A 20% home down payment isn’t ‘the law of the land,’ analyst says. Here’s how much people are paying

Real Estate

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Consumers are putting down more money to buy a home — but the typical down payment is still much less than you might expect.

The average down payment was 13.6% in the first quarter of 2024, according to a new report by Realtor.com. The median down payment amount was $26,000.

Both figures are up year over year, but down from peaks in the third quarter of 2023. At that point, buyers put down the average 14.7%, or a median $30,400.

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Even at recent elevated levels, the average down payment is still well below 20%, a share that people typically think of as the gold standard when buying a home.

That’s okay, experts say.

There are a lot of reasons why people have gravitated toward the idea of putting 20% down, like trying to avoid mortgage insurance or lessen monthly payments, said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate.com: “But by no means is this essentially the law of the land.”

Putting 20% down is ‘definitely not required’

One way to reduce your monthly mortgage payment is by putting down more money and borrowing less. But for many households, trying to get a higher down payment can be challenging, said Danielle Hale, chief economist at Realtor.com.

“It really showcases the conundrum the housing market is in where there’s not a lot of affordability,” she said.

Having enough savings for a down payment is a big hurdle for most buyers. Close to 40% of Americans who don’t own a house point to a lack of savings for a down payment as a reason, according to a CNBC Your Money Survey conducted by SurveyMonkey. (More than 4,300 adults in the U.S. were surveyed in late August for the report.)

And rising home prices make that especially daunting. But the reality is, you don’t need 20%, experts say.

“Not only is it possible to buy a home with less than 20% down, but this data show that a majority of buyers are in fact doing so,” Hale said. “It’s definitely not required.”

Nationally, the average down payment on a house is closer to 10% and 15%; in some states, the average is well below 20% while some are even below 10%, she said.

Some loans and programs available help interest buyers purchase homes through lower down payments.

For example, the Department of Veterans Affairs offers VA loan programs that enable those who qualify to put down as little as 0%. Loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or referred as USDA loans, are geared to helping buyers purchase homes in more rural areas and they also offer 0% down payment options.

Federal Housing Association loans, which can require as little as 3.5% down for qualifying borrowers, are available to first-time buyers, low- and moderate-income buyers, as well as buyers from minority groups. Those are “designed to help close homeownership gaps among those targeted populations,” Hale said.

Even with a conventional loan, buyers’ required down payment could be just 3% to 5%, depending on their credit score and other factors.

“There are options,” she said.

A small down payment can be a ‘mixed bag’

When you’re deciding how much of a down payment you can afford, tread carefully: There can be added costs associated with smaller upfront payments. While a lower down payment is one way to “attack affordability challenges,” it can be a “mixed bag,” Hamrick said.

With a lower down payment, you will need to borrow more from your lender, which raises the monthly cost of your mortgage, Hale said. A smaller down payment can also mean you don’t qualify for a lender’s best -available interest rate.

When you borrow more than 80% of a home’s value, you may also face the added cost of private mortgage insurance.

PMI can cost from 0.5% to 1.5% of the loan amount per year, depending on factors like your credit score and down payment amount, according to The Mortgage Reports.

For example, on a loan for $300,000, mortgage insurance premiums could cost around $1,500 to $4,500 annually, or $125 to $375 a month, the site found.

Typically, your lender will cancel your mortgage insurance automatically once you reach 22% equity. You can request it be removed after you reach 20% equity.

In some cases, buyers might choose to do what’s called a “piggyback mortgage,” or get a second mortgage to meet the 20% threshold and not have to pay for a mortgage insurance, Hale said.

But, that second loan tends to have a higher mortgage rate, she said.

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