4 conventional loans with low down payments

June 6, 2016 - 4 min read

Low down payment conventional loans

Year after year, home buyers cite “the down payment” as their biggest obstacle to homeownership. Yet, in many parts of the country, you can buy a home with no money down.

In fact, there are entire loan programs created specifically to help home buyers get into a home with as little down as possible.

So, why do home buyers still think they need twenty percent down?

There are a bevy of options for buyers who want to make . The requires a down payment of just 3.5 percent; and the VA loan and USDA loan both require no down payment whatsoever.

Plus, through the use of housing grants (which are available in many U.S. cities), buyers can have a small down payment gifted to them by the municipal government of a region, so long as that buyer will agree to live in the home for five years or longer.

And, then there’s the conventional mortgage loan.

Often overlooked because it’s linked to loans requiring twenty percent down, the conventional loan program offers multiple low-down payment mortgage options to first-time home buyers and repeat buyers; and mortgage rates are typically excellent.

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Conventional loan vs government loans

There are dozens of mortgage loans available to home buyers today. In general, though, mortgages can be divided into two broad categories — government-backed loans and conventional loans.

Government-backed loans are loans for which mortgage lenders are protected against loss via government insurance program.

The most common government-backed loan is the FHA loan, which is insured by the Federal Housing Administration. FHA loans got their start in 1934, and helped to reboot the U.S. housing market after the Great Depression.

FHA loans worked so well that the Department of Veterans Affairs sponsored a similar program for military personnel returning from war in 1944.

With the creation of the G.I. Bill that year, the VA Home Loan Guaranty program was established, which guaranteed lenders against loss on mortgage loans made to veterans.

Then, the USDA Rural Housing Program was launched.

Meant to help home buyers settle less-populated parts of the county, the U.S. Department of Agriculture launched its flagship 100% financing program and provides insurance to lenders making USDA loans.

By contrast, conventional loans are not backed by the government.

Conventional loans are backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and these two agencies exist solely to help banks make mortgage loans. They offer no mortgage insurance to lenders, leaving that task to private mortgage insurance (PMI) companies.

In today’s market, conventional mortgages account for more than half of all mortgage loans made; and, according to conventional mortgage guidelines, PMI is required when a borrower’s loan-to-value is above 80% (excepting for the ).

This is likely why buyers think you have to put 20% down on a home. Conventional loans are the most prevalent of all loan types and PMI comes into play with down payments of less than twenty percent.

People seem to think PMI is a waste of money.

. Because of PMI, renters can more easily transition into homeownership. PMI makes low-down payment loans possible.

Conventional low down payment options

When you want to purchase a home and don’t want to make a large down payment, you can look beyond just the FHA, VA, and USDA home loan programs.

There are low down payment conventional loans, too.

3% down: The conventional 97

The Conventional 97 mortgage allows for a down payment of just three percent. The program requires that you purchase a single-unit home, and that you borrow no more than the national mortgage loan limit — “high-cost” mortgages do not apply.

Down payment monies may be gifted from a family member with the Conventional 97 and private mortgage insurance is required.

3% down: The HomeReady™ mortgage

The HomeReady™ mortgage is the newest low down payment conventional mortgage loan.

Originally meant for multi-generational households where parents, children, and grandparents all share a home, the HomeReady™ home loan can be used by anyone, based on where you live.

HomeReady™ is available to households who earn less than the area’s median income; to all home buyers within ; and, to home buyers in federal disaster zones.


5% down: HomeStyle® renovation home improvement loan

The HomeStyle® Renovation loan is a home construction loan that requires just 5 percent down. It’s “one-close”, which means that you home buyers can use the HomeStyle® loan to finance the property and its improvements.

Just about any type of renovation or repair is eligible. Program guidelines only require that whatever improvements are made are permanently affixed to the home, and adds to the home’s value.

Eligible home improvement projects include kitchen remodeling; landscaping installation; home appliances replacements; and, the building of an in-ground pool.

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10% down: “Piggyback” combination loans

The “piggyback” loan is actually two mortgage loans — not one — with the loan is typically structured as one mortgage lien for 80% of the home’s purchase price, and a second mortgage lien for 10% of the home’s purchase price.

Combined, the borrower’s mortgaged amount is 90% of the home purchase price. The down payment, therefore, is ten percent.

However, because the first lien is for 80% of the home’s value, PMI is not required. In this way, a home buyer can put down less than twenty percent and still not pay private mortgage insurance.

Piggyback loans are available with most mortgage lenders, and there are no income- or geography- based restrictions to its use.

What are today’s mortgage rates?

When you want to make a low down payment, conventional mortgages can be less expensive and easier to access than FHA, VA, or USDA loans.

Get today’s live mortgage rates now. Your social security number is not required to get started, and all quotes come with access to your live mortgage credit scores.

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Dan Green
Authored By: Dan Green
The Mortgage Reports contributor
Dan Green is an expert on topics of money and mortgage. With over 15 years writing for a consumer audience on personal finance topics, Dan has been featured in The Washington Post, MarketWatch, Bloomberg, and others.