California’s First-Time Home Buyer Programs

California's first-time homebuyer programs

If you are a first-time homebuyer, you know how expensive the process can appear to be. Luckily for you and thousands of other California residents, there are several ways to make the process more affordable.

The California Housing Finance Agency, which we will refer to as CalHFA, has loans for first-time homebuyers who meet some requirements. The decisions are actually made by approved lenders and loan officers, rather than the agency. 

Each of the approved lenders may have different policies regarding income and other details, which we will go into later.

There are also programs offering loans with low credit requirements or lesser down payments.

Here are the main programs we think first-time homebuyers in California need to know about.

The Benefits of CalHFA Programs

The CalHFA programs are supposed to make homeownership easier for first-time buyers and other eligible buyers.

CalHFA doesn’t rely on tax dollars since it is self-funded and has been around since 1975.

  • You can receive assistance with down payments and closing costs. With most programs, this is available for low-Mortgage and moderate-income homebuyers.
  • Condominiums, guesthouses, and accommodation for in-laws can receive assistance.

These CalHFA programs could help you borrow a significant portion of your home’s value, plus help with other costs like down payments and closing fees.

Who is Eligible for CalHFA Programs?

When you haven't owned a home or occupied your own home in the past 3-years, you are considered a first-time home buyer in the eyes of the CalHFA.

Most notably, there’s an income limit of about $300k in counties like Santa Clara, San Francisco, and San Mateo.

There are some requirements that the homebuyer needs to satisfy to be eligible, such as:

  • The property must be the buyer/borrower’s main residence.
  • Of course, the property must be inside California.
  • The buyer/borrower must have a credit score of 660 or more.
  • There is a buyer education course that the borrower must complete.
  • The borrower is not to use the program for leaseholds, land trusts, or co-ops.
  • Meet the lender’s specific requirements for yearly income and sales price of the property.
  • Must also satisfy the mortgage insurer’s requirements.

Homebuyers and borrowers through the CalFHA programs will also need to meet the monthly mortgage payments.

MyHome Assistance Program

The MyHome Assistance Program is a junior loan with deferred payments offered to first-time homebuyers in California. You can receive up to 3% of the purchase price of a mortgaged property (or appraised price).

Homebuyers must combine the MyHome Assistance Program with a CalHFA mortgage. They also have the option to combine it with ZIP (the Zero Interest Program) and other programs.

CalHFA Mortgage Programs


The CalHFA FHA is a 30-year, fixed-rate FHA mortgage that cannot exceed the FHA limits in your county. Borrowers might also qualify for MyHome Assistance.

  • Closing costs: Enjoy lender fees of 3% or $3000, whichever amount is greater, plus closing costs from third-party services.
  • Down payment: 3.5%, or 0% with MyHome Assistance 


This program is very similar to the CalHFA FHA program, which has a slightly higher interest rate. The CalPLUS FHA offers a 30-year, fixed-rate FHA mortgage. This is combined with CalHFA Zero Interest Program, also known as ZIP, which is a down payment assistance program.

  • Closing costs: Enjoy lender fees of 3% or $3000, whichever amount is greater, plus closing costs from third-party services.
  • Down payment: 3.5%, or 0% with MyHome Assistance

CalHFA Conventional

The CalHFA Conventional program offers homebuyers a 30-year, fixed-rate conventional mortgage with PMI (private mortgage insurance). The limits are regulated in different areas around California.

  • Closing costs: Enjoy lender fees of 3% or $3000, whichever amount is greater, plus closing costs from third-party services.
  • Down payment: 3%, or 0% with MyHome Assistance

CalPLUS Conventional

The CalPLUS Conventional program is almost identical to the CalHFA Conventional program, with a higher interest rate. Just like the CalPLUS FHA program, it's paired with a closing cost assistance program called CalHFA ZIP.

  • Closing costs: Enjoy lender fees of 3% or $3000, whichever amount is greater, plus closing costs from third-party services.
  • Down payment:  3%, or 0% with MyHome Assistance


This program is extended to eligible military personnel, military veterans, and their eligible spouses. The CalHFA VA assistance program is a 30-year, fixed-rate VA mortgage, which is governed by your area’s limits.

  • Closing costs: Enjoy lender fees of 3% or $3000, whichever amount is greater (or the maximum VA fee), plus closing costs from third-party services.
  • Down payment: None


With the CalHFA USDA program, you can get a 30-year, fixed-rate USDA-guaranteed mortgage. This program is for homebuyers/borrowers in rural areas that qualify, with income limits that the USDA establishes.

  • Closing costs: MyHome Assistance is available.
  • Down payment: None

California Dream For All Loan Program

The California Dream For All Shared Appreciation Loan is a 20% loan that buyers can use against the purchase price of the home or closing costs. There is no need to make monthly payments against the loan. 

In the case of sale or transfer, the homebuyer must pay back the loan, plus 20% of any appreciation in the home's value after the loan is issued.

Depending on your level of income, this program usually requires a credit score of 660-680. Eligible applicants will also need to complete a short educational course.

This Shared Appreciation Loan is used in conjunction with the Dream For All Conventional First Loan.

Can We Help You Find the Right Program?

Check out our first-time homebuyer resources to learn about specific areas, like the 20% down rule, credit scores for first-timers, home inspections, and much more.

Our team of experienced staff is familiar with these programs, but we can also help first-time homebuyers in other areas. Once you’re a little further in the process, we’ll also help you move for free.

To get started with the homebuying process, contact us!

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