South Carolina was the nation’s fastest-growing state in 2023, according to Census data, and the cost of buying a home here has been rising along with residents. That’s creating challenges for first-time homebuyers. The South Carolina State Housing Finance and Development Authority — known as SC Housing — has been working to make homes more affordable in the state for the past 50 years.

South Carolina first-time homebuyer loan programs

SC Housing Homebuyer Program

SC Housing’s Homebuyer Program includes 30-year conventional, FHA, VA and USDA loans with competitive fixed interest rates and down payment assistance. The program is open to first-time homebuyers and those who have not owned a home in the past three years, or repeat buyers in certain “targeted counties.” Single parents, veterans or those with a member of the household living with a disability might also qualify for the program. The eligibility requirements include:

  • 3 percent down payment for conventional loan; 3.5 percent down payment for FHA loan; no down payment required for VA or USDA loan
  • 640 minimum credit score for conventional, VA and USDA loan; 620 minimum credit score for FHA loan
  • Must meet SC Housing income limits, which vary based on where you’re buying and how many will live in the household, and purchase price limits
  • Must be buying a single-family, off-frame modular home, a townhome or FHA-approved condominium in South Carolina

SC Housing Palmetto Home Advantage

SC Housing’s Palmetto Home Advantage program is not solely for first-time homebuyers, but you can use the offering for your first home purchase. The program offers competitive interest rates along with down payment assistance of up to 4 percent of the loan amount. If you need to pay mortgage insurance (an expense paid by most homebuyers who can’t put down 20 percent), the program offers a reduced insurance rate, as well.

To qualify, you’ll need a minimum credit score of 640 and to meet income limits, which vary depending on whether you’re obtaining a conventional, FHA, VA or USDA loan.

South Carolina down payment assistance

SC Housing down payment assistance

If you’re obtaining a home loan through SC Housing, you could be eligible for forgivable down payment assistance in a 15-year second mortgage. You won’t have to repay the assistance if you live in the home for the entire 15 year term.

SC Housing County First Initiative

SC Housing’s County First Initiative is for both first-time and repeat homebuyers living away from the state’s dense urban areas. Through this program, borrowers can qualify for additional help with the down payment — up to $8,500 — if purchasing a home in these counties:

  • Abbeville
  • Allendale
  • Bamberg
  • Barnwell
  • Beaufort
  • Calhoun
  • Chester
  • Clarendon
  • Dillon
  • Edgefield
  • Fairfield
  • Georgetown
  • Hampton
  • Jasper
  • Lee
  • Marion
  • Marlboro
  • McCormick
  • Newberry
  • Orangeburg
  • Saluda
  • Union
  • Williamsburg

The County First Initiative follows the same income and purchase price limits that apply to the Homebuyer Program.

Other first-time homebuyer loan programs

In addition to securing help at the state level, you might be able to find homebuying assistance through local programs. In Greenville County, the CommunityWorks down payment assistance program offers up to $5,000 that can be forgiven in five years or up to $10,000 that can be forgiven in eight years. In Richland County — where the state capital Columbia is located — a homeownership assistance program offers up to $10,000 to help with down payment and closing costs, also forgiven after five years.

While you’re considering first-time buyer programs in South Carolina, be sure to explore nationally available first-time buyer loan 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. Check SC Housing’s network of lenders to help narrow down your choices.
  • 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.