Is a down payment assistance loan a good idea?

House on mortgage

Q. I am a first-time home buyer and am considering getting government down payment assistance with as much as $50,000 at 3% simple interest that would become a silent second mortgage to be paid back later on. Is this a good idea for me?

A. This may sound like a great deal, but we have real reservations about anyone doing 100% financing in a market where prices are falling -- and that's almost everywhere. You could be upside down on your loan within a few months.

This is how it works. Say you have a $150,000 mortgage and a $50,000 second mortgage to buy a $200,000 house, and by the end of the year, your house is worth only $180,000. You can't sell or refinance without coming up with the difference plus the cost of a sale or refinance. This is a problem that hundreds of thousands of homeowners are facing right now.

You might be thinking, "I'm not planning on moving for 20 years, so that doesn't matter." But things change, especially in these tough economic times -- a job transfer or the loss of a job, an accident or serious illness, a death in the family. It's not worth taking the chance.

That said, we would need more details regarding the program that you are looking at before deciding whether or not it's a good deal. But honestly, we can't advise anyone to get 100% financing the way the housing market has been. Better to wait a couple of years until prices stabilize.

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