Though the housing market changes from year to year (and even sometimes quarter to quarter), the challenge for first time homebuyers stays the same: affordability. According to The National Association of Realtors, 2018 renters looking to buy their first home say their top two concerns are saving for a down payment and qualifying for a mortgage.

Talking to a loan officer early in the “I’m thinking about buying” process can help you build a plan to put your finances in order – reducing worry and getting you closer to homeownership.

Qualifying for a Mortgage

Fix your credit. Your credit score shows lenders if you are a good risk. Before house hunting, pay down debt and pull your credit reports to look for incorrect information that is dragging your score down. Then contact the credit bureau(s) to remove any mistakes. Start three to six months in advance – credit report changes may take 30-60 days, or longer. Cleaning up your credit helps you qualify for a mortgage with the best loan terms.

Get your paperwork together. While real estate is based on “location, location,” loans are all about “documentation.” Bank account statements, pay stubs, tax returns, leases and rent payments, and more, are required – might as well get started gathering all that!

Find your number. What price home are you in the market for? In addition to estimated monthly mortgage payments, you feel are doable with your income, have you factored in other expenses such as insurance, property taxes, maintenance costs, and utility payments?

What you can afford may be less than the online mortgage calculators are showing. Lenders will tell you that the amount and type of mortgage loan you can get depends on earnings compared to how much debt you currently owe, length of employment, and other factors in addition to credit score.

Your number also depends on how much money you are putting down when you purchase a home.

Saving for a Down Payment

Most online advice suggests cutting expenses to save for a down payment. The reality is, it is not so easy – a conventional mortgage typically requires a down payment of 10-20% of the purchase price. With stagnant wages, student loans and other debt, and high rents in urban areas where the jobs are, many low- to middle-income Millennials (36-years-old and younger) are struggling to save their way to home ownership. Here is what you can do.

Look for loans with a smaller down payment. Some loans specific to first-time homebuyers require as little down as 3.5%, such as FHA loans. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) loans have also low down payment requirements. A knowledgeable loan officer can steer you toward these or other financing options that fit your situation.

Find out about down-payment assistance. Certain federal and state government offerings are set aside especially to help with first-time home purchases. A Federal Home Loan Bank (FHLB) like Capital Bank, N.A. will help you understand and access government funds based on your qualifications.

For example, one Affordable Housing Program (AHP) product currently available gives eligible first-time homebuyers as much as $4 in matching funds for every $1 they contribute to their down payment or closing costs, up to $5000. This particular yearly program launches in January, though funds are limited; in 2017, the program ran out of money nationwide by May. However, learning what is available – and when – can help you time your home purchase to take advantage of available financial assistance.

Capital Bank, N.A. can help make buying your first home doable and affordable. With experienced loan officers in your court to lessen the stress, you can breathe a sigh of relief.