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5 mortgages that require no down payment -- or a small down payment

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Loans with low or no down payment

Homebuyers with little money for a down payment are finding more home loans available for a low down payment or even no down payment.

The Federal Housing Administration, or FHA, insures loans with small down payments, and private mortgage insurers have relaxed their down payment requirements. It's even possible to get a mortgage today with no money down. The nation's biggest credit union offers "zero-down" mortgages. The Department of Veterans Affairs, or VA, and the Department of Agriculture, or USDA, guarantee home loans with no down payments.

Following are a few options for borrowers seeking low down payment and zero down payment home mortgages.

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No down payment: VA loan

The VA guarantees purchase mortgages with no required down payment 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.

No down payment: Navy Federal

Navy Federal Credit Union, the nation's largest in assets and membership, offers 100 percent financing to qualified members who buy primary homes. Navy Federal eligibility is restricted to members of the military, some civilian employees of the military and U.S. Department of Defense, and family members.

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.

No down payment: USDA

The USDA's Rural Development mortgage guarantee program is so popular that it has been known to run out of money before the end of the fiscal year.

"That's the cat's meow, my favorite loan program," says Jeff Tufford, mortgage consultant for Epic Mortgage Group in Grand Blanc, Michigan.

Some borrowers are surprised to find that Rural Development loans aren't confined to farmland.

"It's not all rural," Tufford says.

The USDA has maps on its website that highlight eligible areas. In addition to geographical limits, the USDA program has restrictions on household income, and it is 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 upfront guarantee fee, which can be rolled into the loan amount, and an annual guarantee fee of 0.5 percent of the loan balance.

Low down payment: Mortgage insurance

Qualified borrowers can make down payments as low as 3 percent with private mortgage insurance, or PMI. For most borrowers, PMI costs less than FHA mortgage insurance (described in the next slide). But PMI has stricter credit requirements.

PMI has another edge over FHA: Once your mortgage balance is under 80 percent of the home's value, you can cancel PMI. You can't get rid of FHA insurance unless you refinance into a non-FHA loan.

Low down payment: FHA

With a minimum down payment of 3.5 percent, the FHA is the low-down option that's available to people with imperfect credit histories.

Losses to the insurance fund compelled the FHA to hike rates. The FHA charges an upfront premium of 1.75 percent of the mortgage amount. On a loan with the minimum down payment, there's an annual premium of 1.25 percent of the mortgage amount, or $1,250 a year for each $100,000 borrowed -- a little over $100 a month.

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