For many younger Americans, the dream of owning their first home is alive and well. But for many others, it’s become something of an elusive pipe dream.

Only five years ago, it was relatively easy to finance a home. Lenders were eager to lend money and mortgages were easy to come by. But the Great Recession and the mortgage market’s meltdown have conspired to make it quite difficult for many Americans to qualify for a home loan.

Whether you’re ready now or will be down the road, buying your first home takes planning. Fortunately,, the nation’s leading website for free legal information, has a wealth of information for the first-time buyer. The Buying a Home section on FindLaw’s Learn About the Law is a great resource, for instance.

Make no mistake, buying your first home takes preparation. Here are some tips from

Save aggressively for your down payment. A conventional loan requires between 10 to 20 percent of a home’s cost as a down payment. One first-time homebuyer option is to seek a mortgage insured by the Federal Housing Association, which allows you to put down as little as 3.5 percent of the purchase price.

Get your finances in order. Lenders are taking a closer look at borrowers’ debt-to-income ratio (percentage of monthly income that goes toward monthly debt payments) and housing-to-income ratio (percentage of monthly income that goes toward monthly housing payments).

Clean up your credit report. Your credit score is critical to your mortgage application. The higher your score, the more likely you can qualify for a mortgage and obtain favorable terms.

Don’t apply for credit. In general, it’s not a good idea to take on more debt, such as an auto loan, or apply for a new credit card, within a year of buying a home.

Shop around for your mortgage. Compare proposals from at least three or four different lenders.

Still think you are ready to begin down the path toward home ownership? Here’s a checklist to help you be sure. This is a big decision and FindLaw has all the resources you need to make it an informed one. Good luck!

— Michelle Croteau, Director, Marketing Communications
with Adam Ramirez, FindLaw Audience Team

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