Part 1 of our “First Time Home Buyers” Series

Start saving for a down payment early

It’s common to put 20% down, but many lenders now permit much less, and first-time home buyer programs allow as little as 3% down. But putting down less than 20% may mean higher costs and paying for private mortgage insurance, and even a small down payment can still be hefty. For example, a 5% down payment on a $200,000 home is $10,000.

Play around with this down payment calculator to help you land on a goal amount. Some tips for saving for a down payment include setting aside tax refunds and work bonuses, setting up an automatic savings plan and using an app to track your progress.

Explore your down payment and mortgage options

There are lots of mortgage options out there, each with their own combination of pros and cons. If you’re struggling to come up with a down payment, check out:

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Federal Housing Administration loans:  which permi down payments as low as 3.5%.

Veterans Affairs loans:  which sometimes require no down payment at all.

The amount you put down also affects your monthly mortgage payment and interest rate. If you want the smallest mortgage payment possible, opt for a 30-year fixed mortgage. But if you can afford larger monthly payments, you can get a lower interest rate with a 20-year or 15-year fixed loan. Use our calculator to determine whether a 15-year or 30-year fixed mortgage is a better fit for you. Or you may prefer an adjustable-rate mortgage, which is riskier but guarantees a low interest rate for the first few years of your mortgage.

Research state and local assistance programs

In addition to federal programs, many states offer assistance programs for first-time home buyers with perks such as down payment assistance, closing cost assistance, tax credits and discounted interest rates. Your county or municipality may also have first-time home buyer programs.