Home Loan Options for Lower-Income Households

You don't have to be wealthy to own a home

Homeownership in the U.S. has always been tied to the American dream—beautiful lawn, white picket fence, and all the accouterments of comfortable living anyone could ever want. Unfortunately, that's an idea that's hard to attain for a large portion of the population.

For people living in a low-income household, it's hard not to feel like you're completely priced out of the housing market. But thanks to some public and private low-income mortgage options, the dream of homeownership doesn't need to feel as out of reach as it may seem. Keep reading to find out more about what options may be available to you to achieve your dream of becoming a homeowner.

Key Takeaways

  • People with low incomes often feel that they can't achieve their dreams of homeownership because of lender and down payment requirements.
  • Agencies like HUD and the FHA have homeownership programs available for low-income households.
  • Your household income level determines whether you can qualify for these loans.
  • Along with federal government programs, state and U.S. territory programs are available that grant loans without a large down payment.
  • It's always a good idea to know whether you qualify as low income before you apply for any state or federal homeownership programs.

Government-Backed Home Loans

The federal government is the largest provider of loans, grants, and other forms of assistance in the country, resulting in a total budget of nearly $6.8 trillion for the 2021 fiscal year. It's in the government's best interest to keep as many of its citizens housed as possible to maintain a happy and healthy workforce. This is why agencies like the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) have programs aimed at helping lower-income households afford homes.

Borrowers that meet certain criteria can seek and obtain government-backed mortgages with varying requirements, down payment minimums, and perks through the following programs. Thanks to the fact that they're backed by the U.S. government, lenders often see these programs as a low-risk investment, leading to better terms and potentially more affordable rates.

FHA Loans

With generally less strict requirements than other government-backed programs, the FHA loan program is designed to help first-time low-income buyers enter the housing market.

To qualify for the program, borrowers should have a median credit score of 580 and be able to afford at least a 3.5% down payment on the home. You can determine your FHA loan limit—which will depend on the county where you plan on making your purchase—by consulting the HUD website.

Regardless of your credit score and available down payment, all borrowers are required to pay the closing costs. These costs, including lender fees, third-party fees, and any prepaid items, can't be financed. Borrowers are also on the hook for annual mortgage insurance premiums.

Good Neighbor Next Door Program

It's sad to say, but many people working in public service careers don't make as much money as you'd think. For example, a high school teacher's base annual salary can start around $38,000 and the average income for firefighters is just over $48,000. Both of those figures would land them in the low-income group, according to most criteria.

Eligible public service employees can purchase a home at 50% off through the Good Neighbor Next Door program, which is provided by HUD. All that's required is that you are currently working as a full-time

  • Pre-K through 12th-grade educator
  • Emergency medical technician
  • Firefighter
  • Law enforcement officer

You should also plan to buy a home in a HUD-designated revitalization area and are willing to commit to living in that home for at least three years.

There is a catch, though. Only one offer is chosen at random even if there is more than one person vying for the same property. A silent second mortgage will also be required for the discount amount, though you won't be making payments and no interest will accrue as long as you stay in that home for the requisite three years.

USDA Section 502 Guaranteed Loan Program

Also known as the Rural Development loan, this option helps prospective low-income homeowners buy a home without making any down payment at all. The major requirement for this loan, however, is that it's only available for certain properties that are located in rural parts of the country.

According to the USDA, eligible applicants can use the loan to purchase, build, rehabilitate, improve, or relocate a dwelling in an eligible rural area with 100% financing. Furthermore, the program guarantees 90% of the loan, so lenders are extremely comfortable knowing there's less risk to approve such a loan without a down payment.

Applicants looking to get into this program cannot exceed 115% of the median household income in the chosen region. They must also agree to personally live in the home as their primary residence and they must be a U.S. citizen, U.S. non-citizen national, or qualified alien.

VA Loans

Veterans, active members, and surviving spouses with a low annual income may be eligible for a VA loan. Provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (previously the Veterans Administration), these loans are designed to connect current or former military personnel with access to loans from private lenders at competitive rates.

If you're obtaining mortgage assistance from the VA, know that there's no requirement for a down payment and the seller can help cover your closing costs. Furthermore, it doesn't require any monthly mortgage insurance.

Eligibility is based on the kind of service and for how long you or your loved one served. If you're currently on active duty or your service was during wartime, you need at least 90 days of experience. If your service was during peacetime, you need 181 or more days. If you were separated from the service, you must have been in the service for 24 months or the full ordered period of the service. And if you were in the National Guard or Reserve, you must have served at least six years.

Although you may qualify for one of the programs listed above, keep in mind that specifics tend to vary for each. As such, you'll want to read up on

States May Offer Assistance

Along with assistance from the federal government, all 50 states and U.S. territories have the capability to provide rental, homeownership, and house buying assistance. Sponsored by your state or local governments, these programs vary on a state-to-state basis.

To find out more about your state's housing assistance programs, including any mortgage loan programs, be sure to check out your state's HUD page. Depending on the state and its resources, assistance may come in the form of down payment assistance, grants, or forgivable loans. Eligibility and requirements may vary depending on the state where you're looking to become a homeowner.

Some programs don't finance loans for investment or mixed-used properties so be sure you're well aware of the rules before you apply.

What Constitutes Low Income?

If you're looking at the current housing market and wondering if you'll be able to afford your first home, or if you're looking to move into a new one, then knowing where your income stands can help you find the right home loan for you. Not only will you then know how much you can afford per month in payments, but you may also be able to take advantage of special loans or programs if you need some additional help.

On a national level, being considered "a low-income household" means that the total income that everyone above the age of 15 in the home earns per year is less than two-thirds of the median income. According to a 2021 report by the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income in 2020 was $67,521. In a 2020 report from the Pew Research Center, lower-income households bring in "less than roughly $40,100."

Though those figures may seem reasonable, the threshold for low-income housing and other programs for low-income households can vary widely from state to state. According to the latest data from HUD, a family of four in New Jersey is considered low income if they bring in $79,900 per year while that same family in Mississippi is considered low income if they earn $48,000 per year.

All of this is to say that the concept of low income is relative. Though your state or the federal government may designate your household as middle class or lower class, a lender might place you somewhere else based on their own set of criteria. As you seek out a low-income loan option, make sure that you actually qualify before applying. Most loan options will specify the maximum amount of money an applying household is able to make if they want to be considered for a loan.

Article Sources
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  2. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. "Let FHA Loans Help You."

  3. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. "Section A. Borrower Eligibility Requirements," Page 4-A-3.

  4. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. "FHA Mortgage Limits."

  5. Salary.com. "High School Teacher."

  6. Salary.com. "Fire Fighter Salary in the United States."

  7. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. "About Good Neighbor Next Door."

  8. United States Department of Agriculture. "Single Family Housing Guaranteed Loan Program."

  9. United States Department of Agriculture. "Rural Housing Services Eligibility Map."

  10. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. "VA Home Loans."

  11. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. "VA Funding Fee and Loan Closing Costs."

  12. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. "Purchase Loan."

  13. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. "VA- Guaranteed Home Loans for Veterans," Page 4-5.

  14. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. "Local Information."

  15. United States Census Bureau. "Income and Poverty in the United States: 2020."

  16. Pew Research Center. "Most Americans Say There Is Too Much Economic Inequality in the U.S., but Fewer Than Half Call It a Top Priority."

  17. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. "FY 2021 Income Limits Documentation System—Summary for New Jersey."

  18. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. "FY 2021 Income Limits Documentation System—Summary for Mississippi."

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