How to Save for a House While You’re Still Renting

By Janet Siroto · November 16, 2023 · 8 minute read

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How to Save for a House While You’re Still Renting

Owning your own home is typically a foundation of the American Dream, and many people are saving for a down payment right this minute. But when you are already paying rent, it can be a challenge to save for a down payment on a house, especially if you live in an area with a high cost of living or are dealing with the impact of inflation.

But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. You can save up for your home purchase by following some wise financial advice and simplifying the process of socking away your cash.

If buying a home is a priority for you, read on. You’ll learn how to grow your down payment savings while still paying rent.

5 Tips to Save for a Home While You’re Still Renting

Rent can take a big bite out of your take-home pay, but it doesn’t rule out saving for a down payment on a house. Here’s some smart budgeting advice to help you set aside money for your future homeownership.

💡 Quick Tip: You deserve a more zen mortgage. Look for a mortgage lender who’s dedicated to closing your loan on time.

1. Pay Down Your Debt First

In order to save for a house, it’s wise to figure out a plan to pay down your existing debt. This will free up more money for you to save for that down payment. Also, when you do apply for a mortgage, you will likely have a lower debt-to-income ratio, or DTI ratio. Reducing you DTI ratio can help your application get approved.

Student loan debt is a common kind of debt to have; the average American right now has $37,338 in loans. If you’re a full-time employee, reach out to your company’s HR department to learn more about student debt repayment assistance. A recent survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute found that 17% of companies in the U.S. currently have this type of assistance, so it’s worth a try.

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As a more drastic measure, you could always think about going into a profession that offers partial or total student loan forgiveness (such as teaching in certain public schools) or moving to a state that will help pay off your student loan debt just for moving there (currently Kansas, Maine, Maryland, and Michigan).

For an easier fix, you could consider student loan refinancing options, which might lower your rate. By dropping your interest rates, you could significantly reduce both your payments and the length of time you’ll be making them.

However, a couple of points to note. If you extend your term to lower the payment, you will pay more interest over the life of the loan. Also, do be aware that, when refinancing federal loans to private ones, you may then no longer be eligible for federal benefits and protections. However, by getting a lower interest rate, you may accelerate your path to saving for your down payment and getting keys to your very own home.

Credit card debt can also play a role in preventing you from saving for a down payment. This is typically high-interest debt, with rates currently hovering just below 25%.

There are a variety of ways to pay down this debt, such as the debt avalanche method, which has you focus on your highest-interest debt first; the debt snowball; and the debt fireball methods.

If none of these techniques seems right for you, you might look into getting a balance transfer credit card, which will give you a period of zero interest in which you may pay down debt. Or you might take out a personal loan to pay off the credit card debt and then potentially have a lower interest loan to manage.

2. Create a Budget That Will Help You Spend Less and Save More

Another way to free up funds for that down payment is to budget well. Creating and sticking to a realistic budget can help you spend less while saving for a house. While budgeting can sound like a no-fun, punitive exercise, that really doesn’t have to be the case. A budget is actually a helpful tool that allows you to manage your income, spending, and saving optimally.

To get there, you can pick from the different budgeting methods. Most involve these simple steps.

Gather your data: Figure out how much you’re earning each month (after taxes), along with how much you’re currently spending. Add it all up including cell phone bills, insurance, grocery bills, rent, utilities, your coffee habit, the dog walker, gym membership, etc. Don’t miss a dime.

List your current savings: Are you currently putting money into an IRA, 401(k), or other savings plan? List it, so you can see what you’ve already got in the bank.

Really dig into and optimize your spending: Can you cut back anywhere? You might trim some spending by bundling your renters and car insurance with one provider. Perhaps you can save on streaming services by dropping a platform or two. And how’s your takeout habit? If you really want to save for a house, you may need to learn to cook. You might even consider taking in a roommate or moving to a less expensive place to turbocharge your savings for your down payment while renting.

Making cuts, admittedly, can be the toughest step in the budgeting process, but it’s crucial to be honest with yourself about your spending. Remember: However much you cut back can help you get a new home that much sooner.

Finally, check in on your budget every so often and adjust as needed. For example, if you land a new job, get a promotion, or are given an annual raise, perhaps you can add that money to your savings account or put it toward paying off your loans. Whichever one feels more important to you is OK, so long as that extra cash isn’t vanishing on impulse buys.

3. Investigate How Big a Down Payment You Actually Need

Many prospective homebuyers think they must have 20% down to buy a house, but that is not always the case. That is how much you need to avoid paying for private mortgage insurance (PMI) with a conventional conforming loan. Private mortgage insurance typically ranges from 0.5% to 2% of the loan amount, and it’s automatically canceled when your equity reaches 78% of the home’s original value.

Here are some valuable facts: You may be able to take out a conforming loan with as little as 3% down, plus PMI. Certainly, that’s a sum that can be easier to wrangle than 20%, though your mortgage principal will be higher. According to National Association of Realtors data, the average first-time homebuyer puts down about 6%.

In addition, you might qualify for government loans that don’t require any down payment at all, such as VA and USDA loans.

You might also look into regional first-time homebuyer programs that can provide favorable terms and help you own a property sooner.

💡 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 little as 3.5%.

4. Grow Your Savings

If you’ve paid off your debt, set realistic budgeting goals, and are raking in some dough to add to a savings account, you’re already on the right track. A good next move is to put your money to work for you. Among your options:

•   Open a high-interest savings account. These can pay multiples of the average interest rate earned by a standard savings account. You will frequently find these accounts at online vs. traditional banks. Since they don’t have brick-and-mortar branches, online financial institutions can save on operating costs and can pass that along to consumers. Just be sure to look into such points as any account fees, as well as opening balance and monthly balance requirements. (Features such as round-up savings can also help you save more quickly.)

You can also look into certificates of deposit (CDs) and see what interest rates you might get there. These products typically require you to keep your funds on deposit for a set period of time with the interest rate known in advance.

•   If you have a fairly long timeline, you might consider opening an investment account to grow your savings. The market has a historical 10% rate of return, though past performance isn’t a guarantee of future returns. You could try using a robo advisor, or you could work with a financial advisor who will walk you through investment strategies for beginners and beyond and help you invest. Just be aware that investments are insured against insolvency of the broker-dealer but not against loss.

Recommended: First-time Homebuyer Guide

5. Automate as Much of Your Finances as Possible

This is a lot of information to process, but once you get through all the work upfront, you can start automating as much as possible. For example, have a portion of your paycheck automatically go into your savings account each month to plump up that down payment fund.

You might set up the direct deposit of your paycheck to send most of your pay to your checking account and a portion to a savings account earmarked for your down payment. You can check with your HR or Benefits department to see if this is possible.

Another way to automate your savings is to have your bank set up a recurring transfer from your checking account, as close to payday as possible. That can route some funds to your down payment savings without any effort on your part. Nor will you see the cash sitting in your checking account, tempting you to spend it.

The Takeaway

While saving for a down payment isn’t exactly a piece of cake, it doesn’t have to feel overwhelming. By trying five effective strategies, which can include budgeting, paying down debt, and automating your savings, you can accumulate enough money to start on your path to homeownership.

Once you have the down payment taken care of, you’ll be ready to shop for a home mortgage that suits you.

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.

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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.

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.
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If you are a federal student loan borrower, you should consider all of your repayment opportunities including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.


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