Mortgage Down Payments: Know your options

“The team at Mortgage CS made my experience as a first-time homebuyer feel seamless. They were incredibly knowledgeable about the Philadelphia area and I would recommend anyone to work with this team.”
Jamie Sohngen
September 20, 2023
Mortgage Down Payments: Know your options

At first glance, it may seem as though large mortgage down payments and short loan terms are the keys to saving money on a mortgage, but each of these decisions has its own benefits and shortfalls. We can help you put them in perspective so you can make the best choice with respect to your circumstances.

Deciding on a loan and mortgage down payment amount for your upcoming home purchase isn’t always easy. Several factors can impact which loan program you can, or should, use. Understanding options early on is a great way to save time and be sure you start the loan process in the right direction.

Review Your Finances And Credit

With so many types of loans and down payments available, how do you know which one is right for you? Start by being honest with yourself about your finances.

How much money do you have for the mortgage down payment and closing costs?

Keep in mind that you need to save about 3% of the cost of the house for closing expenses. While you won’t need a down payment for VA and USDA loans, you will typically need a 3.5% down payment plus closing costs for FHA loans, and 5 to 20% down plus closing costs for conventional loans. A recent report from Ellie Mae found that the median mortgage down payment amount is 5% today, compared to 20% just 10 years ago!

To put that in perspective, a family buying a $400,000 home would have put down $80,000 10 years ago and just $20,000 today.  Quite a difference!

Have you taken care of your credit?

If your credit score is less than 620, you will not qualify for a conventional loan. If it is less than 740, your conventional loan interest rate will be higher than it could otherwise be. FHA requirements allow someone with a lower credit score to purchase a home, as do other government-backed loans. Regardless of the loan program, a higher credit score is always better – so do what you can now to ensure you have the highest score possible when it comes time to obtain your mortgage loan.

Look at the Timing of Loan Processing

Government-backed loans may require more inspections than conventional loans. Because of this, they could take longer to process. If you need to move in a hurry, government-backed loans may present unnecessary challenges. Remember that missing or out-dated paperwork is one of the top reasons for loan delays. So, be sure to stay on top of your documentation to ensure a smooth closing.

Look at Savings and Opportunity Costs

You may have a 20% down payment saved along with closing costs, but do you really want to spend it now? For conventional loans, you can put 20% down and avoid private mortgage insurance (PMI).  But you can also put as little as 5% down with PMI. Let’s look at an example to understand the costs and benefits of these two programs. For this example, we’ll consider these two options when purchasing a $250,000 home using a 30-year fixed rate loan at 3.5%.

Option 1: A $50,000 (20%) mortgage down payment results in a $200,000 beginning mortgage balance. This will translate to a $898 monthly payment in principal and interest.

Option 2: A $12,500 (5%) mortgage down payment results in a $237,500 beginning mortgage balance. This will translate to a $1,167 monthly payment in principal, interest and mortgage insurance.  Mortgage insurance makes up $101 of this total payment.

Many people would want to pay less per month, so they would choose the first option. However, that in order to save $269 per month, you would have to reduce your savings by $37,500! At $269 in monthly savings, it will take you 139 months—almost 12 years—to recoup this money. That's a lot of time to live without a substantial nest egg!

Then, you have to look at opportunity costs. Said another way, what else might you want to do with this money? Perhaps you'll be able to easily agree to attend a friend's destination wedding? Or maybe you'll have the opportunity to buy the sailboat you've always wanted.  Maybe you are more practical and the money could be better off in an investment account? Regardless of what you do with it, the $269 a month savings has an opportunity cost worth considering.

Look at the Length of the Loan

Should you apply for a 15-year or a 30-year mortgage?

After looking at the numbers, most people agree the substantial savings in interest makes a 15-year loan an attractive option. In reality, affording a 15-year mortgage is more difficult and may result in being house poor, meaning that you can afford your house but little else.

Think of the opportunity costs associated with selecting a shorter-term loan with a higher payment: A higher monthly housing payment results in less funds for investments, smaller retirement accounts, and less resources to support a growing family.

Also consider how long you intend to stay in the home.

If you feel confident that you will remain in the home for years to come, then a shorter loan might be worth the interest savings. [See more here] On the other hand, if you plan to move on quickly, it might be better to use the monthly savings that comes with a longer-term loan towards other things, even if it means simply saving the money for your next move.

If you aren't sure, you can always go with a 30-year mortgage and make larger payments to pay off the loan faster.  Following a 15-year schedule by paying extra payments gives you a shorter loan with the flexibility to fall back to a 30-year schedule if needed. Remember that in these cases, once you pay money into your mortgage you need to “ask” for it back by applying for a new loan or second mortgage to access the equity.

With so many options available, it is important to compare rates and programs. In this way, you can determine which combination works best for you. At today's low rates, you are sure to find many good choices so it is hard to go wrong!

Quickstart the process

Get the confidence and clarity you deserve.

Ready to get started? Schedule a call for expert mortgage guidance, or go straight to the application.

Background - An Illustration of Homes