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The 20/4/10 rule. It all starts with what we call the 20/4/10 rule, which says you should: Make a down payment of at least 20%. Finance a car for no more than four years. And not let your total monthly vehicle expense, including principal, interest and insurance, exceed 10% of your gross income.

The average amount is 3% to 6% of the price of the home. Given that range, it's a wise idea to start with 2%-2.5% of the total cost of the house, in savings, to account for closing costs. Thus our $300,000 first-time home buyer should sock away about $6,000-$7,500 to cover the back end of their buying experience.

If you've never owned a home, you are considered a first-time homebuyer. But you are allowed to be a previous homeowner and still qualify as a first-time homebuyer. According to the FHA, you can do so if you have not been an owner in a primary residence for at least three years leading up to your purchase.

The Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 established a tax credit for first-time homebuyers that can be worth up to $7,500. For homes purchased in 2008, the credit is similar to a no-interest loan and must be repaid in 15 equal, annual installments beginning with the 2010 income tax year.

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You could get an FHA-backed loan with as little as 3.5% down, but you'd have to pay mortgage insurance to help lenders defray the costs of loans that default. Conventional loans, which aren't backed by the government, also offer low down payment programs to first-time buyers. Down payments of just 3% are common.

Down Payment. The best advantage of an FHA loan over conventional loans is the low cash needed at closing. Most first-time home buyers do not have the funds available to put 20 percent down plus pay closing costs. The FHA requires only 3 percent of the loan value to be paid at closing.