Buying a home this year? There’s help available

Lower or eliminate your down payment, or cut your mortgage in half with these programs for first responders


First responders face fast-paced changes in demand, best practices and training, and mental and physical stress that leads to health problems and burnout.

Without a thriving wage, too often, fire, EMS and law enforcement personnel are facing financial pressure as well.

A 2021 EMS1 survey found more than half of respondents in EMS work more than one job. Of the more than 900 respondents, 63% reported working more than 50 hours a week, with 21% working more than 70 hours a week.  

"You have plenty of challenges and responsibilities as a first responder; hopefully one of these mortgage programs can make the home buying process a little easier." (Photo/Getty Images)

Fortunately, there are mortgage programs that may help lessen first responders’ financial worries.

Mortgage programs for first responders

First responders may apply for various mortgage plans that provide state, local and government homeownership benefits.

Following are some of the programs available to help first responders finance a home purchase.

FHA Mortgage Program

The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) provides easy-to-qualify government-insured loans.

These loans are popular especially among first-time homebuyers because of the program’s flexible down payment plans and relaxed credit score requirements.

First responders who qualify for this plan may be allowed to place a minimum down payment as low as 3.5%.

If you are thinking of qualifying for an FHA loan, this option may fit your requirements if:

  • You have stable employment for two years, preferably with the same employer
  • You only have less than two 30-day late payments within the last two years
  • 30% of your gross income is available for covering mortgage payments
  • Your monthly debt does not exceed 43% of your monthly income
  • You are interested in maintaining low monthly payments

Credit score requirements may be subject to change. The recent COVID-19 pandemic caused many mortgage investors to be stricter with their underwriting guidelines, especially for government loans.

Good Neighbor Next Door Program

Good Neighbor Next Door is a mortgage program by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offered to public servants, including first responders. This program allows qualified applicants to purchase homes in revitalized communities.

The Good Neighbor Next Door Program allows you to purchase a home for 50% of the appraised value based on where the house is located.

The HUD provides a listing of properties that you may check to find which houses and locations are available.

To participate, you must comply with the HUD’s program regulations and meet the first responder requirements. To be eligible, you must be employed full-time as a firefighter, EMT, paramedic or law enforcement officer by a fire department, EMS unit or law enforcement agency of the Federal Government, a state, a unit of general local government or an Indian tribal government, serving in the locality in which the home is located.

If multiple people apply for the same property, a randomized lottery will be held to determine which applicant gets to place a successful offer.

VA Mortgage Program

Many first responders have military experience. This service record may qualify for a Veteran Affairs (VA) loan.

VA loans have no down payment requirement. Additionally, qualified borrowers do not need to pay for mortgage insurance, unlike with FHA mortgage plans. These features make VA loans one of the most attractive loan programs available in the industry.

In addition to first responders with previous military service, VA loans are also available for active-duty service members, qualified spouses and other veterans.

You may apply for a VA loan if:

  • You or your spouse served 181 days during peacetime or 90 consecutive days in wartime
  • You or your spouse served for six years with the National Guard or Reserves

Other features of VA loans include:

  • No prepayment penalties
  • Borrowers can share closing costs with the seller
  • Refinancing is available up to 100% of the home’s value

The VA monitors loans to ensure borrowers do not get their properties foreclosed. Additionally, the VA also offers a repayment plan should you encounter payment issues.

The VA’s proactive account monitoring may help you be more at ease regarding payment schedules.

Down payment assistance programs

Some local municipalities offer down payment assistance. There are also some loan assistance programs at the state level that may help first responders.

In Texas, for example, there is a Homes for Texas Heroes Program provided by the Texas State Affordable Housing Corporation. This program is available for first responders, active or veteran military members and school professionals.

The Homes for Texas Heroes Program provides down payment assistance equal to 3-5% of the total loan amount.

Some mortgage lenders may not be part of this type of assistance program. If you consider getting down payment assistance from your local state or community, research first before applying.

Check to see if you qualify for home buying assistance

Mortgage programs are available at the government, state, and local levels. Some of these plans, especially the state and local programs, vary by area. If you are a first responder interested in applying for such programs, check with your state or local government regarding your options. Review each program to determine which option is a good fit for your qualifications and financial capacity.

Check out the FHA, HUD or VA websites, or your local state’s housing program details online. You may also consult a mortgage consultant for more information on home loans.

You have plenty of challenges and responsibilities as a first responder. Hopefully one of these mortgage programs can make the home buying process a little easier.

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