If you’re looking into buying your first home, you may be asking yourself, “Where do I even start?”

That’s a dilemma many first-time home buyers run into. Luckily, there are housing agencies that specialize in helping you through the process and offer financial assistance to help you close a sale on your potential home.

Before you even start looking to buy a home, check to see if there are local first-time home-buyer grants available. These grants, provided by the federal government and administered through local agencies, help you cover the costs of a down payment and the closing costs.

So, if you’re a first-time home buyer, you could get a large sum of money to help — and possibly not have to pay it back. Here’s how these programs work and who’s eligible.

Who is eligible?

You may qualify for grants if you have a low to moderate income and are a first-time home buyer — or have not owned a home in your area within the last three years.

How do first-time home-buyer grants work?

A first-time home-buyer grant is money that a housing agency pays toward a down payment and closing costs on your new home. Technically, first-time home-buyer grants are zero-interest loans that, in most cases, can either be 100% forgiven or repaid when the home is sold or transferred to new owners.

Each first-time home-buyer program has different eligibility criteria and income requirements. And you have to apply for these grants before you start the process of purchasing a home or sign any paperwork.

As you go through this process, make copies of all documents to keep for your files. First-time home-buyer programs require you to attend housing counseling and get a mortgage, and you will have to refer back to paperwork throughout the process.

Pennsylvania first-time home buyer grants

In Pennsylvania there are many first-time home-buyer assistance programs offered by the federal, state, and local governments. In the Philly region, each county has a first-time home-buyer program administered through local nonprofit and government housing agencies.

Pennsylvania state program

Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA)’s Keystone Forgivable in Ten Years (K-FIT) loan provides a zero-interest loan toward a down payment and closing costs on your home that will be 100% forgiven if you live in the home for 10 years. This is Pennsylvania’s statewide first-time home-buyer program.

  • How much: Up to $10,000

  • Eligibility: Since this is a statewide program, income limits vary depending on the county of the prospective home. Call 855-827-3466 or email askphfa@phfa.org to find out if you’re eligible.

  • To apply: Contact a PHFA-participating mortgage lender at phfa.org/homebuyers/participatinglenders.aspx and let them know you’re interested in getting a mortgage to pair with PHFA’s K-FIT loan. Once you begin the process of getting a mortgage through your lender, their trained counselors will walk you through the process of getting an affordable mortgage, checking your eligibility for the K-FIT loan, and helping you apply for the program. Call 855-827-3466 or email at askphfa@phfa.org for help.

Philadelphia

Philly First Home is run by the Philadelphia Housing Development Corp. (PHDC). This program provides a zero-interest loan toward down payment and closing costs. This loan is 100% forgiven if you live in the home for 15 years.

  • How much: Up to $10,000 (or 6% of the home’s purchase price, whichever is lower)

  • Eligibility: You have to make less than $66,150 to per year if you live by yourself, $75,600 per year for a two-person household, $85,050 for a three-person household, and $94,500 per year for a four-person household. If your household is larger, check phdcphila.org/residents/homebuyers-and-renters/philly-first-home.

  • To apply: Contact a city-funded housing agency to get more information, and complete a one-on-one homeownership counseling course before you buy a home. You can find a list of city-funded housing agencies with contact information online or call PHDC at 215-448-3000.

Bucks County

The Bucks County Housing Group (BCHG) can help you get a zero-interest loan for closing and/or down payment costs that has to be repaid once the home is sold. BCHG takes applications through an online intake form, which is available at start of January, April, July, and October. The intake form closes once capacity is reached each quarter.

  • How much: Up to $10,000

  • Eligibility: You have to make less than $66,200 if you live by yourself, $75,600 for a two-person household, $85,100 for a three-person household, and $94,500 for a four-person household. If your household is larger, visit buckscounty.gov/504/Housing-Resources-for-Bucks-County-Resid.

  • To apply: Complete BCHG’s intake form at bchg.org/housing-counseling.html. You’ll receive a call from the housing group with more information and other instructions, and forms will be sent to you. Sign and return all the forms. You will then receive an invitation to an online group meeting to get started.

Chester County

The Housing Partnership of Chester County runs a program that provides a zero-interest loan toward the down payment and closing costs on your home that has to be repaid once the home is sold. You have to have at least $1,000 yourself to put toward the purchase of your home. There is a $30 application fee.

  • How much: Up to $5,000

  • Eligibility: You have to make less than $52,950 if you live alone, $60,500 for a two-person household, $68,050 for a three-person household, and $75,600 for a four-person household. (If your household is larger, check here.)

  • To apply: Download the application. Go to your post office, buy a money order for the $30 application fee, and send all your documents to: Housing Partnership of Chester County, 41 W. Lancaster Avenue, Downingtown, Pa. 19335. You can call 610-518-5122 for help.

Delaware County

Chester County Improvement Project’s (CCIP) program provides a zero-interest loan towards the down payment and closing costs of your home that is 100% forgiven after five years. You have to have at least $1,000 yourself to put towards the purchase of your home.

  • How much: Up to $5,000

  • Eligibility: You have to make less than $52,950 if you live alone, $60,500 for a two-person household, $68,050 for a three-person household, and $75,600 for a four-person household. (If your household is larger, check here.)

  • To apply: Download, print, and fill out the application here. Mail your application and required forms to: Chester Community Improvement Project, 23 E. Fifth St., Second Floor, Chester, PA 19013. You can call 610-876-8663 for assistance.

Montgomery County

Montgomery County’s program provides a zero-interest loan toward a down payment or closing costs on your home that has to be repaid once the home is sold. There is a $25 application fee. The program is run by the local government’s Office of Housing and Community Development.

  • How much: Up to $10,000

  • Eligibility: You have to make less than $52,950 if you live by yourself, $60,500 for a two-person household, $68,050 for a three-person household, and $75,600 for a four-person household. If your household is larger, check here.

  • To apply: Download an application online or call 610-278-3540 to receive an application. Mail or return your application, $25 application fee, and required forms to: Human Services Center, 1430 DeKalb St., Third Floor, Norristown, Pa. 19401.

New Jersey first-time home buyers grants

In New Jersey, there are many first-time home-buyer assistance programs offered by the federal, state, and local governments. Check for your county below.

New Jersey state program

New Jersey’s statewide program, Down Payment Assistance (DPA), is administered through the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Financing Agency (NJHMFA). This program provides a zero-interest loan toward a down payment and closing costs on your home that will be 100% forgiven if you live in the home for five years.

  • How much: Up to $10,000

  • Eligibility: Since this is a statewide program, income limits vary depending on the county of your prospective home. Call 800-654-6873 to find out if you’re eligible.

  • To apply: Find an NJHMFA-approved mortgage lender and let them know you’re looking to get a mortgage to pair with NJHMFA’s Down Payment Assistance program. You have to get a mortgage from one of the approved lenders.

Burlington County

Burlington County’s program provides a zero-interest loan of up to $5,000 toward a down payment and $4,000 toward the closing costs on your home that will be 100% forgiven if you live in the home for at least six years. You have to personally contribute at least 3% of the home’s purchase price.

  • How much: Up to $9,000

  • Eligibility: You have to make less than $52,950 if you live alone, $60,500 as a two-person household, $68,050 as a three-person household, or $75,600 as a four-person household. If your household is larger, check here.

  • To apply: You have to complete a first-time Home Buyer counseling course (find one here). When you complete the course, you will be given a certificate, which you can take to an approved mortgage lender. Call 609-265-5450 or email HumanServices@co.burlington.nj.us for a list of approved lenders.

Camden County

Camden’s Department of Planning & Development provides a zero-interest loan toward a down payment and closing costs on your home that will be 100% forgiven if you live in the home for five years.

  • How much: Up to $14,999

  • Eligibility: You have to make less than $52,950 if you live by yourself, $60,500 as a two-person household, $68,050 as a three-person household, or $75,600 as a four-person household. If your household is larger, check here.

  • To apply: You have to complete a first-time Home Buyer course from Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) (sign up at nhscamden.org/workshop, or by calling 856-541-0720 or emailing info@nhscamden.org). Then, NHS will refer you to the grant program, and you can apply. A counselor will work with you to receive assistance.

Gloucester County

Gloucester County’s program provides a zero-interest loan toward a down payment and closing costs on your home. It is administered through the county’s Department of Economic Development, under the Office of Housing and Community Development (HCD).

If you sell, transfer, refinance, rent out, or move out of the house within five years, then you have to pay the loan back in full. If you live in the house for more than five years, 20% of the loan will be forgiven for each year you live there after that — until only 20% of the initial amount owed remains (after nine years). After that, you have to pay back 20% of the loan if you sell, transfer, refinance, rent out, or move out of the home.

HCD advises not to mail the office any documents. If you have questions call 856-307-6664 or visit its offices at 1480 Tanyard Rd., Suite B, Sewell, N.J. 08080.

  • How much: Up to $10,000

  • Eligibility: You have to make less than $52,950 if you live by yourself, $60,500 as a two-person household, $68,050 as a three-person household, or $75,600 as a four-person household. If your household is larger, check here.

  • To apply: Download an application online. Drop off your application at HCD’s offices at 1480 Tanyard Rd., Suite B, Sewell, N.J. 08080. (You can call 856-307-6664 to give the office noticel.) Once you have completed the application, you should hear back soon. You can call 856-307-6664 to follow up.

The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. See all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.