Homebuyers with little money for a down payment are finding more home loans available for a low, or even no, down payment. Following are a few options:
Veterans Affairs (formerly the Veterans Administration) guarantees no-down purchase mortgages for qualified veterans. Private lenders originate VA loans, which the VA guarantees. There is no mortgage insurance. The borrower pays a funding fee, which can be rolled into the loan amount.
The VA funding fee varies, depending on whether the veteran served in the regular military or in the Reserves or National Guard, and whether it’s the veteran’s first VA loan or a subsequent one. The funding fee can be as low as 2.15 percent or as high as 3.3 percent.
Navy Federal Credit Union offers 100 percent financing (up to $650,000) to qualified members for buying primary homes. Credit-union eligibility is restricted to members of the military, some civilian employees of the military and U.S. Department of Defense, and family memberderal resumed zero-down financing this year after a hiatus of a couple of years. Barbara Sheehan, Navy Federal’s assistant vice president for mortgage products, says when members of the military are transferred, they sometimes own houses whose values have fallen, wiping out equity.
“Some people had to take losses to sell their houses, so to have to start over and save the money again for a down payment is really difficult,” she says.
The credit union’s zero-down program is similar to the VA’s. One difference is cost: Navy Federal’s funding fee of 1.75 percent is less than the VA’s funding fees.
The Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development mortgage-guarantee program is so popular that it ran out of money this spring. Congress is expected to cough up more in time for summer homebuying season.
Some borrowers are surprised to find that Rural Development loans aren’t confined to farmland. The USDA has maps on its Web site that highlight eligible areas. In addition to geographical limits, the USDA progrs restrictions on household income, and it’s intended for first-time buyers, although there are exceptions.
The USDA mortgage comes from a bank, and there is no mortgage insurance. Instead, the USDA levies a 2 percent guarantee fee, which can be rolled into the loan amount.
The zero-down options listed above are restricted to limited groups of buyers. With a minimum down payment of 3.5 percent, the Federal Housing Administration is the low-down option that’s available to the most people.
Today, about 30 percent of all home-loan borrowers get FHA-insured loans, up from 3 percent during the housing boom. The FHA gained market share after many other low-down-payment options (such as piggyback loans) evaporated in the housing bust.
Losses to the insurance fund compelled the FHA to raise rates. The FHA charges an upfront premium of 2.25 percent of the mortgage amount. On a loan with the minimum down payment, there’s an annual premium of 0.55 percent of the mortgage amount, or $550 a year for each $100,000 bed.
There is one more option for borrowers in the “low-down-payment” camp: a standard home loan with private mortgage insurance.
A number of companies offer private mortgage insurance for home loans with down payments of less than 20 percent. PMI is not the same thing as FHA insurance, a form of public mortgage insurance.
Typically, monthly private mortgage insurance costs more than FHA insurance for borrowers who put down 5 percent. However, PMI costs less than FHA for loans with down payments of 10 percent or more.
Private mortgage insurance has another edge over FHA. Under certain conditions, you can cancel PMI earlier -- as soon as two years after you get the loan, compared to a wait of at least five years to cancel FHA insurance.
PMI has become easier to get. From the start of the housing bust until just recently, mortgage insurers slapped a "declining market" label on the worst-hit housing markets and required minimum down payments of 10 percent or more, instead of the traditional minimum of 5 percent.
Now, at least some of the insurers have relaxed the requirements, even in hard-hit states such as Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada and Michigan.
"We'll do 5 percent down across the country," says Chris Antonello, senior vice president of marketing for Genworth, a mortgage insurer in Raleigh, N.C.