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These first-time home buyer classes save you money and help you buy a house sooner

Erik J. Martin
The Mortgage Reports contributor

Home buyers up to age 23 (blue) and 24-38 (green) don’t feel confident about:

Home Buying Concerns for Age 18-34

Source: Freddie Mac

A recent poll by Freddie Mac showed that first-time home buyers (as well as young, aspiring home buyers) have a lot of questions about how to buy a house.

Up to 65% of people polled felt like they didn’t have a handle on things like the mortgage process, loan types, or interest rates — information that can save you thousands when you buy a house.

Taking a first-time home buyer class can help.

Plus, home buyer classes can get you access to loans with lower down payments and flexible rules for credit and income.

In other words, these courses can make it easier and cheaper to buy a home. Explore your options here.

Find first-time home buyer programs (Dec 3rd, 2020)

First-time home buyer classes and their perks

Taking a first-time home buyer class doesn’t just give you textbook knowledge. It can actually help you qualify for more affordable loan programs, too.

Loan programs that require home buyer education are generally geared toward first-time buyers. As such, they have special concessions to help those with bigger hurdles to clear — like lack of savings or lower income.

Perks of these first-time home buyer programs can include:

  • Lower down payment requirement (3%)
  • Qualify with lower income or poorer credit
  • Use a roommate or rental income to qualify for the loan
  • Get closing cost assistance from your lender
  • Use 100% gift funds to pay closing costs

So, how can you find one of these first-time buyer programs?

In fact, they’re offered through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — the two mortgage giants that back loans from most mortgage companies.

  • Freddie Mac HomePossible loan (class required for first-time homebuyers) — 3% down payment, roommate rent counts toward your income, your down payment can be 100% gift funds, can qualify without a credit score, do not have to be a first-time buyer
  • Freddie Mac Home One loan (class required for first-time homebuyers) — 3% down payment, at least one borrower must be a first-time buyer, can buy with co-borrower income, no income limits
  • Fannie Mae HomeReady (class required for at least one borrower on the application) — 3% down payment, renter or boarder income can be counted, down payment can be 100% gift funds, can qualify without a credit score
Verify your eligibility for a low-down-payment loan (Dec 3rd, 2020)

If you wish to use a loan program that requires home buyer education, you likely won’t have to go far out of your way. The classes already mentioned, and many others, are available free and online.

>> Note: To take Fannie Mae’s Framework course for free, you must access it through one of the specific links on Fannie Mae’s site. Otherwise, you’ll be charged a non-refundable $75 fee.

Some other home buyer education classes are taught in classrooms and charge tuition.

Regardless of the format, taking one of these courses is likely worth your time.

“Today’s consumer wants to be informed. That’s why educational programs like these can give power to the buyer,” says David Mele, president of Homes.com.

“And research shows that those who participate in homeownership education have a greater ability to find the information they need about the process. It helps them find homes within their budget and appropriate financing options.”

What’s taught in a first-time home buyer class?

To give one example, Freddie Mac recently launched a new homeownership education course. This free online class is called CreditSmart Homebuyer U. And it’s ideal for first-time buyers.

Freddie Mac’s course provides 12 educational modules. Each spotlights a major concept you’ll need to understand when buying a home. These include:

  • Getting a mortgage
  • Credit and how it affects mortgages
  • The home buying process
  • Smart money management
  • Making mortgage payments
  • Homeownership and home equity

The modules are offered in English or Spanish. They make tough concepts easy to understand with bullets and visuals. And they include key definitions and tips in user-friendly language.

Mele says he’s impressed by Freddie Mac’s CreditSmart Homebuyer U program.

“It aims to simplify the process so that buyers not only have the proper information but can also know how to apply it,” says Mele.

“Future buyers, for example, aren’t aware of how to utilize lower down payment options. And many aren’t clear on how those options can reduce the time needed to save for a down payment.

>> Related: Low- and no-down-payment loans for 2020

“Courses like this one, coupled with working with an agent, will help provide buyers a comprehensive framework to build on and keep the credit necessary for homeownership.”

The risks of skipping class

Those who skip first-time home buyer education miss out on some of the unique loan types described above. They might have a harder time qualifying for a loan or coming up with the required funds — which will be higher, with non-specialized loan programs.

Plus, the experts say, your home buying journey might not be as smooth.

“It could result in a potentially stressful home buying and owning experience,” cautions Mele.

“And this could translate into mounting debt and reduced credit scores. Plus, they may have a higher likelihood of mortgage default.”

Backing that point up, Freddie Mac’s study showed that almost one in four people at prime home-buying age (24-38) felt “not at all confident” about knowing how to avoid foreclosure.

Lack of homeownership education “may also prevent you from taking the leap from renting to owning,” says Bruce Ailion, Realtor and attorney.

>> Related: The cost of renting vs. homeownership

Buying a home isn’t as hard or expensive as a lot of people think. But to get started, you need the right information in your toolkit. A home buyer class gives you that power.

Find first-time home buyer programs (Dec 3rd, 2020)

What the experts say about home buyer education

Lawrence Yun is chief economist for the National Association of Realtors. He supports Freddie Mac’s first-time home buyer class and others like it.

“Educating the public about the benefits and, more importantly, the responsibility of homeownership is good all around. It’s good for lenders in reducing loan default rates. And it’s good for consumers so they can make sounder financial decisions,” Yun explains.

To better succeed, buyers should know what to expect. That’s what Ailion believes.

“Understanding the buying process, financing process, and responsibilities of ownership are critical,” Ailion notes.

“There are hundreds of thousands of renters who want to purchase. But they don’t understand what’s involved or how to accomplish this goal. CreditSmart offers an efficient way for consumers to begin this journey.”

Leslie Shull is assistant professor of real estate at Sacramento City College.

“I am a fan of any educational model for borrowers or buyers that involves credit and budgeting. And the fact that course is multilingual is huge. They’re making it accessible to a greater audience,” she says.

Home buying is easier than you think

Home buying might seem expensive and hard to understand. But if you take it step by step, it’s totally doable.

A first-time home buyer class can help a lot. It will give you the know-how you need to find the right loan for an affordable mortgage payment.

And if you take the right class, you could even see savings on your down payment and closing costs. Shop around and ask your lender about first-time home buyer options to find the best one.

Verify your new rate (Dec 3rd, 2020)

Step by Step Guide

First-Time Home Buyer