6 tips to save for a house

Couple taking a break from unpacking boxes, sitting on a bed on the floorImage: Couple taking a break from unpacking boxes, sitting on a bed on the floor

In a Nutshell

Buying a home typically requires a healthy amount of savings for a down payment, closing costs and any repairs that might be needed before you move in. But building a healthy cash reserve is tough if your budget is already stretched thin. Here are some of the best ways to grow your home savings and buy a house sooner rather than later.
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Buying a home is one of life’s biggest milestones for countless Americans, and the largest purchase many will ever make.

For most mortgages, you’ll have to put at least some money down, and that’s not the only thing you should save for: There are also closing costs, property taxes, and ongoing repairs and maintenance. That’s a lot to take on, and it makes sense to take a few years to save up before you can buy a home. That may seem like a long time, but don’t worry — there are a few ways to speed it up.

And while it’s tricky to amass thousands of dollars for a down payment when you’re already stretched to the max with expenses like rent, utilities, student and/or auto loans, transportation and possibly childcare, it is possible.

If you’re hoping to be a homeowner in the future, here are our best tips for how to save for a house.

1. Determine how much you need

You need a 20% down payment to buy a house, right? Not necessarily — many banks now offer conventional mortgage loans with down payments as low as 3%. There are also government-backed mortgages like FHA loans, which allow down payments starting at 3.5%, and VA loans and USDA loans, which may require no down payment at all. Depending on the loan, you may have to pay for mortgage insurance, but you may decide this is a worthwhile trade-off if it gets you into a home sooner. Meet with a mortgage loan officer to determine what types of loans you could qualify for, how much house you can afford and how much of a down payment you’d need. That will inform how much you need to save, and who knows — it may be a lot less than you think!

2. Get your debt under control

Carrying a lot of debt makes it more difficult to save for a house, since a chunk of your income goes toward repayments. That debt load can also make it more difficult to qualify for a mortgage. If you have debt, do whatever you can to reduce it. If you have student loans with high interest rates, consider refinancing them to lower your payments. If you have high-interest credit card debt, pay off as much as you can and consider transferring your balance to a low-interest card.

3. Put retirement savings on temporary hold

Caveat: This might not be advisable if you’re close to retirement. But if you’re young and actively contribute a percentage of your income to a retirement plan, like a 401(k) or IRA, consider temporarily diverting that money to down payment savings. This should only be short term, but it can make a big difference in how quickly you can save for a house, especially if you currently put a sizeable chunk of every paycheck into a retirement account.

4. Use technology to make saving less painful

Cutting back and setting aside money is obviously important if you want to save up for a house, but taking a portion out of each paycheck can feel like it’s cramping your style. If that’s the case, try an app like Digit, which uses technology to automatically save a daily amount small enough that you won’t notice it or hurt your budget. There’s also Acorns, which rounds up your purchases to the nearest dollar and puts the difference in an investment account. Your spare change can add up quickly over time, and you can also make one-off deposits whenever you’re able to.

5. Ask for gift money

When your family asks what you want for your birthday, Christmas or Hanukkah, anniversary or any other special occasion, tell them you’d love to forgo tangible items and instead receive gift money that you can put toward a house down payment. While not everyone may oblige, some of your relatives may enjoy knowing they’re helping you attain your dream of homeownership.

6. Get a side gig

With the gig economy continuing to expand, there are ways to make a quick buck to help boost your down payment savings. Consider spending a few hours a week driving for a rideshare service, shopping or delivering meals for an online delivery service, walking dogs, pet sitting, charging self-service scooters … you get the idea. Thanks to technology, there is an ever-increasing number of freelance opportunities like these that require very few qualifications and make it easy to earn extra cash you can put away for a home.

Mortgage rates where you live

Mortgage or refinance rates depend on different factors, including where you live. To better understand what rates you may qualify for, including what the average mortgage or refinance rate is in your area, take a look at Credit Karma’s marketplaces for mortgage rates and mortgage refinance rates.

About the author: Emily Starbuck Gerson is a full-time freelance writer in San Antonio who’s been covering personal finance since 2007. She has written for numerous national publications and enjoys helping people make better decisions … Read more.