You likely need 8-10% in cash to buy a house
The amount of money needed to buy a house varies hugely from person to person. Still, most buyers should expect to save at least 8% to 10% of their target home purchase price. That covers 3-5% for a minimum down payment and 2-5% for closing costs, which is about average.
The amount you'll need to save depends on your home price, location, and the type of mortgage you plan to use. The good news is that today’s mortgage programs have reduced the amount of money needed to buy a house, making it easier for many buyers to qualify.
In this article (Skip to…)
- Home buying costs
- Upfront costs
- Ongoing costs
- How to lower your costs
- Home affordability FAQ
- Getting preapproved
Breaking down the costs of buying a home
There are a variety of expenses when buying a house. Buyers need to consider upfront costs like the down payment and closing fees, but also ongoing costs such as the mortgage payment, utility bills, homeowners insurance, and property taxes.
First-time home buyers are often focused on saving for a down payment. But it’s important to prepare for all your homebuying costs to make sure you’ve budgeted appropriately.
- Down payment: Depending on the type of loan and the purchase price, most buyers will pay between 3% to 5%, but others have no down payment requirements whatsoever
- Closing costs: This is a catchall term for the many fees associated with closing on a home. The total “cash to close” is typically around 2% to 5% of the purchase price (plus your down payment)
- Earnest money: A good faith deposit to the seller that is applied to your down payment at closing. You’ll typically pay this soon after making an offer
- Cash reserves: Reserves are extra savings in the bank left over after closing. Lenders see these funds as a safeguard in case of financial troubles after closing. Lenders often want to see at least two months’ cash reserves, which is equal to two monthly mortgage payments (including principal interest, taxes, and insurance). Reserves are typically not required for FHA or VA mortgages
Even if you’re using a low- or no-money-down mortgage, it’s likely you’ll have to cover some costs out of pocket. Here are the different upfront expenses you can expect when buying a home, along with typical price ranges for each one.
1. Down payment (0% to 20% of the purchase price)
The down payment you need will vary based on your credit score and the type of loan for which you qualify.
- Conventional loans: 3% minimum
- FHA loans: 3.5% minimun
- VA loan: no down payment required
- USDA loan: no down payment required
For a conventional loan guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, you’ll usually need a down payment of at least 5%, although down payments of 3% are available with programs like the HomeReady and Conventional 97 loans. Buyers typically need a credit score of at least 620 to qualify for a conventional loan with 3% down.
A conventional home loan is not your only option. An FHA loan requires a down payment of just 3.5% of the home’s purchase price if your FICO score is at least 580. Though some lenders may require a higher credit score of 620 to 640.
Other loan types eliminate the down payment requirement altogether. Home buyers with military experience should check their eligibility for a zero-down VA loan. Along with 100% financing, VA loans offer extremely low interest rates and don’t charge annual mortgage insurance.
The USDA loan, likewise, requires nothing down and is available to home buyers in rural and suburban areas. You need a lot or moderate income to qualify. USDA loans also offer below-market mortgage rates.
2. Closing costs (2-5% of the loan amount)
A mortgage loan costs money to set up. These closing costs are passed on to the home buyer. Following are some of the lender fees you might see on your cost estimate.
- Origination fee
- Application fee
- Processing fee
- Underwriting fee
But the mortgage lender is not the only entity that will collect fees. There are also third parties who charge for services required for loan approval. Third-party fees include things like:
- Title fees
- Title insurance
- Escrow fees
- Credit report
- County recording fee
Closing costs will vary depending on the size of your loan, whether a lawyer is present at the closing table, and the fees that your municipality or state charges. In total, you can expect to pay about 2% to 5% of your home loan amount in upfront closing costs. This is a wide range, so check with your lender about the exact amount needed in your situation.
Ask for a lender credit or alternative loan options to reduce your total out-of-pocket expense. You can also ask your Realtor or loan officer about non-profit down payment and closing cost assistance programs in your market.
3. Earnest money (up to 5% of the purchase price)
Earnest money shows you’re serious about purchasing the home. It’s a good-faith deposit that will be applied to your down payment when the home sale closes. So you don’t need to save extra for it. You just need to make sure the cash is ready to go when your offer is accepted.
- Your earnest deposit is paid right away after the seller accepts your offer to buy and you sign the contract
- If the sale falls through, you can typically get your earnest money back
- Earnest money does not go directly to the seller. Instead, it is held at the escrow company, and the seller receives confirmation of receipt
- The amount of earnest money you need will vary based on the home price range and the competition in your housing market
Sometimes, you’ll need to deposit just a couple hundred dollars. Other times, you might need an earnest money deposit as large as 3% to 5% of the home’s sale price or more. If you are buying a $200,000 home, a 1.5% earnest money deposit would come out to $6,000.
Ask your real estate agent or Realtor about how much earnest money you’d need to show you’re serious about buying the home. Your agent will help negotiate the exact amount of money you need to deposit.
4. Cash reserves (0-6 months’ worth of mortgage payments)
To qualify for a mortgage loan, you’ll usually need a certain amount of money set aside in your savings account or investment accounts. Known as “cash reserves,” these are dollars you won’t be using to cover your down payment or other closing costs. The lender wants to see this money in the bank so it can be sure you’ll be able to afford your new monthly mortgage payments.
Different lenders have different requirements about how many months’ payments you’ll need in your account. Most lenders require at least two months of cash reserves if you are applying for a conforming mortgage loan. However, the requirement can be as much as 24 months for higher-priced homes.
For example, let’s assume the total cost of your future housing payment is $2,000. This includes the loan’s principal and interest payment, along with property taxes, homeowners insurance, private mortgage insurance premiums (PMI), and homeowners association (HOA) dues. In this case, you would need at least $4,000 saved to meet a lender’s requirement of two months’ worth of reserves.
Cash reserves usually aren’t required if:
- Your credit score is high — say 740 or higher on the FICO scale — and you are putting down a larger down payment. These borrowers have already shown an ability to pay their bills on time, so lenders don’t need to see as large an amount of reserve funds
- You're using a VA or FHA loan. These programs tend to be exempt from reserve fund guidelines. Since the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) or the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) guarantee these loans, lenders can relax some of their underwriting rules
How much money you need to buy a house: Examples
The upfront cash needed to buy a house includes the down payment, 2-5% of your loan amount for closing costs, and often at least two months worth of cash reserves. Here’s how much money you might need to save to buy a house, at a few different price points.
All examples assume a 30-year fixed mortgage with an interest rate of 3.25%. Closing costs are only an estimate. Your own mortgage rate and costs will vary.
How much money you need for a $250,000 house
To buy a $250,000 house, you’d likely need to pay at least $16,750 upfront for a conventional loan. Upfront costs could be as low as $6,250 with a zero-down VA or USDA loan, though not all buyers qualify for these programs.
|Conventional Loan (3% down)||Conventional Loan (20% down)||FHA Loan (3.5% down)||VA Loan (0% down)|
|Closing Costs (2.5%)||$6,250||$6,250||$6,250||$6,250|
|Total Money Needed||$16,750||$58,405||$15,000||$6,250|
How much money you need for a $400,000 house
Cash needed to buy a $400,000 house might start around $27,000 if you qualify for a 3% down payment conventional loan. Home buyers using the FHA program might see an upfront cost closer to $24,000 — but note, FHA loan limits max out at $ in most areas. So a $400,000 home might require a larger down payment to get your loan amount below local limits.
|Conventional Loan (3% down)||Conventional Loan (20% down)||FHA Loan (3.5% down)||VA Loan (0% down)|
|Closing Costs (2.5%)||$10,000||$10,000||$10,000||$10,000|
|Total Money Needed||$27,000||$93,600||$24,000||$10,000|
How much money you need for a $600,000 house
As your home price increases, your loan options may decrease. That’s because higher-cost real estate often surpasses FHA and conventional loan limits. Borrowers must either make a larger down payment or opt for a jumbo mortgage to compensate.
To buy a $600,000 house, you’d likely need to put at least 10% down on a conventional mortgage. You may need a total savings of around $78,400 or more.
|Conventional Loan (10% down)||Conventional Loan (20% down)|
|Closing Costs (2%)||$12,000||$12,000|
|Total Money Needed||$78,400||$137,400|
Cash requirements are different for each buyer
The upfront costs of buying a home will vary a lot depending on things like the home value, the type of mortgage, and where you buy real estate. For example, someone making a 20% down payment to avoid private mortgage insurance (PMI) will obviously need a lot more cash upfront than someone making a low down payment of 3 percent.
Cash-to-close can vary by location, too. That’s because mortgage lenders typically collect four to six months of property taxes upfront. Taxes vary widely based on the home’s market value, and there is a big cost difference between a house with $100 in monthly taxes and a house with a $500 monthly tax bill.
The best way to find out your total closing costs is to get a personalized estimate from a mortgage lender. A lender can provide a written estimate of your “cash to close,” which is the total amount of money you’d need up front to close your mortgage. The lender will also verify that you have, or will have, enough in your bank accounts to close the loan by looking at two months’ worth of your bank statements.
Additional costs to prepare for
We’ve covered costs to open and close your loan, cash for an earnest money deposit, and keeping your bank account healthy enough to show you can make your ongoing monthly mortgage payments. But there are a few other expenses you should plan for, too:
- A home inspection: Before finalizing your home purchase, you’ll want an independent home inspection which can reveal major and minor defects before you buy. Expect to find some minor and cosmetic problems; if the inspector finds structural or safety issues, you’ll want to consider buying a different house or negotiating with the seller to resolve the issues before you buy. A home inspection typically costs between $250 and $400 for an average-sized home
- Moving expenses: If you have friends and family members who happen to have trucks and strong backs, you may not need to worry much about moving expenses. But if you’re moving to a different area or across the country, moving can easily cost $3,000 to $5,000. If you’re moving for work, ask whether your new employer will help cover moving costs
- An emergency fund: A job loss or an unexpected major repair at your new home could compromise your ability to pay your mortgage. Most financial advisors recommend keeping a few months’ living expenses set aside for emergencies. That way you won’t run up credit card debt just to pay your bills
New homeowners often underestimate the amount of cash they’ll need both upfront and after the home sale closes. Budgeting for related costs — like moving and new home repairs — will help you put together a more realistic estimate of how much money you really need to buy a house.
How to lower your out-of-pocket costs to buy a house
Saving enough cash for the down payment and closing costs is the biggest barrier to homeownership for most buyers. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce or even eliminate your out-of-pocket costs when buying a house. These include:
- Opt for a low- or no-down-payment mortgage loan: VA loans and USDA loans allow zero down payment; conventional loans allow 3% down; and FHA loans start at 3.5% down payment. Making the minimum down payment allowed can substantially lower your out-of-pocket costs
- Look into down payment and closing cost assistance: There are down payment assistance (DPA) programs in every state intended to help lower-income and/or first-time home buyers afford their upfront costs. Research DPA programs in your area to see if you qualify for aid
- Use gift money from a relative to cover your upfront costs: Most loan programs allow you to cover part or all of your out-of-pocket costs using money gifted from a family member or other relation. You’ll just need to make sure the gift funds are properly documented
- Negotiate with the seller to pay some or all of your closing costs: It’s possible for the seller to pay the buyer’s closing costs. This arrangement is known as seller concessions. The amount a seller is allowed to cover varies by loan type. Sellers are more likely to help out in a buyer’s market where they’re having trouble selling the home
- Ask for a lender credit: A lender credit means the mortgage lender will pay part or all of your closing costs. In exchange, you’ll pay a higher mortgage rate for the life of the loan
Using a combination of these strategies, it may be possible to buy a home with very little out of your own pocket.
Home buying costs FAQ
You can begin the home-buying process by checking your credit score and making any necessary improvements, while you also prepare your personal finances by saving money for a down payment and closing costs. You should consider paying down any existing debts such as student loans and credit card balances to lower your debt-to-income ratio prior to getting preapproved for a home loan.
Mortgage preapproval is when a lender confirms your creditworthiness and offers you a mortgage, up to a predetermined loan limit. Many real estate agents and sellers won’t accept offers from buyers who are not preapproved for a home loan, and you should seek preapproval before you seriously begin your home-buying process.
Debt-to-income ratio tells lenders whether or not you can afford to buy a home, and how much home you can afford. Your debt-to-income ratio, DTI, is the amount of money of debt you have divided by your gross monthly income. The less existing debt you have, the more house you can afford.
The best mortgage for first-time buyers will be the loan for which you’re most qualified. Among the more popular loan options for first-timers are FHA loans because of their flexible eligibility requirements. Other buyers will find conventional loans, with as little as 3% down, are better suited for their personal finances.
Check your home-buying eligibility
If you’re ready to begin your homeownership journey, getting preapproved is one of the first steps. Mortgage preapproval helps you identify your budget and find out what you qualify for. Depending on the loan program, you may be able to buy a house with less money out of pocket than you think.