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Ready to buy a home in the new year? Here's how to get started

What we'll cover

  • Steps to take before home shopping

  • What factors into a down payment

  • Reasons to get pre-approved

The start of a new year can be an opportune time to map out goals you wish to accomplish in the months ahead. If becoming a homeowner is on your list of resolutions, you can take steps today to put your dreams into action.

1. Prepare your finances

Before you dive into the homebuying process, get a clear picture of your finances. Decide how much you want to save for a down payment , a percentage of the home's purchase price that you pay when you get a mortgage.

The amount required for a down payment depends on both the purchase price and the loan type. While you may think you have to put down 20%, homebuyers actually have a lot of down payment options — with some enabling you to secure a mortgage with no down payment at all. The contingency is, depending on the type of loan you get, if you make a down payment of less than 20%, you may have to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI) each month until you build up 20% equity in your home.

When it comes to hitting your down payment goal, make sure you're optimizing your savings. Ally Bank's Savings Account compounds interest daily, and there are no monthly fees or minimum balance requirements. You also could create savings buckets , a feature of a an Ally Bank Savings Account, to organize and track your money.

Some other costs of homeownership you may want to plan for include one-time expenses, such as a home appraisal fee, home inspection fee and closing costs , as well as ongoing costs including your mortgage payment, property taxes, maintenance and utilities.

2. Fill knowledge gaps

While you're working on your savings, it could be beneficial to learn as much as you can about the process of applying for a home loan. Different types of mortgages have different down payment and credit requirements , terms and interest rates. When you go to apply, lenders will not only be checking your credit score but also your debt-to-income ratio, so it could be helpful to understand both numbers before you apply.

Don't forget to research homebuyer programs designed to help people buy their first home. Applying for a mortgage may feel intimidating, but a little education on your options may go a long way toward increasing your confidence in the process.

Getting pre-approved for a mortgage could help make your offer more competitive.

3. Get pre-approved

Once you feel ready to buy, you could start the pre-approval process , in which you submit financial documentation to a mortgage lender and learn how much they're willing to lend you and at what interest rate.

Getting pre-approved for a mortgage could help make your offer more competitive because it shows the seller that you're serious about the purchase and likely to be approved for a loan. With Ally Home, you can even go a step further to put yourself in a strong position to buy the home you love with a verified pre-approval letter (VPAL).

4. Zero in on your ideal home

When beginning your home search, it's important to get clear on what's most important to you. Creating a realistic list will help you clarify exactly what you're looking for in a home.

You can use different tools to help you find your perfect location. For example, ComeHome gives you a chance to easily search for homes online and filter by what matters to you. You can narrow down houses by price, nearby shopping and more.

Make homeownership a reality

The new year is the time to reflect on your accomplishments and begin to plan for the future. If becoming a homeowner is one of your priorities this year, now you can get a head start on the process.

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