Home Buyers and the 20% Down Myth

Image showing lender discussing down payment with borrower

Hey, home-buyers (and anyone else needing the down-low on down payments), this is for you!  Let’s take a moment to bust the 20% down payment myth.

Are you desperate to own a home of your own but don’t quite have the down payment you think you need? 

Home ownership…. the American dream!  More than likely, you are saving up for that down payment, dollar by hard-earned dollar, until you have that magic number: 20% of your dream home’s total value. That’s what all the experts say, right? 

For the average American home, 20% amounts to a pretty big number. Throw in closing costs and you’ve got a small fortune to raise – and years to go until you reach your goal. 

It’s great that you’re putting money away toward what will likely be the largest purchase of your life, but there’s one huge mistake in your calculations: You don’t need to put down 20%. 

Yes, you read right. The 20% myth is an unfortunate leftover from the era after the housing crisis, when out of necessity, access to credit tightened up. Thankfully, times have changed, and since FHA loans were introduced more than 80 years ago, mortgages have not required a 20% down payment.

While it’s true that a higher down payment means you’ll have a smaller monthly mortgage payment, there are lots of reasons why this isn’t always the best road to homeownership. 

Let’s explore loan options that don’t require 20% down and take a deeper look at the pros and cons of making a smaller down payment.

Loan options

If you’d like to go the route of government-backed loans, these are your options:

1.)   FHA mortgage: This loan is aimed at helping first-time home buyers and requires as little as 3.5% down. If that number is still too high, the down payment can be sourced from a financial gift or via a Down Payment Assistance program.

2.)   VA mortgage: VA mortgages are the most forgiving, but they are strictly for current and former military members. They require zero down, don’t require mortgage insurance and they allow for all closing costs to come from a seller concession or gift funds. 

3.)   USDA home loan: These loans, backed by the United States Department of Agriculture, also require zero down, but eligibility is location-based. Qualifying homes need not be situated on farmlands, but they must be in sparsely populated areas. USDA loans are available in all 50 states and are offered by most lenders. 

If you’d rather take out a conventional loan, though, you can choose from the following loan types: 

1.)  3% down mortgage: Many lenders will now grant mortgages with borrowers putting as little as 3% down. Some lenders, like Freddie Mac, even offer reduced mortgage insurance on these loans, with no income limits and no first-time buyer requirement.

2.)  5% down mortgage: Lots of lenders allow you to put down just 5% of a home’s value. However, most insist that the home be the buyer’s primary residence and that the buyer has a FICO score of 680 or higher.

3.)  10% down mortgage: Most lenders will allow you to take out a conventional loan with 10% down, even with a less-than-ideal credit score.

Bear in mind that each of these loans require income eligibility. Additionally, putting less than 20% down usually means paying for PMI, or private mortgage insurance. However, if you view your home as an asset, paying your PMI is like paying toward an investment. In fact, according to TheMortgageReports.com, some homeowners have spent $8,100 in PMI over the course of a decade, and their home’s value has increased by $43,000. That’s a huge return on investment!

Why make a smaller payment?

If you’re thinking of waiting and saving until you have 20% to put down on a home, consider this: A recent study performed by RealtyTrac found that, on average, it would take a homebuyer nearly 13 years to save for a 20% down payment. In all that time, you could be building your equity – and home prices may rise. Rates likely will as well.

Other benefits to putting down less than 20% include the following:

  • Conserve cash: You’ll have more money available to invest and save.
  • Pay off debt: Many lenders recommend using available cash to pay down credit card debt before purchasing a home. Credit card debt usually has a higher interest rate than mortgage debt – and it won’t net you a tax deduction.
  • Improve your credit score: Once you’ve paid off debt, expect to see your score spike. You’ll land a better mortgage rate this way, especially if your score tops 730.
  • Remodel: Few homes are in perfect condition as offered. You’ll likely want to make some changes to your new home before you move in. Having some cash on hand will allow you to do that.
  • Build an emergency fund: As a homeowner, having a well-stocked emergency fund is crucial. From here on, you’ll be the one paying to fix any plumbing issues or leaky roofs.

Cons of smaller down payments

In all fairness, there are some drawbacks of making a smaller down payment.

  • Mortgage insurance: A PMI payment is an extra monthly expense piled on top of your mortgage and property tax.  As mentioned above, though, PMI can be a good investment.
  • Potentially higher mortgage rates: If you’re taking out a conventional loan and making a smaller down payment, you can expect to have a higher mortgage rate. However, if you’re taking out a government-backed loan, you’re guaranteed a lower mortgage rate despite a less-than-robust down payment.
  • Less equity: You’ll have less equity in your home with a smaller down payment. Of course, unless you’re planning to sell in the next few years, this shouldn’t have any tangible effect on your homeownership.

Of course this doesn’t mean you should buy a home no matter how much – or how little – you’ve got in your savings account. Before making this decision, be sure you can really afford to own a home. Ideally, your total monthly housing costs should amount to less than 28% of your monthly gross income.

Ready to buy your dream home? We’d love to help you out! Call, click or stop by MembersFirst Credit Union today to learn about our fantastic mortgage rates. We’ll walk you through all the way to the closing! 

Your Turn: Have you purchased a home and put less than 20% down? Share your experience with us in the comments! 

Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

Image of man accessing confidnetial info. Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

Identity theft is one of the most nefarious crimes out there. Here are seven ways to help protect yourself: 

Secure Your Hard Copies 

Every sensitive document should be kept in a safe or scanned and saved in a secure folder. Credit cards and debit cards should be securely placed in your wallet at all times. 

Bonus Tip:  Shred all aged documents that contain sensitive information.

Examine Your Financial Statements

Review your financial statements monthly and check carefully for fraudulent activity. Report any suspicious charges immediately. 

Bonus TipSign up for alerts and limit your credit card activity to a specific geographical area.  Members, when traveling, let us know when you plan to take a trip so we can open access to your card in that area.  Just call us at 404-978-0080.

Choose Strong Passwords

Use different, strong passwords for each of your accounts and devices. 

Bonus Tip:  Use a secure password service, like LastPassto create and store unique passwords.

Protect Your Computer

Invest in a strong anti-spyware program to protect your hardware from hackers. 

Bonus TipEncrypt your hard drive for an extra level of protection.  Learn more about encryption here.

Be Wary of Suspicious Emails and Websites

Don’t open suspicious-looking emails or click on links for unfamiliar sites.  If you’re unsure of the link, ‘Google’ it first.  Usually secure, legitimate websites rank higher in search results and include extra links, ratings, maps and hours for their site or business.

Bonus TipIf your inbox is flooded with promotional emails, unsubscribe from some of them. This will help you spot the truly bad apples in all that mail. 

Use (Multi) Two-Factor Identification

The extra log-in step will help ward off scammers and add another layer of security to your accounts. 

Bonus TipNever elect to have a device “remember your password” for a site that involves payments of any kind.

Avoid Public Wi-Fi

Public Wi-Fi is a great hunting ground for thieves; steer clear if you can.  At the very least, avoid all online banking or password logins while using public Wi-Fi.

Bonus Tip:  Secure your own home Wi-Fi with a strong password.

Share this infographics with friends!

7 Ways to Avoid Identity Theft

 

Take fraud protection into your own hands!  When debit cards aren’t in use, especially if you don’t have any plans to use them for a few days, remotely disable them.  MembersFirst members, you can temporarily turn access to your cards on and off by simply logging into our mobile app, selecting Remote Control Cards from the menu, choosing the card(s) you want to temporarily deactivate, tapping ‘disable’–and you’re done.  When you’re ready to use them again, just log in and tap ‘active’.

As always,  if you think you’ve fallen victim to identity fraud, you should alert us and any other financial institution you work with immediately to avoid as much financial backlash as possible.

Your turn!  How many of these actions have you then to secure your personal and financial information?  Comment below.

5 Cringe-Worthy Credit Mistakes

Man cringing over credit card mistakes

You don’t need a special news alert to know…

…we’re all human.

Being human means we’re all bound to make a mistake or two when it comes to making credit decisions. Here are 5 of the most common credit card mistakes. See how many you’ve evaded.

Applying for every credit card under the sun (and being approved). Having a little buying power is great, but too much power can lead to a mountain of available credit and plenty of potential to begin mounting debt. This looks risky to a lender. Stick with one or two and be sure they’re the best card you can carry.

Misplacing your magnifying glass—you really do need to read the fine print. Within that tiny print lies the answer to whether you’ll be paying more to have that credit card in your wallet and how long. Do your homework–there are plenty of companies out there with annual fees, short introductory rate periods, difficult repayment terms, fees to transfer balances and more.

How does your card rate? Low, we hope. When applying for a credit card, you probably didn’t opt to be tied for life to its balance. Not shopping for the best rate can mean paying down a balance for much longer than you might realize. Save yourself some time, money and stress and search for the best rate you can get. The lower the rate, the faster the balance will be paid off.

Don’t listen to mom—less isn’t always more. When it comes to paying off high-interest credit cards, making the minimum payments may seem innocent enough, but it leads to bloated balances. To keep balances low and easy to maintain, don’t charge more than you can pay off within a month or two and be sure to make more than the minimum payment. Your future self will thank you.

Fashionably late or just bad credit karma? Though there isn’t a specific formula to follow for A+ credit, one thing’s for sure: making your payments on time, every time, is the best thing you can do to keep your credit score up. Be the life of your own credit party—be fashionably on time with your payments.

When you’re ready to begin building your own credit or make the switch to a card that’s in your best interest, look to MembersFirst to provide a reasonable solution to your credit needs (even for those who’ve thought ‘guilty’ after each of the 5 cringe-worthy mistakes above.) Visit membersfirstga.com for a list of solutions and details on our various credit card programs and promotions for anyone, at any age and any stage.

5 Car Finance Gimmicks and Tricks to Beware Of

Auto Loans — the offers are everywhere.  Some are greater than others while others just seem like a great deal, but are they really?

“0% for 6 months!” “No payments for 90 days!” “Cash back up to $3000!” “We’ll give you more for your trade!”

How do you know which great deal is really, well…a great deal?

While some could prove to work in your favor, here are a few auto finance gimmicks and deals to be mindful of.

  1. Too-Good-To-Be-True advertised discounts and rates.  Not all dealers are created equal.  Some use lower-than-usual rates and price discounts to draw buyers in.  The deal could be on one particular vehicle that may or may not still be available.  Be sure to get all the details before sitting down in a finance chair.
  2. Don’t be bullied by special discounts and offer time limits.  If you’ve been quoted a price with a substantial discount which also comes with a fast-approaching expiration date, don’t feel you need to make a hasty decision without time to consider.  The expiration date of a promotion should be clear and upfront and shouldn’t make you feel rushed into making a decision to buy.
  3. Focusing on the payment vs. the purchase price and terms.  While it’s important to make sure your payment falls within your means, don’t get caught up in what you would prefer to pay each month and neglect the details of the purchase price and finance terms.  Paying less each month, but stretching the terms longer to afford a higher-priced vehicle could prove to cost a lot more in the long-run.
  4. Substantial offers to pay off your trade.  You know what your trade is worth—so does the dealer.  If you’re offered much more than your trade is typically worth, be sure the overage hasn’t been retrofit into the finance side of the deal.  Traditionally, less is offered for your trade than its worth, so research the value before signing on the dotted line.
  5. Offers of 0% vs. Cash Back.  One way or another, a lender is going to profit from the sale of a vehicle.  0% offers usually work for the dealer by increasing the sales price of a vehicle.  Cash back deals are usually contingent upon the rate you pay or the price of the vehicle—sometimes both.  Give a good look to the fine print of these deals and consider traditional pricing and financing before these.

Get a quote from your credit union before finalizing a loan with a dealer.  Your credit union is here for you with one goal – to help you afford life.  It doesn’t matter where you find the car you choose (we do have some great friends at local dealers as well!), we will always check the values against the asking price, we’ll always give you a fair rate and we will ask for a copy of the vehicle title to avoid unnecessary hassle when it comes time to register your vehicle. Our GAP and Warranty programs are very affordable and save you from hidden dealer fees. You can protect your family and yourself in the event of unfortunate circumstances with our Optional Credit Life or Credit Disability Protection.  We share a financial relationship built on trust and value your membership as we work to fit your needs. You’ll always see the terms and conditions of our offers up front and receive fair pricing and rates on all the products and services we offer. With that in mind, you can feel comforted knowing an auto loan through MembersFirst is a great decision.

Ready to purchase your next vehicle?  Check with us first!  We have loan programs for everyone, in every stage of life.  Whether you’re just starting out on your journey to build credit, doing just fine or need a fresh start, look to MembersFirst!  Visit membersfirstga.com, give us a call at 404-978-0080 or stop by your local office to get the process started today. 

And, if you’re ready to start looking for a fantastic car, take a look at some of the services offered through MembersFirst:

Member Showroom:  A Car-Buying Service, Powered by TRUECar
Enterprise Car Sales:  A great pre-owned car-buying experience in your area

Goal Diggers: This one’s for you.

email header image hands on wheel splash logo color cropped

We talk often about that stress-inducing ‘B’ word (budgeting…), but why do we concern ourselves with building a basic budget and focusing on putting money in savings anyway?

One word.  GOALS.

Whether you’ve never given it much thought or voiced yours aloud, to your spouse, your mom or even to your barista, we all have financial goals.  Much like snowflakes, no two goals are exactly alike.  Your version of financial freedom may be freeing yourself from credit card debt while your BFF’s view could be paying cash for their next vehicle.

Regardless, you can’t quite get to the point of knowing how to get somewhere without defining where you’re going.  So, let’s take a moment to think on that topic:

“What do I want?”

Before the panic sets in as you realize you’re not quite sure what you want or maybe you feel you want too much and none of it feels attainable–we have good news.  Here’s a simple goal setting worksheet that helps you get it all down on paper and even helps you define the ‘why’ of it as well as suggests some next steps for tracking and rewarding.

Goal Setting Worksheet Preview
Goal Setting Worksheet

A few things to keep in mind when setting your financial goals.

1.  No goal is too small.  Believe it or not, your small goals help you build toward your larger goals anyway, so think small as much as you’d like.  Essentially, you’re testing the waters with a small goal so you can see and feel how the process works.  You’ll soon see how each of the saving/spending choices you’re making become easier.

2.  How do you eat an entire cake?  Bite by bite.  Yes, we threw a cliché out there (kinda).  But, it’s true… don’t become overwhelmed with the magnitude of your financial big picture.  Just like anyone else, you’ll be breaking each goal down into bite-size pieces that make sense for you.  Eventually, you’ll see it all coming together.  For some, that’s major motivation to keep pushing themselves to take more bites, or steps, toward their bigger goals.

3.  The only mistake is not starting to begin with.  You really only have two choices when it comes to reaching goals:  you can choose to work toward reaching them or choose to do nothing.  Even if you jot down your goals on scrap paper (note napkins count, too) and get started with a burst of enthusiasm and motivation then fall off the bandwagon (oops, another cliché) a quarter of the way through, well, at least you started.  Just don’t forget to restart.  You may have to pick yourself up and reassess, but you’re already miles ahead.  The bottom line is… it’s ok to mess up every now and then.

4.  Be lazy.  Yep.  Be lazy.  Make reaching your goals as easy on yourself as possible.  Use the tools available to you to make transitioning from a not-so-savvy to a super-savvy-saver simple.  Once you’ve set a budget to determine the amount you can comfortably save, go ahead and set up an automatic transfer to savings.  Or, even better, set up a payroll deduction from your paycheck to savings.  If you don’t see the cash entering and leaving your checking account, you’ll miss it less (if at all).

5.  See it and believe it.  For the visually inclined, personal vision boardsor tools which use images to help you better define and focus on a specific goal, are growing in popularity.  You can make yours as detailed or simplified as you’d like to help you stay on top of your goals.  For instance, if saving enough money to pay for your child’s future education is part of your plan, you may have photos of your child, images of colleges, books or school logos, along with inspirational quotes about growing up pinned, stapled, taped or glued to a poster board, corkboard or even a blank wall in your home.  Each time you pass these vision boards, they help you remember why you do what you do each day, especially when having to make a tough financial decision.

Gather your own inspiration from our “Vision Board” on Pinterest here.

6.  My goal is (not) better than your goal.  Who’s to say your financial goals are less important or exciting than anyone else’s.  You do you.  You know what works for you.  You know what’s most important to you.  Don’t worry if it seems your ideas of financial soundness aren’t aligning with your peers’; not everyone wants the same things.  In the end, what matters is you’re happy with your outcome.

Talk to us.

If you need a little push in the right direction, let’s talk.  You can drop by and talk with one of our Member Advisors a little bit about your goals, find out which tools you can use to make it easy on yourself and get a little guidance on where your focus should be.

And don’t forget that ‘note napkin’ or your Goal Setting Worksheet.  When someone asks you what your goals are and why, you’ll be ready to talk it through with them and work up a plan that best fits your budget and means.

Good luck, Goal Digger.

Download the Goal Setting Worksheet.