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Dreaming of owning a home? It can be a great goal – a space that you can call your own, where you can paint a room without having to answer to your landlord. To turn your dream into reality, you have to save up. It can be hard to know where to begin.

With average home values on the rise, saving money to buy a house can be a daunting task. Depending on your timeframe for when you’d like to buy, the sooner you can start saving, the better. Consider these 4 questions as you start the journey to homeownership:

#1: How Much House Can I Afford?

If you’re just starting to research homeownership, that might sound like a funny question. But it’s an important one to determine. The typical standard down payment is still considered to be 20%, although there are alternatives that will allow you to put as little as 3% down if you’re eligible. If you don’t have a ballpark estimate on what you can afford, it’s going to be pretty difficult to determine how much your down payment should be, whether it’s 3% or 20%.

Even if you’re just starting to think about buying a home, consider sitting down with a mortgage specialist at your local bank branch. They can help you look at your income to determine what future monthly payments you could afford, and let you know about the other costs associated with buying a home, like closing costs, insurance and legal fees. They can also provide insight into what a mortgage lender looks for, so you can work towards making sure your finances are in order before you apply for a loan.

Learn more about purchasing a home for the first time.

#2: How Much Money Should I Put Down on a House?

The old rule of thumb for a down payment is 20% of the purchase price of the house. Depending on your financial situation, this could still be a great goal and can lower your monthly payments over the lifetime of your mortgage. But saving the full 20% can be time-consuming, and for any number of reasons you may want to move into a house sooner. Particularly if you’re still paying off student loans, the whole mortgage application process can feel overwhelming.

Thankfully, there are a variety of mortgage options that can lower the initial down payment on a house.* Consider the Santander Home Ownership Made Easy (H.O.M.E.) program as an alternative to the traditional down payment. If you qualify, you may be able to pay as little as 3% for a down payment. You can also consider an 80-10-10 Combination Loan, which lets you pay as little as 10.01% down and converts the remaining 9.99% as a Home Equity Line of Credit.

#3: How Can I Save More?

If you don’t have a budget set and aren’t using automatic savings, now is the time to get started. While a good budget is a healthy part of any financial plan, if you’ve determined how much to save for a down payment, it can help you figure out how quickly you can meet your homeownership goals. Plus, if you’re hoping to shorten the timeline, you can look for areas in your budget to trim.

If you’re serious about saving money to buy a house, you’ll have to stop splurging that tax return money. Make sure to contribute any supplemental or unexpected income, like seasonal bonuses or tax returns, directly to your home savings. If you get a raise at work, a great way to save more is to put your increased income directly into savings rather than dividing it across your budget. The small stuff counts too – if you’re still getting birthday money from Grandma, put it in your account.

#4: Are My Savings Earning at Their Full Potential?

Saving your money is great, but how much interest are you currently earning? If the money you’re setting aside is going into a basic savings account, you could be missing out. Since you’ll be accumulating a larger amount of money over time, you might want to consider a savings account that could have a higher yield, like a money market account.

No matter what your journey is towards saving money for a house, Santander Bank is committed to supporting first-time home buyers. Contact a mortgage specialist in your area to discuss your options for buying a home.

* All loans subject to approval.
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