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Down payment (or downpayment, also called a deposit in British English), is a payment used in the context of the purchase of expensive items such as a car and a house, whereby the payment is the initial upfront portion of the total amount due and it is usually given in cash at the time of finalizing the transaction. A loan or the amount in cash is then required to make the full payment.
The main purposes of a down payment are to ensure that the lending institution has enough capital to create money for a loan in fractional reserve banking systems and to recover some of the balance due on the loan in the event that the borrower defaults. In real estate, the asset is used as collateral in order to secure the loan against default. If the borrower fails to repay the loan, the lender is legally entitled to sell the asset and retain a portion of the proceeds sufficient to cover the remaining balance on the loan, including fees and interest added. A down payment in this case reduces the lender's risk to less than the value of the collateral, making it more likely that the lender will recover the full amount in the event of default.
The size of the down payment thus determines the extent to which the lender is protected against the various factors that might reduce the value of the collateral, as well as lost profits between the time of the last payment and the eventual sale of the collateral.
Furthermore, making a down payment demonstrates that the borrower is able to raise a certain amount of money for long-term investment, which the lender may desire as evidence that the borrower's finances are sound, and that the borrower is not borrowing beyond his or her means.
If the borrower is unable to pay off the loan in its entirety, he/she forfeits the down payment amount.
In the United States, down payments for home purchases typically vary between 3.5% and 20% of the purchase price. The Federal Housing Administration, or FHA has advocated lower down payments since its inception in 1934, and currently, borrowers that qualify for an FHA loan pay only 3.5% for a down payment. With rising home prices in the years from 2000 to 2007, lenders were willing to accept smaller or no down payment, (either through 100% Financing, seller-assisted down payment assistance, government down payment providers, or by providing a combination of an 80% 1st and 20% second mortgages), so that more individuals could purchase homes as their primary residences. Currently, in the United States, the VA or Department of Veteran's Affairs, offers 100% financing for qualifying veterans. The USDA Home Loan program also offers 100% mortgage loans with no down payment. These loans are available as Direct or Guaranteed loans and are offered to qualifying borrowers purchasing a home in a more Rural Area. Most State Finance Housing Agencies offer down payment assistance. In 2013 the Agencies offer a program that provides assistance to qualifying homebuyers of up to 3% of the loan amount. The money from the State Housing Agencies can be used for down payment or closing costs.
There is more risk for lenders when individuals purchase a home as an investment property. Therefore, the lender may charge a higher interest rate and expect a higher down payment.