Expect Low-Down-Payment Mortgages to Require Good Credit

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ShutterstockGuidelines are said to be coming on a plan to offer low-down-payment home loans to borrowers with limited funds.
By Christine DiGangi

Mel Watt, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, announced Monday plans to increase mortgage access to borrowers with good credit but limited funds available for a down payment. In a speech at the Mortgage Bankers Association annual convention in Las Vegas, Watt said the FHFA would issue guidelines for making lending to consumers who can afford only 3 percent to 5 percent down payments, according to a transcript of his remarks.

He mentioned the low-down-payment loans once, saying details are forthcoming, but the idea is part of a broader message to lenders that tight credit restrictions have prevented creditworthy borrowers from becoming homeowners. For low- and middle-income Americans to have access to affordable mortgages, lenders need to feel comfortable extending credit -- that they won't suffer the massive%VIRTUAL-pullquote-With some of the changes Watt mentioned, consumers with good credit could access government-backed home loans with little money down and better interest rates than are available under current loan programs.% losses they did after the housing bust several years ago. In his speech, Watt sought to reassure lenders that this is the case, as the FHFA refines and clarifies the relationship between lenders and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Traditionally, consumers should plan to save 20 percent of their future home's value for a down payment, but that amounts to tens of thousands of dollars, which many consumers may not have at their disposal especially after other homebuying expenses like closing costs. Home prices have gone up, student loan debt has grown, but wages have remained stagnant, further complicating access to homeownership.

With some of the changes Watt mentioned, consumers with good credit could access government-backed home loans with little money down and better interest rates than are available under current loan programs. Interest rates and down payments have a significant impact on how much you pay for a home or whether you can buy one at all. You can calculate how much home you can afford by playing around with these figures, which will help you figure out a plan for becoming a homeowner in the future.

Something to highlight from Watt's speech: He repeatedly refers to "creditworthy borrowers," so while lowering credit standards is a part of the plan, consumers will still need to exhibit a positive credit history when applying for home loans. If you're not sure where you stand or think you need to improve your credit before shopping for a home, make a habit of checking your credit reports and scores regularly. (You can get two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)
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