagree with your partner about priorities.

All of these scenarios can cause a person to behave emotionally. It might make you want to walk away from a great deal. It might lead you to barrel ahead with a purchase, even when warning lights are flashing.

Our advice to a first-time homebuyer? Recognizing that this will be a challenging and, at times, stressful process (especially because you are new to it), take a deep breath, and proceed calmly. Find tools that help you move ahead with patience and a sense of calm, best as you can. With your eye on the prize — namely, your first home — you’ll get there.

Recommended: Improving Your Relationship With Money

9. Not Considering Future Resale Value

Houses are more than a place to live — they’re an investment. While you certainly want to prioritize buying a home you’ll be happy in, it’s also a good idea to think about how much the property might be worth in five, 10, 15 years and beyond.

It’s impossible to predict the market, but you can feel more confident about strong future resale value by choosing a house with multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, a well-appointed kitchen, and a yard. Other features, like a finished basement or a garage, may also make it easier to sell the home in the future.

10. Not Having an Emergency Fund

One of the basic tenets of personal finance is building an emergency fund. And here’s some blunt advice for first-time homebuyers: You’re going to need an emergency fund.

House emergencies can happen at any time: A tree falls on your roof, a toilet starts to leak, your dog destroys the carpet, you name it. Having money socked away to cover these expenses is crucial when buying a home.

Dream Home Quiz

6 Smart Moves for First-Time Homebuyers

We’ve covered some of the most common first-time homebuyer mistakes, so let’s shift gear to smart moves you can make when buying your first home.

1. Get Paperwork Moving ASAP

What do first-time homebuyers need when getting a mortgage? Here are some of the most common docs to start putting together:

•   Proof of income: Lenders will often want to see two months’ worth of pay stubs or bank statements that confirm your income. They’ll also want your tax returns from the previous two years.

•   Proof of funds: To take you seriously, lenders want to know you have enough money to cover a down payment and closing costs.

•   Proof of identification: This could include a government ID, a passport, or your driver’s license.

Early in the process, you can furnish this basic information to get prequalified at various lenders. They’ll also run a credit check during the prequalification process.

Being prequalified simply allows lenders to give you an idea of what types of mortgages (fixed rate vs. variable rate, 15-year vs. 30-year, etc.) you might get approved for. It’s not a promise of approval, but it does help set expectations as you start to browse listings.


💡 Quick Tip: Your parents or grandparents probably got mortgages for 30 years. But these days, you can get them for 20, 15, or 10 years — and pay less interest over the life of the loan.

2. Check Out First-Time Homebuyer Programs

It’s wise to shop around for a few different mortgage quotes, but it would be a rookie mistake to overlook some great, government-sponsored programs that make buying a house more affordable. These include:

•   FHA loans: These mortgages are designed for those with low to moderate incomes. They typically offer low down-payment requirements, low interest rates, and the ability to get approval even if you have a fair credit score.

•   USDA loans: These provide affordable mortgages to those with a lower income who are planning on buying a home in a qualifying rural area.

•   VA loans: These mortgages help those on active military duty, veterans, and eligible surviving spouses become homeowners. If you can check one of those boxes, you may be eligible for a home loan with no down payment requirement and no PMI.

3. Consider Additional Costs Beyond the Mortgage

As we’ve discussed above, the actual monthly house payment is not your only cost. Your full mortgage payment includes property taxes, homeowners insurance, and, potentially, PMI.

But before you even get to the point of making monthly payments, consider these upfront costs of buying a house:

•   Closing costs, which are traditionally paid for by the buyer.

•   Home inspections, which we highly recommend.

•   Moving costs, whether just renting a truck or hiring movers.

4. Get Preapproved

Mortgage prequalification isn’t a commitment for the lender or buyer — it’s just a first step. If you appear to meet a lender’s standards, you could move on to the preapproval stage.

Getting preapproved for a home loan involves submitting additional income and asset documentation for a more in-depth review of your finances.

Once the lender approves these aspects of your loan application, you’ll receive a conditional commitment for a designated loan amount — called a preapproval letter — and have a better idea of what your loan terms will be.

Mortgage preapproval can help demonstrate to sellers that you’ve completed the first step in getting a mortgage because your credit, income, and assets have already been reviewed by an underwriter. This can smooth the bidding process and could give you an edge over others in a competitive situation with multiple offers.

Recommended: How Long is a Mortgage Preapproval Good For?

5. Choose the Right Type of Mortgage

You may qualify for various types of mortgage loans. Spend some time researching the different types so you have a better understanding of how they’ll impact your payments for the next several decades.

For instance, you’ll want to know the difference between a fixed-rate mortgage and an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM). You’ll also want to understand how a 15-year term affects your monthly payments when compared to a 30-year term — but also how a longer term increases the amount you’ll pay in interest.

Other mortgage types to understand include:

•   Conventional loans vs. government-issued loans

•   Conforming vs. nonconforming loans

•   Reverse mortgages, jumbo mortgages, and interest-only mortgages

6. Shop Around for the Best Mortgage Rates

Finally, remember that you don’t have to go with the first mortgage offer you get. It’s worth your while to get multiple offers so you can compare interest rates, down payment requirements, terms, and more.

The Takeaway

Buying a house for the first time can be a stressful experience, but remember: At the end of it all, you’ll have a place you can call yours. You’ll build equity over time, and the house may increase in value. Just make sure you research the most common first-time homebuyer mistakes so you know how to avoid them.

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.

FAQ

What are some common mistakes first-time homebuyers make?

Some common home-buying mistakes for first-time homebuyers include forgetting to check (and improve) their credit, not calculating how much home they can actually afford, and forgetting to consider additional expenses, like inspections, homeowners insurance, property taxes, closing costs, and increased utilities. First-timers may also forget to consider the neighborhood as a whole or the future resale of the home.

What are the two largest obstacles for first-time homebuyers?

Two large obstacles for first-time homebuyers include rising housing prices and credit score requirements. Those who don’t already have equity in a current home may have more trouble coming up with a down payment on a new home. First-time homebuyers may also lack the credit score needed to get the best possible rate on a new mortgage.

What are three common mortgage mistakes?

Three common mortgage mistakes are 1) buying up to the limit you’re approved for rather than calculating how much you’re comfortable paying; 2) skipping the home inspection to expedite the process or make your offer more appealing to buyers; and 3) not considering related expenses you’ll have to budget for, including homeowners insurance, property taxes, and repairs and maintenance.

What are the most common mistakes that homebuyers make?

Homebuyers make a number of common mistakes, such as making an unnecessarily large down payment, forgetting to budget for related costs, buying more house than they can afford, and not shopping around for the best mortgage loans.


*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.

SoFi On-Time Close Guarantee: If all conditions of the Guarantee are met, and your loan does not close on or before the closing date on your purchase contract accepted by SoFi, and the delay is due to SoFi, SoFi will give you a credit toward closing costs or additional expenses caused by the delay in closing of up to $10,000.^ The following terms and conditions apply. This Guarantee is available only for loan applications submitted after 04/01/2024. Please discuss terms of this Guarantee with your loan officer. The mortgage must be a purchase transaction that is approved and funded by SoFi. This Guarantee does not apply to loans to purchase bank-owned properties or short-sale transactions. To qualify for the Guarantee, you must: (1) Sign up for access to SoFi’s online portal and upload all requested documents, (2) Submit documents requested by SoFi within 5 business days of the initial request and all additional doc requests within 2 business days (3) Submit an executed purchase contract on an eligible property with the closing date at least 25 calendar days from the receipt of executed Intent to Proceed and receipt of credit card deposit for an appraisal (30 days for VA loans; 40 days for Jumbo loans), (4) Lock your loan rate and satisfy all loan requirements and conditions at least 5 business days prior to your closing date as confirmed with your loan officer, and (5) Pay for and schedule an appraisal within 48 hours of the appraiser first contacting you by phone or email. This Guarantee will not be paid if any delays to closing are attributable to: a) the borrower(s), a third party, the seller or any other factors outside of SoFi control; b) if the information provided by the borrower(s) on the loan application could not be verified or was inaccurate or insufficient; c) attempting to fulfill federal/state regulatory requirements and/or agency guidelines; d) or the closing date is missed due to acts of God outside the control of SoFi. SoFi may change or terminate this offer at any time without notice to you. *To redeem the Guarantee if conditions met, see documentation provided by loan officer.
Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.


SoFi Mortgages
Terms, conditions, and state restrictions apply. Not all products are available in all states. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information.


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.

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Can I Be a First-Time Homebuyer Twice?

The term “first-time homebuyer” may sound really specific, but it isn’t nearly as limiting as you might think. Even if you’ve owned a home before, you still may be eligible for many first-time homebuyer assistance programs.

That’s good news if you’re hoping to take advantage of benefits like down payment and closing cost help, which could make a real difference in the type of home you can afford — or whether you can afford a home at all.

Read on to find out how you can be a first-time homebuyer twice and how to make the most of any benefits that might be available to you.

Key Points

•   It is possible to be a first-time homebuyer more than once if certain criteria are met.

•   The definition of a first-time homebuyer varies depending on the loan program and lender.

•   Factors such as previous homeownership, time elapsed since last purchase, and income limits may affect eligibility.

•   Programs like FHA loans and state-specific programs may offer benefits for first-time homebuyers.

•   Consulting with a mortgage lender can provide clarity on eligibility and available options for repeat first-time homebuyers.

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


First-Time Homebuyer Qualifying Factors

If you’ve never owned a home before, you’re obviously a first-time homebuyer. But other criteria also can factor into whether you qualify for first-time homebuyer status and can benefit from assistance programs.

When are you considered a first-time homebuyer again? The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) says a former homeowner may still qualify if you meet one of these criteria:

You Haven’t Owned a Principal Residence for Three Years

Even if only one spouse qualifies under this scenario, both spouses would be considered first-time homebuyers.

It’s Your First Home as a Single Parent

If you’re a single parent who has only previously purchased a home with a former spouse while still married, you qualify as a first-timer.

You’re a Displaced Homemaker

If you are a displaced homemaker who doesn’t or didn’t earn wages from outside employment and has only ever owned a home with a spouse, you would be considered a first-time homebuyer.

Your Last Home Was Detached

If you’ve owned a primary residence that wasn’t permanently attached to a foundation according to applicable building regulations (such as a mobile home when the wheels are in place), you qualify.

Your Home Was Out of Compliance

If you have only owned a home that didn’t comply with state, local, or model building codes, and could not be brought into compliance for less than the cost of constructing a permanent structure, you can claim first-timer status.

State, local, and private first-time homebuyer programs may have their own qualifying criteria, so it can be a good idea to check out all the rules before starting the application process.

Recommended: First-Time Homebuyer Guide

Is It Smart to Be a First-Time Homebuyer Twice?

Finding a home — and figuring out how to afford a down payment on your first home — can be especially challenging in today’s market, while prices are still high and mortgage rates are rising. But if you’re eligible for one of the many assistance programs created to help first-time buyers, you may be able to improve your chances of (literally) getting your foot in the door.

Many states, cities, and community organizations provide assistance in the form of grants or forgivable second loans that can help with the down payment on your home and/or closing costs. Some of these down payment assistance programs only offer support to those who fall under an income cap. But, according to a report from the Urban Institute, up to 51% of potential homebuyers residing in the U.S. metropolitan areas studied would qualify for some form of home down payment assistance. Some private lenders also offer lower low-interest mortgage loans on conventional loans and other benefits to qualifying first-time homebuyers. And, of course, there are several longstanding federal programs that may offer more lenient income and credit score requirements, smaller down payments, and lower mortgage rates. So it can be a good idea to investigate all the opportunities available to you — and to your spouse if you’re married.

Benefits of Using an FHA Loan

Whether this is the first time you’ve considered purchasing a home, or you’re a returning first-time homebuyer, you may want to look into the benefits provided through the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) loan program.

The FHA isn’t a lender, so it doesn’t make loans directly to borrowers. Instead, it insures loans made by HUD-approved private lenders. If a property owner defaults on the mortgage, the FHA will pay the lender’s claim for the unpaid principal balance.

Because lenders are taking on less risk with an FHA-insured loan, they can offer more flexible eligibility requirements, lower down payment amounts, and lower closing costs than a buyer might get with a conventional loan. For example, if you have a FICO® credit score of 580 or higher, you may qualify for an FHA loan with just 3.5% down. And even with a score between 500 and 579, you still could be able to get a loan with 10% down.

FHA loans also may offer lower interest rates than comparable conventional mortgages, which could be an important consideration if mortgage rates keep rising in 2023.

Are There Drawbacks to an FHA Loan for First-Time Homebuyers?

FHA loans can be appealing to first-time buyers who are struggling to come up with a down payment, or who have a low debt-to-income ratio or other problems qualifying for a mortgage. But, a potential downside is that the mortgage insurance premiums borrowers typically must pay to get and keep an FHA loan may end up being more expensive than the private mortgage insurance required for a conventional home loan. Here’s what those costs can look like when you compare MIP versus PMI:

•   Homebuyers with a conventional mortgage can expect to pay an annual premium for private mortgage insurance (PMI) until they have at least 20% equity in their home. (If you make a down payment of 20% or more, PMI isn’t required.) PMI costs can vary based on the type of mortgage you get, your loan-to-value ratio (LTV), your credit score, and other factors, but generally, the annual premium is 0.5% to 1% of the total loan amount.

•   FHA borrowers, on the other hand, are required to pay two separate mortgage insurance premiums (MIP). One premium is paid upfront at closing and is 1.75% of the loan amount. The other premium is based on the amount, length, and loan-to-value (LTV) ratio of the mortgage and is usually paid annually for as long as you have the FHA loan. If you put down at least 10%, you may have the FHA MIP removed after 11 years of payments — but unlike PMI on a conventional loan, there is no equity cutoff for MIP.

As you research different lenders and types of loans, you may want to keep these costs in mind. Remember: Mortgage insurance, whether MIP or PMI, protects your lender, not you, if you default on your payments. You still could ruin your credit or lose your home to foreclosure if you fall behind, so it’s important to keep your payments as manageable as possible.

Other First-Time Buyer Options

FHA loans are a popular borrowing option, but there are many other first-time homebuyer programs that could help you manage your costs, including programs offered by your state or city, or through local charitable organizations. Your real estate agent or lender may be able to help you find a program that’s appropriate for your situation. You also can find information through your state housing finance agency or HUD.

Other federal programs that you may want to consider include:

Freddie Mac Home Possible Mortgages

The Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, known as Freddie Mac, offers the Home Possible mortgage program to help low-income borrowers who hope to purchase their own home. Because the program is backed by Freddie Mac, approved lenders can accept a smaller down payment from qualifying buyers, and some qualifications and terms may be more flexible than with a conventional mortgage.

Fannie Mae HomeReady Mortgages

The Fannie Mae Home Ready Mortgage is another path to homeownership for low-income borrowers. Creditworthy buyers may find lenders are more flexible with their terms and qualifications because these loans are backed by Fannie Mae.

Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Loans

With a VA-backed home loan, the Department of Veterans Affairs guarantees a portion of the loan you obtain from a private lender. And because there’s less risk for the lender, you may receive better terms. Service members, veterans, and eligible surviving spouses may be eligible for this assistance.

US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Loans

The USDA offers both direct and backed loans to assist very low, low- and moderate-income buyers who want to buy a home in an eligible rural area. Usually, no down payment is required. And more areas of the country are eligible for USDA-loan status than you might imagine.

HUD Good Neighbor Next Door Program

Eligible law enforcement officers, teachers, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians may find housing help through HUD’s Good Neighbor Next Door program. Through this program, certain single-family HUD properties in designated revitalization areas are available for sale to public service workers at 50% off the list price.

Recommended: How Much House Can I Afford?

The Takeaway

If you can qualify for one of the many assistance programs available to first-time homebuyers (even if you’ve owned before), you may be able to significantly reduce the daunting down payment and closing costs that can come with purchasing a home. Or you may qualify for a loan with a lower interest rate.

While you’re considering your options, though, keep in mind that you won’t necessarily have to come up with a 20% down payment if you decide to go with a conventional loan.

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.

FAQ

Can I be a first-time homebuyer again?

Yes, under certain circumstances, you may qualify as a first-time homebuyer even if you’ve owned a home before. You may be eligible for many first-time buyer programs, for example, if you haven’t owned a home in three years.

Can I get an FHA loan twice?

Yes, you can apply for an FHA loan even if you’ve had one before. But you usually can’t have more than one FHA loan at a time.

As a first-time homebuyer, am I required to make a 20% down payment?

No. A first-time homebuyer may be able to qualify for a mortgage with as little as 3% down.


Photo credit: iStock/FG Trade Latin

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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.

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.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

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