Last Updated on: 29th May 2024, 09:27 am

If you’re looking to buy your first home in California, you might be nervous seeing the high cost of housing in California. The good news is there are first-time home buyer programs in California that can help this significant purchase more affordable for you. The California Housing Finance Agency (CalHFA) manages several homebuyer assistance programs.

These fixed-rate conventional and government-backed loan programs help with down payment and closing costs. Eligibility requirements include a minimum credit score of between 660 and 680, depending on loan type, meeting CalHFA’s income limits based on your area, buying a home for $1,149,825 or less, and attending the eHome homebuyer counseling course approved by CalHFA and presenting a certificate of completion. The course costs $99 and consists of one-on-one counseling sessions for home buyers either face-to-face or virtual. 

First-Time Home Buyer Tax Credits & Down Payment Assistance in California

key to a new house hanging in the door

For many first-time homebuyers, the biggest hurdle is meeting the downpayment requirement and closing costs. CalHFA offers several assistance programs to help you get over that hurdle. 

MyHome Assistance and Zero Interest Program

The MyHome Assistance and Zero Interest Program (ZIP) programs offer deferred second mortgages that help with down payment and closing costs. They provide up to 3% for a conventional loan, or 3.5% for an FHA loan, of the home’s purchase price or appraised value, whichever is lower. In most cases, you can combine one of these programs with a CalHFA loan program. You won’t have to repay these loans until you sell your home, move, or refinance.

California Dream For All Shared Appreciation Loan

The California Dream For All Shared Appreciation Loan offers first-time buyers in California a shared appreciation loan of 20% of the home’s purchase price to cover the down payment at the time of purchase. You won’t have to repay the loan until you sell, move, or refinance your mortgage. 

CalHFA Accessible Dwelling Unit (ADU) Grant Program

This program is provided by the California Housing Finance Agency. The CalHFA ADU Grant Program provides up to $40,000 for pre-development costs and non-reoccurring closing costs.

Pathway to Homeownership Closing Cost Assistance

The Pathway to Homeownership Closing Cost Assistance grant program offers closing cost assistance to eligible first-time California home buyers of up to $10,000 in grants to help cover closing costs.

Besides the general requirements for first-time buyers, you also have to buy in a designated Underserved Community and be left with no more than $20,000 in savings after your home purchase.

Forgivable Equity Builder Loan

This loan provides up to 10% of the purchase price, which is forgivable after five years as long as you live in the property full-time during that period. To be accepted into this program, you’ll need to meet minimum credit score requirements amongst other things.

First-Time Home Buyer Loans in California

young couple with real estate agent being shown a home

When considering buying a home as a first-time homebuyer in California, you have a number of loan options to choose from. These loans are available through many different types of mortgage lenders here, which may or may not be partners of CalHFA. Here are the most common types of loans you can get in California:


The CalHFA FHA loan program is an FHA-guaranteed loan that offers a 30-year mortgage with a fixed interest rate. You can use this loan to purchase a single-family home or approved condominium.


The CalPLUS FHA program is also a government-backed mortgage loan that comes with a slightly higher interest rate than the CalFHA loan. What makes this loan so appealing is that it is combined with the ZIP program for closing cost assistance. You can also combine this loan with the MyHome Assistance Program. Like the CalHFA FHA loan, this program features a 30-year mortgage used to finance your purchase of a single-family primary residence.

CalHFA VA Loan

This VA-insured loan program is available to eligible veterans and active-duty service members only.  The program provides a 30-year fixed-rate loan. The CalHFA VA program can be used to finance the purchase of a single-family home or condo. This loan can be combined with the MyHome Assistance Program to help with closing costs.


This is a 30-year, fixed-rate loan that is backed by the USDA. You can combine this loan with the MyHome Assistance Program. To be eligible for this loan, you must meet USDA income limits and buy a home in a designated rural area.

CalHFA Conventional Loan

The CalHFA conventional program is a 30-year mortgage with a fixed interest rate. As with all conventional loans, you must have a down payment of 20% of the home purchase price to avoid paying private mortgage insurance (PMI). 

CalPLUS Conventional Loan

The 30-year, fixed-rate CalPLUS conventional loan comes with a slightly higher mortgage rate than a standard conventional home loan. The advantage of this loan is that it is paired with the MyHome and ZIP programs to help you cover your down payment and closing costs.

CalVet Home Buyer Program

The CalVet program is available to veterans and active service members. This program provides special VA loan options to help veterans buy or refinance a home in California and isn’t limited to first-time buyers. 

Good Neighbor Next Door program

This HUD program is available to law enforcement officers, K-12 teachers, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians. The program offers a discount of 50% from the list price of homes located in revitalized areas. You must commit to live in the property for 36 months as your principal residence.

It’s important to note that government loan programs such as FHA, the VA loans, and USDA home loans, are for primary residences only. You can’t use these loans for a vacation home or investment property.

First-Time Home Buyer Programs in Monterey County

As a first-time homebuyer, you can find local assistance programs in your area to help you afford your first home. Here are some of the first-time homebuyer programs available to you in Monterey County:

County of Monterey First Time Homebuyer Down Payment Assistance Program

The County of Monterey First Time Homebuyers (FTHB) Down Payment Assistance Program is designed to help first-time homebuyers with down payment assistance, so they can purchase a home in the county’s unincorporated areas.

The FTHB provides down payment assistance up to the lesser of the maximum home subsidy limit, 20% of the purchase price, or the amount needed as determined by underwriting criteria. The maximum loan amount cannot exceed the amount of the primary loan. To qualify for the FTHB program, you must meet the following requirements:

  • A resident of Monterey County
  • A first-time homebuyer (which means you haven’t owned a home in the last three years)
  • Annual household income cannot be more than 80% of the area median income for Monterey County 
  • Able to contribute at least 3.5 percent of the purchase price toward the down payment 
  • The home must be for your primary residence
  • The home cannot have more than 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and a two-car garage 
  • Property must not exceed the program’s maximum purchase price of $396,000 for all unincorporated areas of the County
  • Household income (all income received by household members 18 years or older) who will be living in the home, even if they are not on the mortgage, cannot exceed $50,300 or up to $77,600 for a family of five

“Assist-to-Own” Down Payment Assistance Program

The Assist-to-Own Down Payment Assistance Program provides down payment and closing cost assistance up to 5.5% of the first mortgage loan amount. To be eligible for this program, you must be employed by the County of Monterey and use the home as your primary residence.

You will need a credit score of at least 640 to qualify. The program is for the purchase of single-family residences, condominiums, townhomes, and manufactured homes.  

Habitat For Humanity Monterey Bay

Habitat for Humanity Monterey Bay (HfHMB) builds homes for qualified applicants that allow them to purchase a new home at an affordable price. To qualify, you must:

  • Be a first-time home buyer
  • Your current housing costs exceed 30% of your monthly income or your current living conditions are overcrowded, inadequate, inaccessible, unhealthy, or poorly built, or damaged by natural disasters, etc.
  • Your annual Gross Income is between 50% – 80% of the Monterey County Median Income 
  • You must be able to pay an affordable mortgage​
  • You must have steady and verifiable income
  • You must have the ability to pay a long-term mortgage​, a down payment of $1,500, and 1-2% of the mortgage in closing costs

Habitat for Humanity Monterey Bay, 108 Magnolia Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95062, (831) 469-4663

First-Time Home Buyer Programs in Fresno County

There’s only one additional program in Fresno County.

Fresno First Time Home Buyer Program

Fresno County’s First-Time Homebuyer Program offers eligible low- and moderate-income families financial assistance through a zero-interest, deferred payment loan covering up to 20% of the purchase price plus closing costs, with a minimum of $1,000.

Applicants must be first-time homebuyers who haven’t owned a home in the previous three years, meet income limits, and complete a Home Training course. They also need to secure a first mortgage and contribute a minimum cash investment of 1.5% of the sales price.

The property purchased must serve as the borrower’s primary residence, meet health and safety standards, and have a maximum appraised value or purchase price of $279,000 for an existing single-family residence.

First-Time Home Buyer Programs in San Joaquin County

home buying process

Though there aren’t any large programs in San Joaquin County, there is a small gap program:

GAP Program

GAP Loan Program The San Joaquin County GAP Loan Program offers deferred down payment assistance loans to low-income, first-time homebuyers. These loans cover 20% of the sales price, up to $40,000 (whichever is less), to help bridge the gap between the cost of a home and what a low-income household can afford. Eligible properties include those in the unincorporated county areas or within the city limits of Escalon, Lathrop, Manteca, Ripon, or Tracy.

​California First-Time Home Buyer FAQs 

Are First-Time Home Buyer Programs Worth It?

Yes. First-time buyer assistance programs can make the difference in you owning a home or not.

What Is a First-Time Homebuyer’s Program?

A program that helps first-time home buyers with down payments and closing cost assistance, so they can purchase a home.  

Who Is Considered a First-Time Home Buyer in California?

Anyone who has never owned a home before or hasn’t owned a home in the past three years. 

These payment assistance programs will help you to purchase a house as a California first time home buyer. If you’re buying your California dream home and need help relocating, call Southbay Moving Systems today at 831-786-5537 for a free quote!