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“Buying makes more sense than renting.”
Chances are you’ve heard that advice before. It’s right up there with “start an emergency fund” and “don’t go into credit card debt” in the annals of classic personal finance counsel.
But just because buying a home is a better money move than renting one doesn’t make coming up with a five-figure down payment any easier. (And by the way, it’s not always that cut and dried. In some cases, renting is actually cheaper.)
Even with the fairly generous terms of loans aimed at first-time home buyers, saving up the cash for a down payment can be a serious challenge, especially if you’ve got other fiscal responsibilities to consider. Like student loan debt. Or your car payment. Or, you know, actually feeding and clothing your children.
But if your heart’s set on home ownership, there is one program you may not have considered yet — and if you qualify, it could mean free money.
I don’t know about you, but offers of free money always raise my eyebrows. That whole “no free lunch” thing is a cliche because it tends to be true.
But as it turns out, there are certain programs and nonprofits that offer down payment assistance — including grants that don’t require repayment. And one of the nation’s largest banks is working to help you access that cash.
Wells Fargo has partnered with NeighborWorks America and local nonprofits to develop the NeighborhoodLIFT program, which offers financial instruction and down payment assistance to prospective home buyers in certain markets. Depending on your area, you might have access to educational events or the opportunity to apply directly for a grant.
Along with helping you understand and apply for down payment assistance programs in your area, NeighborhoodLIFT’s free educational events provide useful information about homeownership in general, including a step-by-step overview of the home-buying process and tips to evaluate whether or not you’re actually ready to purchase. They even offer free activities to keep the kids entertained while you’re at it.
And in certain cities, NeighborhoodLIFT has partnered with local nonprofits to create their very own grant programs.
Either way, it’s an opportunity worth looking into if it’s available in your area.
Anyone can attend a NeighborLIFT event to learn more about home buying, but qualifying for a down payment grant depends on a variety of factors, including your income level and the price of your prospective housing. The specifics vary by market and are given to change, so be sure to check the website for the latest.
Here are a few of the markets currently offering NeighborhoodLIFT grants to qualified buyers. (You can also contact your local Wells Fargo representative at (866) 858-2151 to learn about available opportunities near you):
Although the list of participating areas is fairly limited at this point, it could expand in the future. Wells Fargo also offers a helpful online educational resource called My FirstHome, which is a great place to start if you’re still waiting for your city to appear on this list.
Also to note: Each grant opportunity may offer special benefits to military members, veterans, police officers, teachers, firefighters, and emergency technicians; full details are linked off each individual NeighborhoodLIFT grant page.
Even if NeighborhoodLIFT isn’t operating in your area, there may be other nonprofits and programs offering down payment assistance grants. Reaching out to your local housing authority is the best way to learn about all the available options.
If you’d consider purchasing property in a rural area, you may qualify for a USDA loan. You don’t have to be a first-time home buyer to qualify, and most of them require only a low (or no!) down payment.
If you’re not in a hurry, you might want to wait until you can skip the mortgage altogether and buy a house in cash — yes, it’s possible, even for young families on a fairly low income.
Finally, don’t forget: There are exceptions to every rule. Depending on your circumstances, it may actually make more financial sense to keep renting, at least for now. Here are some factors to consider if you’re still making up your mind between buying or renting.
Jamie Cattanach (@jamiecattanach) is a writer whose work has been featured at Fodor’s, Yahoo, SELF, Ms. Magazine, the Establishment, Roads & Kingdoms and other outlets.