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Get a Leg Up on Your Down Payment

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Hundreds of years from now, when archaeologists pick through the electronic detritus of the early 21st century, they may unearth financial inventions like piggyback loans and zero-down mortgages and find them charming, even quaint.

While these things haven't totally disappeared, they're definitely on the endangered species list. Although Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) is reportedly trying to gain mortgage market share, tighter mortgage standards are part of what has kept banks like Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC  ) and US Bancorp (NYSE: USB  ) from suffering as much as some other banks. Even borrowers with good credit are finding it hard to buy a home without putting down at least some cash.

This doesn't mean you'll be asked to fork over the traditional 20%, but even a 5% down payment can add up to a lot of cash. That's $10,000 on a $200,000 home, and there are plenty of places where homes don't come that cheap.

If you're a new homebuyer, where can you get that kind of money? Skipping the morning latte and packing your lunch may get you there ... eventually ... but this kind of problem needs a more aggressive plan.

Cut your rent. That big rent payment you make every month may be the hurdle preventing you from achieving the American dream. It's probably your biggest expense. If you can stand to move temporarily into smaller and cheaper quarters -- and bank your resulting savings -- you'll make faster headway toward amassing a down payment.

Sell your toys. Cleaning out the attic and selling your old stuff on eBay probably won't add up to enough, unless you have a diamond tiara or some expensive toy tucked away. But if you're a two-car family that can get away with one vehicle, or if you live someplace with reliable public transportation, selling an extra vehicle may bring in needed cash.

Start small. Even if you dream of owning a vast estate, think about buying something affordable now and make plans to move up. You may achieve your dream faster that way.

Bank windfalls. While you're piling up savings, bank each and every windfall that comes your way -- from the $20 you find in an old jacket pocket to overtime pay and tax refunds. It's money you don't need for everyday expenses, anyway. If you really want to get into a home, you can live without the little luxuries you'd otherwise buy.

Work more. It will put a serious dent in your time, but a second job could be a fast way to build up a down payment. If you don't want to permanently take on a second job, consider occasional contracting, seasonal jobs, or the odd weekend work.

Borrow from yourself. Your retirement funds might hold enough money for you to get into your first home. Tread carefully here, and consider this option only if you're a fastidious retirement saver. In many cases, a first-time homebuyer can withdraw up to $10,000 from an IRA without paying the usual penalties -- although you will have to pay tax on the withdrawal.

Ask for help. Numerous nonprofit groups and state and federal agencies offer down payment assistance programs. Look around, and you might be surprised at what you find.

For more on keeping it together in the struggling economy, read about:

This article, written by Mary Dalrymple, was originally published on Dec. 17, 2007. It has been updated by Dan Caplinger, who doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned. US Bancorp and Bank of America are Motley Fool Income Investor selections. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

The Motley Fool has a roomy disclosure policy.


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