1. Set a specific goal
It’s hard to make a plan of action if you don’t know where you want to go. Look at how much it will cost you to buy a home in 2017. What amount of money do you need to save for that down payment? Your best option is to save at least 20% of a home’s purchase price. This allows you to get better options when it comes to mortgages and interest rates, and it means you avoid the extra cost of PMI (private mortgage insurance).
Once you have the specific target number in mind, you can break it down by month. If you want to save a total of $20,000 before you buy, for example, you need to put away about $1,667 per month to meet your goal at year’s end.
2. Designate a savings account just for your down payment fund
You can stay organized by putting the money you save for this specific purpose into its own savings account. Online banks like Ally or CapitalOne360 offer great options, because they allow you to have multiple accounts that you can designate for specific goals. (CapitalOne360 allows up to 30 accounts without a fee!)
Online banks also tend to offer higher interest rates in the current low-rate environment than traditional, brick-and-mortar banks. But that’s not a hard-and-fast rule. Shop around and look for a bank (or credit union) that offers the best savings account option, with the best interest rate — and don’t settle for an account that charges you fees. There are too many no-fee options available.
3. Create an automatic transfer
You have your specific goal and now you know where you’ll put that money while you save. The next step: Set up an automatic transfer from your checking to that designated savings account. Setting up an automatic transfer is a great way of “paying yourself first.” You prioritize your savings by moving it into the designated account first. This means you won’t be tempted to spend that money like you might if it sat in your checking account for a while before you made the conscious decision, month after month, to transfer it to savings.
It also means you’ll make progress toward your savings goal even if you forget about it one month (or two). An automatic transfer means you won’t fall short of your goal at the end of the year simply because you forgot to move the money to the right savings account.
4. Revise your budget to cut costs
Depending on how much you want to save for a down payment, you may need to move a lot of money from checking to savings each month. This can severely limit your cash flow and leave you short in other areas of your budget. To prevent this, review your budget with your monthly savings goal in mind. Where can you cut costs so you can afford to save this much per month? Start by looking at your discretionary income. You don’t need to eliminate everything, but could you cut back on how much you spend to eat meals out, for example?
Don’t forget to evaluate your bills and living expenses too. While you may not be able to cut these costs entirely, you can take action to reduce them. Call providers and ask about discounts or lower-priced options. Every little bit of expense you can eliminate makes it that much easier to add to your savings so you can stay on target.
5. Allocate extra funds to your home-buying goal
In addition to freeing up money from current costs in your budget, you can allocate any extra money you make to your down payment fund. This can accelerate your progress toward your ultimate savings goal — and even help you exceed it. Put any kind of windfall toward your designated savings account. This could include overtime pay, quarterly or annual bonuses from work, or extra money you make on the side (but be sure to set aside funds to cover taxes on your added income). Allocate at least half of cash gifts to savings too.
6. Resist making massive transfers before you apply for a mortgage
You’ve worked hard to save up the money you need to buy a home in 2017. You know your home-buying budget, you’ve identified a lender, and you’re ready to apply for a mortgage. Now is not the time to do anything drastic with any of your bank accounts. Remember, when you apply for a home loan, the lender will carefully scrutinize all of your financial activity. You’ll need to explain the source of any large transfers and provide documentation for proof.
Talk to your lender about what kind of funds they’ll approve and what cash they won’t allow you to use toward a down payment. Ask what documentation or proof you need for different kinds of transfers. Doing so now will help you prepare to buy a home in 2017 and secure the mortgage you need to help you reach your goal.