Last Updated: November 21, 2022
If you're like many first-time buyers, saving up the chunk of money you’ll need to buy a home can be a real challenge.
But if you've got a good job, steady income, and decent credit, and the only thing holding you back is a lack of cash on hand for the down payment, you'll be happy to know that all across the country, local and state agencies offer grants and low-interest loans to help first-time buyers achieve homeownership.
Known as down payment assistance programs (DPAs), these resources could provide the financial boost you need to buy a home months or even years before you could save all of the money on your own.
How do DPAs work?
Managed by state housing finance agencies or city and county governments, these programs give first-time buyers financial aid to help pay for a down payment and/or closing costs. If you qualify, you can receive aid in a couple different ways:
- Grants –Free money you may never have to pay back
- Loans - Typically paid along with your primary mortgage or when you sell or refinance the property
Some programs also forgive DPA loans after you’ve been in your house for a while, so you never have to pay back the total amount they lent you. In most cases, DPA loans have interest rates that are lower than your main mortgage, and in some cases, the loan is interest-free—so you pay back only what you borrowed and not a cent more.
How much can you get from a DPA?
That depends on many factors, including your income, the area where you want to buy, and the type of programs offered in your area. We’ll discuss income requirements in a minute, but if you qualify, you may be able to get anywhere from $5,000-$10,000, or even more. That means you can use your own money on other household expenses and get into your home that much sooner.
Can DPAs save you money in the long run?
Yes! While some loans require just 0-3% down, paying more upfront can really pay off. Remember, the larger your down payment is, the smaller your monthly payments will be, and that makes budgeting the rest of your life easier. Because you’re financing less, a larger down payment can save you thousands of dollars over the lifetime of your loan. And the sooner you buy, the sooner you can start paying off your mortgage and begin building equity in your home.
Who’s eligible for a DPA?
The programs are designed to help the people who need it most. Requirements vary from place to place, but if you’re applying for a DPA, you may need to:
- Be a first-time homebuyer. In some places, you can qualify if you haven’t owned a home for a certain number of years.
- Have a low to moderate household income. Not sure you qualify? Try googling the Area Median Income (AMI) where you live. If you make 50% or less of that amount, you’re considered low income, and 50-80% of the AMI is considered moderate income.
- Plan to purchase your home within a specific area. While some DPAs apply to the entire state, others are targeted to areas that have been hard-hit economically and need to be revitalized. Once you’ve found a DPA in your area, check your zip code to see if the property you want to buy qualifies for assistance.
- Use the money for a home that you'll live in. These programs are for primary residences only; rental properties and vacation homes typically don’t qualify.
- Pay for part of the down payment yourself. The percentage you pay may vary by the type of loan and DPA program, but your loan officer can help you figure out how much you’ll need to supply.
- Take a short homebuyer education class. This will prepare you for the financial responsibilities of owning a home to ensure that you buy a property you can afford and can continue to make your payments after you move in.
What kind of mortgages work with a DPA?
If you’re considering a DPA, one of our Ameritrust loan officers will be happy to explain your options. These programs usually work with the most common mortgages, including FHA, VA, USDA Rural Development, and conventional loans.
How do you apply for a DPA?
We’ve put together a list of programs in each of the states where Ameritrust operates. Just scroll down to find your state and follow the links to see what’s available in your area. As always, if you want someone to help you understand these programs (even before you’re ready to buy), reach out to us at Ameritrust. We're always happy to help!
Down Payment Assistance Programs by State
- The Home Plus Assistance Program provides a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage combined with down payment assistance (DPA) ranging from 0% – 5% depending upon the new underlying first mortgage. One homebuyer must complete a home buyer education course before closing.
- The Home in Five Advantage Program helps low and moderate-income individuals and families buy a home in Maricopa County. Qualified homebuyers receive up to 5 percent assistance for down payment and closing costs, plus a loan with a competitive interest rate.
- The MyHome Assistance Program can lend up to up to 3.5% of the home’s purchase price or appraised value to first-time buyers within an income cap.
- The CalHFA Conventional program is a 30-year fixed interest conventional mortgage that gives you the option to roll in down payment and closing cost assistance into your mortgage.
- The CalPLUS Conventional program comes with a slightly higher 30-year fixed interest rate, but you can combine it with the MyHome Assistance program for down payment help and the CalHFA Zero Interest Program (ZIP) for closing costs. The ZIP program doesn’t charge borrowers interest on the money it lends through the program.
- The Forgivable Equity Builder Loan gives first-time homebuyers a head start with immediate equity in their homes with a loan of up to 10% of the purchase price of the home. The loan is forgivable if the borrower occupies the home as their primary residence for five years.
- The GSFA OpenDoors Program provides up to 7% of the first mortgage loan amount for owner occupied primary residences. The program is not limited to first time homebuyers.
See HUD’s list of alternative programs for California.
- The Home is Possible program for first-time homebuyers offers interest free assistance for up to 4% of the loan amount. A homebuyer education course is required, but the amount is forgivable after three years.
Other first-time homebuyer resources
At Ameritrust, we've got lots of great resources for first-time homebuyers. Want to learn more? Visit our First Time Homebuyer webpage or click the button below to connect with one of our experienced loan officers. You may be closer than you think!