If you’re renting, but dream of owning a place of your own, you’re not alone. Only one in 10 people who rent said they prefer renting over owning, according to a survey by financial services company Wells Fargo. Two-thirds of those surveyed view home ownership as an accomplishment to be proud of or a dream come true. However, many say that the biggest barrier to achieving that dream is having enough money for a down payment.
“We find that many consumers overestimate the down payment needed to buy a home,” said Kenny Harmer, a regional sales manager for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. “A 20 percent down payment is not always required. In fact, options may be available with down payments as low as 3 percent or 3.5 percent for different loan programs.”
The first step in saving for a down payment is figuring out how much you need to save, based on how much home you can afford and which loan programs you’re eligible for. Then you can take these 20 steps to reach that savings goal to buy a home.
1. Pay Down Credit Card Debt
“If you’re carrying credit card debt, you probably want to attack that first before thinking about saving,” said Jason van den Brand, CEO of online mortgage refinancing company Lenda. This might seem counterintuitive when your goal is to boost your savings, but there are two big benefits to tackling high-interest debt.
First, the payoff for eliminating credit card debt with a double-digit interest rate is much higher than the return you’d get from putting your money into a savings account — about 1 percent, at best, van den Brand said. Once your debt is paid off, you’ll have a lot more money freed up in your budget to set aside for a down payment.
Second, paying down your debt will improve your chances of getting a mortgage because it can boost your credit score and lower your debt-to-income ratio, which van den Brand said are big factors lenders consider when deciding whether you qualify for a loan.
2. Save Your Raise
If you get a pay raise, don’t consider it a license to spend more. Instead, have the extra amount automatically deposited into savings each month and continue living on your old income level. For example, if you earn $40,000 annually and get a 3 percent raise (the average for 2016), you’d have $1,200 in “extra” income that you could save.
If you’ve been with your employer for a while and think you deserve an even bigger raise, ask for it. Making more money is one of the key ways to boost your savings for a down payment, van den Brand said. Prepare yourself before asking for a raise by checking websites such as Salary.com and Payscale.com to see what others in similar positions are earning. Then, make a list of what you’ve contributed to the company to bolster your case for higher pay.
3. Stash Your Tax Refund
Most taxpayers get a tax refund from the federal government, and the average amount has been around $2,800 or so for the past several years, according to IRS data. So if you’re getting a check from Uncle Sam this year, resist the urge to spend it. Instead, take advantage of this quick and easy source of cash to boost your savings.
4. Keep More of Your Paycheck
If you usually get a big refund each spring, that means you’re letting the IRS hang on to too much of your paycheck during the year, interest-free. You can keep that money and put it into a savings account, where it can earn interest, by adjusting your tax withholding. You’d boost your paycheck by about $230 a month if you get the average refund of $2,800.
File a new W-4 form with your employer to claim additional allowances and get less tax withheld. IRS.gov has a withholding calculator you can use to figure out how many allowances to claim.
5. Get a Roommate
Another way to boost your income so you can increase your savings is to get a roommate. Paula Paquin, a personal finance expert and founder of ReachFinancialIndependence.com, said she took in a couple of roommates when she was saving for a house.
“It was either this, or moving to a smaller rented place and saving the difference,” she said. “At $500 a month, the sacrifice was well worth it.”
6. Rent Out Your Apartment on Airbnb
If you often travel for work, let your apartment earn money for you when you’re not at home by renting it out on Airbnb. The amount you earn will depend on where you live and how often you can rent your space. But it can be an easy way to add more money to your down payment savings.
Download the Airbnb app, snap a few pictures of your space, then set a price and list it for free. You pay a 3 percent service fee when you confirm a reservation.
7. Pick Up a Side Gig
Getting a second job, doing freelance work or picking up a side gig — then stashing all the extra cash you earn into savings — can help you boost your down payment pot of cash. Van den Brand said that his wife makes an extra $600 a week tutoring.
There are plenty of ways you can earn extra cash — from house-sitting to being a mystery shopper. You can also boost your income from the comfort of your apartment with these 30 ways to make money online.
8. Reshop Your Insurance
As you look to cut expenses to boost your savings, van den Brand recommended starting with your highest monthly costs, such as your auto insurance. You can quickly call around to shop for lower rates, or call your insurer to ask for a lower rate, he said. You can also compare quotes from several insurers in a matter of minutes by visiting sites such as InsuranceQuotes.com, CarInsurance.com and TheZebra.com.
On average, TheZebra.com users save 30 percent to 40 percent of what they are currently paying by reshopping their policies, said Joshua Dziabiak, chief operating officer of The Zebra. In states like Florida and Michigan, where premiums are high, this could mean an annual savings of $1,500 to $2,000.
9. Ditch Cable TV
Despite the increasing popularity of free and inexpensive video streaming services, 83 percent of households still subscribe to a pay-TV service, according to research from Leichtman Research Group. They're spending an average amount of $99 a month.
If you cut the cable cord, you could add about $1,200 a year to your down payment savings account. You still can get your TV and movie fix by picking up free DVDs at the public library, or watching shows and movies on Crackle.com, Hulu.com or even the major network’s websites.
10. Scale Back Your Vices
Dining out, shopping, visiting the coffee shop and indulging in other unnecessary expenses less frequently can save you hundreds or thousands of dollars a year, said Harrine Freeman, a financial expert and CEO of H.E. Freeman Enterprises.
Just eliminating even one vice, such as drinking, could mean big savings. Consumers spend an average of $445 a year on alcoholic beverages, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So skip happy hour and remind yourself that the money you’re saving could mean sipping a glass of wine in your own home soon.
11. Automate Your Savings
If you lack the discipline to save, mobile apps can make it easier. For example, Digit is a free online service and app that links to your checking account and analyzes your income and spending habits to figure out how much you can set aside in savings. The service then automatically puts that money into savings for you. The Digit savings account does not earn interest, though, so you’ll want to move the money into an interest-bearing account.
12. Reap Credit Card Rewards
If you have a rewards credit card that lets you earn cash back on purchases, make the most of this perk by paying all of your bills with that card, said credit coach Jeanne Kelly. You also could charge necessary expenses, such as groceries and gas, to your card. Of course, you have to pay off the balance each month to avoid racking up interest charges.
If you charge $1,000 a month and earn the standard 2 percent cash back on purchases, you could have an extra $240 to put into your down payment savings just by using a rewards card to pay for everyday purchases.
13. Drop Your Gym Membership
You don’t have to pay for a pricey gym membership to stay fit. If you’re trying to save for a down payment, Mortgages.com editor Anne Postic recommended exercising at home or going on walks with friends. Canceling your gym membership could add hundreds of dollars a year to your down payment savings, she said.
14. Eliminate Checking Account Fees
If your bank charges a monthly maintenance fee on your checking account, then you should consider switching to a no-fee account. Then you could add the amount you’re saving to a no-fee savings account.
The average monthly fee for the most basic checking account is $4.75 a month, and the median fee is $5, according to a GOBankingRates survey. Consider these 10 checking accounts and 10 savings accounts that don’t charge a monthly fee.
15. Cut the Cost of Commuting
Transportation is the second biggest expense for consumers after housing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For the past several years, consumers have spent an average of about $9,000 annually on transportation.
Jess Beyer, an office administrator for a law firm, said that she negotiated with her employer to work from home two days a week to lower her transportation costs and boost her savings for a down payment. You could also cut costs by organizing an office carpool, taking public transportation or walking to work.
16. Lower Your Cellphone Costs
There are several ways to slash your monthly wireless bill so that you can increase your savings for a down payment. For starters, switch to a smaller carrier that offers more competitive pricing than the major carriers — if you’re not locked into a contract.
For example, you’ll pay just $45 a month for unlimited talk, text and 5 GB of high-speed data with Straight Talk Wireless. You’ll pay at least $20 more for a similar plan with AT&T or Verizon.
Another option is to lower the amount of data you’re using. You could save $15 to $35 a month by opting for the lowest data plan your carrier offers, according to PCWorld.
17. Stop Spending on Home Décor
Whatever you're spending to spruce up your apartment, stop now, Postic of Mortgages.com said. “You'll want new things in your new home, so every time you're tempted buy a throw pillow, a new grill or even a bath mat, put that money into your down payment savings account instead,” she said.
18. Live On Half of Your Paycheck
”You can take the extreme approach to saving and force yourself to live on 50 percent of your paycheck,” van den Brand said. He once had a roommate who did this and ate nothing but ramen noodles for a while.
You likely won’t have to live like this for too long to reach your savings goal. “You’d be surprised how quick it adds up,” van den Brand said.
19. Sublease Your Apartment
If your rent is high, but you can’t move to a lower-cost place because you’re stuck in a lease, sublet your apartment if it’s allowed.
“This could help you avoid major fees attached with breaking your lease, which is usually an entire month’s rent and can be a major stumbling block when trying to save for a down payment,” said Robert Palmer, a financial expert and host of the Saving Thousands radio show. To benefit from the difference in rent you’re paying, have that amount automatically deposited into savings each month.
20. Move Back Home
You can stop renting altogether and move back in with your parents if you live in the same town — and if they agree to it. Your down payment stash will grow quickly if you funnel the amount you usually pay toward rent each month to your savings account.
To avoid conflict, agree to a time limit for living at home before you move back in. And don’t freeload entirely. Offer to help pay for groceries, utilities or services such as the internet that you might take advantage of while living with Mom and Dad.