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First-Time Homebuyer Programs – Fort Collins

Jason Kauffman | July 8, 2024

Purchasing a home in Fort Collins can be challenging due to the competitive nature of the market – especially when it comes to securing enough funds for a down payment. Fortunately, there are two popular solutions to address this issue: down payment assistance programs and low-down payment loan programs. Both options aim to make homeownership more accessible but they cater to different needs and offer unique benefits. Remember that many programs offer assistance even if you are not a first-time homebuyer.

Down payment assistance (DPA) programs are specifically designed to help buyers cover the upfront costs of purchasing a home. These programs typically come in the form of grants, second mortgage loans, or deferred loans and are often provided by state and local governments, non-profit organizations, or employers.

Key Benefits of DPA Programs:

  • Grants and Forgivable Loans: Some DPA programs offer grants that do not require repayment or loans that are forgivable after a certain period of homeownership, reducing the financial burden on the buyer.
  • Supplementing Savings: These programs can supplement a buyer’s savings, making it easier to meet the down payment and closing cost requirements.
  • Flexible Eligibility: DPA programs often have flexible eligibility criteria, including income limits and first-time homebuyer status, making them accessible to a broader range of potential buyers.

In contrast, low-down payment loan programs such as those offered by Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac, FHA, VA, and USDA allow buyers to secure a mortgage with a smaller initial investment. These loans are particularly beneficial for buyers who may not qualify for down payment assistance but still need help with upfront costs.

Key Benefits of Low-Down Payment Loans:

  • Lower Initial Investment: These programs require significantly lower down payments, sometimes as little as 3% of the home’s purchase price, making it easier for buyers to enter the housing market.
  • Broad Accessibility: Low-down payment loans are accessible to a wide range of buyers, including those with lower credit scores or limited savings.
  • Government Backing: Programs like FHA, VA, and USDA loans are backed by government agencies, providing additional security to lenders and often resulting in more favorable loan terms for buyers.

Choosing between down payment assistance and low-down payment loan programs depends on individual circumstances, including financial situation, eligibility criteria, and long-term homeownership goals. Down payment assistance is ideal for those who qualify for specific grants or deferred loans, while low-down payment loans are suited for buyers looking for lower upfront costs without the need for supplementary programs.

By understanding the differences and benefits of each option, buyers can make informed decisions that best support their journey to homeownership. For more information on the specific programs available in your area, consult with a mortgage advisor or explore resources from local housing authorities.

Low Down Payment Programs

Contrary to popular belief, purchasing a home does not require a 20% down payment if you meet certain criteria. Below we outline the most popular low-down payment loan options and their qualifying parameters to help you navigate your home buying journey more effectively.

VA Loan Program

The VA Loan program offered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is designed to help veterans, active-duty service members, and eligible surviving spouses purchase homes. Key features of the VA Loan program include:

  • No Down Payment: Qualified buyers can purchase a home without a down payment, making it easier to become a homeowner.
  • Competitive Interest Rates: VA loans often come with lower interest rates compared to conventional loans.
  • No Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI): Unlike many low-down-payment mortgage options, VA loans do not require private mortgage insurance, potentially saving borrowers significant costs.
  • Flexible Credit Requirements: The VA loan program typically has more lenient credit requirements, making it accessible to a broader range of borrowers.
  • Limits on Closing Costs: The program places limits on what borrowers can be charged in closing costs, helping to reduce out-of-pocket expenses.
  • Assistance for Struggling Borrowers: The VA offers foreclosure avoidance assistance to help borrowers who are having trouble making their mortgage payments.

Overall, the VA Loan program provides a valuable benefit to those who have served or are serving in the military, helping them achieve the dream of homeownership with favorable terms.

FHA Loan Program

The FHA loan program was established in 1934 during the Great Depression to stimulate the housing market and improve homeownership. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) was created to insure mortgages issued by approved lenders, reducing their risk and encouraging them to offer loans to more people. This made it easier for low- and middle-income families to obtain home financing with lower down payments and flexible credit requirements.

FHA loans continue to be an excellent option for first-time and repeat homebuyers. There are no income limits for FHA financing, you do not have to be a first-time buyer, and there is a minimum down payment requirement of 3.5% of the purchase price. Moreover, FHA has more flexibility than conventional financing when it comes to lower credit scores and derogatory credit.

Fannie Mae (HomeReady) and Freddie Mac (Home Possible) Programs

Fannie Mae’s HomeReady and Freddie Mac’s Home Possible programs are both designed to help low-to-moderate income borrowers with affordable mortgage options, but they have some key differences:

Fannie Mae’s HomeReady:

  • Income Limits: Up to 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI) for the property location.
  • Down Payment: As low as 3% of the home’s purchase price.
  • Credit Requirements: Typically requires a minimum FICO score of 620.
  • Homeownership Education: Required for at least one borrower through an online course.

Freddie Mac’s Home Possible:

  • Income Limits: Up to 80% of AMI, but in underserved areas there may be no income limits.
  • Down Payment: As low as 3% of the home’s purchase price.
  • Credit Requirements: Minimum FICO score of 660 generally preferred.
  • Homeownership Education: Required for first-time homebuyers through a qualified education course.

Common Features:

  • Mortgage Insurance: Both programs require private mortgage insurance (PMI) for down payments less than 20%.
  • Flexible Sources of Funds: Allow for down payment and closing cost assistance from multiple sources, including gifts and grants.

These programs aim to make homeownership more accessible through lower down payment options and flexible underwriting standards.

USDA Loan Program

The USDA Guaranteed Loan Program helps moderate-income families purchase homes in eligible rural areas. Supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it promotes rural homeownership with no down payment, competitive interest rates, and flexible credit guidelines.

This loan is limited to eligible rural locations. Currently, there are no USDA-eligible areas in Fort Collins. You have to travel east of I-25 to start finding USDA eligible areas. Use the tool below to determine eligibility.

Key Benefits and Eligibility:

  • The USDA Guaranteed Loan allows financing up to 100% of the home’s purchase price, eliminating the need for a down payment.
  • It offers competitive fixed interest rates and doesn’t require private mortgage insurance (PMI).
  • To qualify, household income should generally not exceed 115% of the area’s median income, and the property must be in an eligible rural area as defined by the USDA.

Application Process:

Applicants work with approved lenders to assess eligibility, demonstrating stable income and reasonable credit history. The USDA guarantees the loan, reducing the lender’s risk and facilitating favorable terms for borrowers.

The USDA Guaranteed Loan Program is a great option for moderate-income families aiming for homeownership in rural areas, providing affordable, accessible financing. For more information, reach out to us today.

Down Payment Assistance Programs

Down payment assistance programs are designed to help bridge the gap for homebuyers who may struggle to meet the upfront costs of purchasing a home. These programs offer financial support in the form of grants, low-interest loans, or deferred payment options, making homeownership more attainable. Here we provide an overview of the available down payment assistance options in the Fort Collins and Northern Colorado area and the criteria for eligibility, ensuring you have the resources needed to take the first step toward owning your home.

CHFA Down Payment Assistance Program

The Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA) offers several loan programs aimed at assisting Coloradans with affordable homeownership and down payment assistance. Here’s an overview of the key programs they provide:

Down Payment Assistance Types:

  • Down Payment Assistance Grant: Offers up to 3% of the first mortgage amount with no repayment required.
  • Second Mortgage Loan: Provides up to 4% of the first mortgage amount. Repayment is deferred until the first mortgage is paid off, the home is sold, refinanced, or is no longer the primary residence.

Similar to other down payment assistance programs, CHFA rates and loan costs can be higher than a traditional low down payment assistance loan. When deciding whether to utilize a down payment assistance program, every buyer should work with their loan originator to explore options with and without down payment assistance to ensure the program they are choosing is the best fit for their situation.

CHFA Program Overviews:

  • CHFA Preferred and CHFA Preferred Plus
    • Type: Conventional loans
    • Down Payment Assistance: Grant or second mortgage loan
    • Eligibility: Not limited to first-time homebuyers
    • Income Limits: $162,960, no purchase price limit
    • Credit Score: Minimum 620
  • CHFA SmartStep and CHFA SmartStep Plus
    • Type: FHA, VA, USDA-RD loans
    • Down Payment Assistance: Second mortgage loan
    • Eligibility: Not limited to first-time homebuyers
    • Income Limits: $162,960, no purchase price limit
    • Credit Score: Minimum 620
  • CHFA FirstStep and CHFA FirstStep Plus
    • Type: FHA loans only
    • Down Payment Assistance: Second mortgage loan
    • Eligibility: Restricted to first-time homebuyers, qualified veterans, or buyers in targeted areas
    • Income/Purchase Price Limits: Specific limits apply
    • Credit Score: Minimum 620
  • CHFA FirstGeneration and CHFA FirstGeneration Plus
    • Type: FHA loans only
    • Down Payment Assistance: Second mortgage loan up to $25,000
    • Eligibility: Restricted to first-time and first-generation homebuyers
    • First-generation definitions: A first-generation homebuyer is any borrower who has never owned a home and whose parents or guardians never owned a home during the homebuyer’s lifetime. Borrowers having lived in the foster care system do not need to be first-generation homebuyers but must have never owned a home. An affidavit verifying that the definition is met is required.
    • Income/Purchase Price Limits: Specific limits apply
    • Credit Score: Minimum 620

Homebuyer Education:

All borrowers participating in CHFA loan programs are required to complete a homebuyer education class independently. These classes must be taken through CHFA-approved providers, which offer online, interactive webinar, and in-person options. For those opting for online classes, a follow-up session via phone is mandatory. The education certificates are valid for 12 months prior to the purchase contract date and are issued by the provider upon completion, not by CHFA. More details can be found at CHFA Homebuyer Education.

The Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA) is one of the oldest down payment assistance programs in the state of Colorado, having been established in 1973. Their long-standing presence and range of services have made them a significant resource for Colorado residents seeking homeownership.

Colorado Down Payment Assistance (CDPA) Program:

The Colorado Down Payment Assistance (CDPA) Program offered by the Impact Development Fund is designed to help eligible homebuyers with the necessary funds for down payments, closing costs, and pre-paid items related to purchasing a primary residence. This program is very competitive when compared to CHFA because you can pair a market rate first mortgage with a low-interest second mortgage. This is a fantastic program for first-time or repeat buyers looking to purchase in Fort Collins and surrounding areas in northern Colorado.

Key Features:

Borrower Eligibility:

  • You must be purchasing your primary residence
  • You do not need to be a first-time homebuyer

Eligible Properties:

  • Must be within the following counties: Boulder (excluding the City of Longmont), Larimer, Weld, Routt, Fremont, Eagle, Lake, Montrose, Mesa, Morgan, San Miguel, and Ouray
  • Single-family homes, duplexes, townhomes, condominiums, and manufactured homes on permanent foundations
  • Must meet Housing Quality Standards (HQS) and not be in a FEMA-designated flood plain

Income Limits:

Up to 100% of HUD Area Median Income (AMI) adjusted for household size

Loan Amount and Terms:

  • Maximum loan amount: $25,000
  • Repayment terms vary based on income levels:
    • ≤80% AMI: 0% interest, repayable over 30 years or deferred payment at 0% interest
    • 81-100% AMI: 1% interest, repayable over 30 years

Use of Funds:

Down payment, closing costs, and pre-paid items

Homebuyer Training:

Required from approved providers

Interest Rates (on second mortgage):

  • 0% for households earning ≤80% AMI
  • 1% for households earning 81-100% AMI

Compatible Mortgages:

Conventional or portfolio first mortgage products (excluding FHA mortgages)

Combined Loan to Value (CLTV):

Maximum CLTV is 100% with case-by-case exceptions for VA and USDA-RD financing

Minimum Investment:

Greater of $1,000 or 1% of the purchase price from borrower’s own funds

Affordability Period:

Must maintain the property as the primary residence for at least 5 years


The journey to homeownership can be overwhelming, especially for first-time buyers in Fort Collins and Northern Colorado. Understanding the available programs and how they can alleviate the financial burden is crucial. Down payment assistance programs and low-down payment loan programs serve as valuable resources, each tailored to meet different needs and financial situations. Whether you qualify for grants and forgivable loans through DPA programs or opt for lower initial investments through Conventional, FHA, VA, and USDA loans, both paths offer unique benefits that can make homeownership more attainable.

Assessing your eligibility, financial standing, and long-term goals is essential when choosing between these options. Engaging with a knowledgeable mortgage advisor can provide clarity and help you determine the best route for your specific circumstances. By leveraging these programs, prospective homeowners can take confident steps towards achieving their dreams of owning a home.

For more detailed information on specific programs and to explore which option suits you best, consult with one of the licensed originators at Uptown Mortgage. They can guide you through the pre-approval process and ensure you make informed decisions that align with your homeownership goals.

Jason Blog Bio

Jason Kauffman

Jason Kauffman is one of the owners of Uptown Mortgage and a licensed mortgage originator. He is a veteran in the mortgage industry with over 20 years of experience helping people get financing on their homes. The same experience that he brings to his clients is what he brings to the mortgage content that he produces. His goal is to help educate current and prospective homeowners on subjects that are relevant to the homebuying process.

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