Home values have soared in The Sunshine State since the pandemic, and that’s creating challenges for buyers in Florida. Fortunately, there are a number of first-time homebuyer loans and programs to help. The Florida Housing Finance Corp., known simply as Florida Housing, offers several down payment and closing cost assistance programs to help you buy your first home. These are available to first-time buyers or anyone who hasn’t owned and occupied a home in three years. Active military members, qualified veterans and anyone purchasing in a federally designated targeted area might also be eligible.

Florida first-time homebuyer loan programs

Florida Housing’s loan programs are all 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages. Here’s an overview:

Florida Housing homebuyer loan

Florida Housing helps connect first-time homebuyers to several mortgage programs, including HFA conventional loans and FHA, VA and USDA loans. The loans can usually be combined with down payment and closing cost assistance. To qualify, you must have a credit score of at least 640 and an income no greater than the limit for your area, as well as complete a homebuyer education course and buy a home within the program’s purchase price limits.

Florida Hometown Heroes Program

The Florida Hometown Heroes Housing Program aims to make homeownership affordable for law enforcement officers, firefighters, educators, healthcare professionals, childcare employees and other frontline workers. The program provides down payment and closing cost assistance so that these professionals can buy a home in the community where they work. Among the benefits:

  • Eligible full-time workers could receive a below-market rate on a conventional, FHA, VA or USDA loan, plus lower fees and down payment and closing cost assistance. You won’t need to pay origination fees or points, either.
  • The down payment assistance equals 5 percent of your first mortgage loan amount, up to $35,000. These funds are packaged in a no-interest, deferred second mortgage; you’ll only have to repay the money when you sell the home or move, or refinance the first mortgage.

Florida down payment assistance

Florida Assist Second Mortgage Program (FL Assist)

Through Florida Housing, eligible borrowers could receive up to $10,000 for a down payment or closing costs, at no interest, in a deferred second mortgage. This second mortgage would be repaid when you sell the home or move, or refinance your first mortgage.

HFA Preferred Grants (3, 4 and 5 percent)

This program provides qualified borrowers with 3, 4 or 5 percent of the home’s purchase price to use toward the down payment and closing costs. This assistance is forgiven after five years.

Florida Homeownership Loan Program (FL HLP)

This program gives buyers up to $10,000 in assistance as a second mortgage at 3 percent interest. The mortgage must be paid off over 15 years unless you move, refinance, sell or transfer ownership of the property. In those cases, the balance must be paid in full.

Note: These programs must be used with a Florida Housing loan program.

Other first-time homebuyer loans and programs

While you’re considering first-time homebuyer programs in Florida, be sure to explore nationally available programs like:

  • FHA loans – If you have a lower credit score or limited savings, consider an FHA loan. These loans are widely available, have a minimum credit score of 580 and require a down payment as little as 3.5 percent.
  • VA loans – If you’re a member of the military or veteran, you could qualify for a VA loan, which doesn’t require a down payment.
  • USDA loans – USDA loans don’t have a down payment requirement, but are only available to borrowers buying in a USDA-eligible rural area. You typically need a credit score of 640 or higher to qualify.
  • Good Neighbor Next Door program – This HUD program has a very low down payment requirement on homes in certain areas, coupled with the ability to save 50 percent on the purchase price.

Get started

As you prepare to become a first-time homebuyer, here are some next steps:

  • Do your homework. For full details on loan programs and requirements, visit Florida Housing’s website. Keep in mind that Florida Housing is not a lender and doesn’t make borrowing decisions. Reach out to one of its approved lenders to apply for a mortgage or learn more details about which program best meets your needs. Note that lenders might have their own income and credit rules to qualify for a loan.
  • Work on your credit score. It’s the most important factor in determining your mortgage rate, so focus on boosting your number.
  • Compare lenders. Regardless of which program you choose, it’s important to shop around for mortgage offers. Interest rates are always changing, so if you find a rate that’s especially competitive, be sure to lock it in.