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Paying rent and saving money for a down payment on a house can be challenging, especially if you have a relatively low income, high rent, credit card bills or an auto or student loan. Some mortgage programs allow down payments far below the traditional 20%. If you’re not sure if you should buy a house as soon as possible or wait and keep saving for a down payment, consider these factors.

How Much Have You Already Saved?
Putting down 20% will help you avoid private mortgage insurance. If you put down less and have to purchase PMI, that may add thousands of dollars per year to your total housing costs.

If you’re close to 20%, you may be able to get there fairly quickly by taking on a side gig, cutting back on non-essential expenses, selling things you no longer use or asking relatives to give you money for a down payment as a gift. If you’re not even close to being able to make a 20% down payment, consider the local housing market.

In some places, housing prices are high and keep climbing. It may take you several years, or even a decade, to save up 20% and avoid PMI. In the meantime, you will have to keep paying rent instead of building home equity. Making a small down payment and paying for PMI may make sense if it allows you to start building home equity soon.

How Much Can You Afford to Pay for Housing?
Think not only about mortgage payments, but also about PMI, homeowners insurance, homeowners association fees, repairs and maintenance. Compare that to what you’re currently paying in rent. In some areas, the cost of homeownership can make it seem out of reach. In other places, owning a house is less expensive than renting. 

If buying a house would cost less than renting, it makes sense to purchase a home now, even if you can only put a small amount down and will have to pay for PMI. You may save a bundle in the long run.

If you can pay a substantial amount for housing, but you can’t afford to buy a house in your current city, you may want to consider purchasing a home somewhere in the surrounding area. That may allow you to achieve your dream of being a homeowner now and still make it possible to commute to your job.

What Does the Housing Market Look Like?
Real estate is heavily dependent on local factors, such as employment rates, wages and taxes. Some areas are in a buyer’s market with more homes available than interested buyers and relatively low prices. If your area is in a buyer’s market right now, you may be able to find a house at a bargain. In a seller’s market, however, home prices may be high because there are more interested buyers than houses for sale, making it difficult for you to buy a home. 

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