Featured Experts
Kris Neyen Rehabilitation programs supervisor, Homebuyer Assistance Program of Dubuque View bio
Danielle Rohret Housing project specialist, City of Waterloo View bio

This guide was written by

Money Geek Team

This guide teaches first-time homebuyers about conditions affecting mortgage rates in Iowa, how to access credit scores for free and where to turn for financial assistance with down payments and closing costs. There's also information on refinancing, including what to expect and deciding when you're ready.


Understanding Iowa Mortgage Rates

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Interest rates in Iowa fluctuate with economic conditions, including employment, average incomes and housing demand. However, the key factor in the rate you'll get on a mortgage will hinge mostly on your credit score. As part of your preparations in applying for a new home loan, pull your credit reports at least once a year to check your scores and correct any mistakes.

You can get a free copy of your complete credit report once a year from the three major credit reporting companies: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. These scores are a major factor Iowa lenders use in determining their offer to you on a mortgage.

Learn more here about factors that drive mortgage rates


First-Timer? Get Homebuying Help in Iowa

The Iowa Finance Authority manages loan programs to meet various needs of homebuyers in the state. It offers fixed-interest mortgages, special loans and even grants to help cover down payments and closing costs.

Additionally, Iowa residents can lower their federal income tax liability by up to $2,000 a year for the life of their mortgage up to 30 years through the Take Credit mortgage credit certificate program administered by the Iowa Finance Authority. The program is available for new home buyers, veterans or buyers in targeted areas through a network of lenders across the state.

Financial Assistance for First-Time Buyers in Iowa

First-time homebuyers in Iowa may find their greatest challenge is saving for a sufficient down payment to satisfy the lender. The median home value in Iowa was $152,885 as of December 2019, according to Zillow. The FHA maintains government-backed lending programs in Iowa allowing first-time homebuyers to finance 96.5 percent of the purchase price. Because many Iowa cities and towns offer supplemental loan and grant programs for down payment assistance, first-time buyers may be able to finance their purchase with zero down. Dubuque, Oskaloosa, Cedar Rapids and Waterloo are some of the Iowa cities offering down payment assistance to first-time homebuyers.

Here's a list of resources for first-time homebuyers living in Iowa:

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Find a Housing Counselor in Iowa


Understanding Home Affordability in Iowa

Iowa has seen some affordability issues but continues to fare better than the nation. In Davenport, fully 94 percent of homes sold in the third quarter of 2019 were with in reach of a median income family, according to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index.

The University of Iowa's housing affordability report found homeownership has increased in the state to 73.2 percent in 2010 from 70 percent in 1990, and the cost burden of housing relative to household income grew at a slower pace than the U.S. average. The U.S. rate of household cost-burden jumped to 35.9 percent in 2010 from 26 percent through 1990 and 2000, but Iowa's rose more modestly to 25.5 percent from 18.7 percent.

Iowa's economy and local housing demand also affect real estate prices and mortgage interest rates. Iowa's unemployment rate of 2.6 percent in November 2019 was lower than the national average.

How Iowa Mortgage Rates and Home Prices Affect Monthly Payments

Metro Area Estimated Monthly Mortgage Payment* Q3 2019 (Change from Previous Year) 2018 Median Home Price 2017 2016
Cedar Rapids $629 $169,900 (+1.3%) $159,200 $152,600 $151,000
Davenport-Moline-Rock Island $522 $140,900 (+5.2%) $131,000 $126,300 $123,600
Des Moines $811 $219,000 (+5.2%) $204,800 $194,000 $185,200
Omaha $770 $207,900 (+7.2%) $191,700 $175,900 $168,800
Waterloo/Cedar Falls $505 $136,500 (+2.7%) $127,000 $123,900 $122,200

Source: National Association of Realtors Q3 2019 Metropolitan Median Area Prices and Affordability report.
*Estimated Monthly Mortgage Payment is based on median home prices for the metro area in Q3 2019, a 20 percent down payment and a 30-year fixed mortgage at 3.75 percent. Figure reflects principal and interest but excludes insurance and property taxes.


Figure Out How Much You Can Borrow in Iowa

Lending limits on FHA mortgages are $331,760 for a single-family home in 2020. Your income-to-debt ratio will be key in determining how much you can borrow because lenders use this ratio as a benchmark for how much you can afford. For first-time buyers, loans in Iowa are typically based on an income-to-debt ratio of 30 percent, meaning your housing costs can be no more than 30 percent of your gross monthly income. Some lenders hold the ratio to 28 percent. In practical terms, you don't want the ratio too high because your income must also be budgeted between all other needs. From the lender's perspective, borrowers with a too-high ratio are seen as a greater risk, increasing the likelihood of defaulting on the mortgage.

Here's a listing by locality of FHA and conventional loan limits in Iowa:

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Buying a Home in Iowa: What the Experts Know

Kris Neyen is the rehabilitation programs supervisor for the Homebuyer Assistance Program of Dubuque. Neyen has worked in city government for 26 years.

What do first-time homebuyers need to do to start the mortgage lending process?


Usually we ask them to go to a mortgage lender to see if they can even get the loan. We help with a down payment to bring down the cost of the first mortgage. We really encourage people to take our home workshop, which is $25, and we do have scholarships for low-income people to cover that.

We can approve down payment help up to $25,000 to bring down a first mortgage in a target neighborhood. In other locations, it's capped at $5,000.


Sign up for a homebuyer education class, especially if they're a first-timer. We have several HUD-certified places in town to take a class. They have housing counselors to help navigate the funding options available. Then speak with a lender to speak about how much funding they might be eligible for. We also have income eligibility guidelines for down payment assistance (up to $5,000 in aid). We want to revitalize certain urban areas so the house has to be in a certain area to qualify for our program. That's true of a lot of Iowan cities that offer these down payment programs.

Best advice for people with credit scores on the fence? What can they do to improve their credit-worthiness to qualify for financing?


One of the people in our extension office talks about credit scoring in our workshop. You can also go to a consumer credit counselor. If your score is close to 640-650, it might take three months to get your credit score up there in the approval range if you just need to pay down some debts.


Talk to people who specialize in credit counseling. It's good to get one-on-one counseling to work with your unique situation. You're probably going to be better off working with someone who can tailor a strategy to suit your specific needs, rather than trying on your own.

Is there adequate inventory in Iowa for first-time homebuyers? Are there enough houses within the price range of your average first-time homebuyer?


The Community Housing Initiative purchases and rehabs houses close to brand-new in our target neighborhood. Then our goal is to get people who are under 80 percent median income into a house. We try to work with people to keep their mortgage payment close to what their rent payment was. If people don't care where they live, there's ample housing. If you're particular about a neighborhood, there may be a shortage of houses that would suit first-time buyers


Our housing market is very stable, but it is an aging stock. We require a housing quality inspection to make sure we're not putting people in houses that aren't affordable because of repairs and maintenance. Checking for chipping lead paint, things like that. That's the concern in a lot of older cities. We've been fortunate also to have some new construction.


Remember Those Iowa Closing Costs

Before the seller hands over the keys to your home, you'll have to pay closing costs. These are fees charged by just about everyone involved in the sale: banks, attorneys and home appraisers are among them. Under some circumstances you may need title research completed on the house to be sure the deed is clean and there are no judgments, liens or other financial demands hanging over the property by creditors. The title agent will also send a bill.

Closing costs in Iowa typically run about 1 percent of the loan amount, so you'd expect about $2,000 in closing costs on a $200,000 mortgage.

More details on how lenders set closing costs and what types of fees you can expect can be found here. Here's a breakdown of average closing costs in Iowa:

Average Closing Costs in the Hawkeye State

Average Origination
Average Third-Party
Average Total Closing

Source: Bankrate's 2015 survey of closing costs.

Refinancing a Mortgage in Iowa

Most Iowa mortgage lenders also offer refinancing products to qualified borrowers. A lower interest rate will shave thousands of dollars off the loan, putting more money into your pocket every month.

The Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) offers refinancing programs in Iowa with the promise of a 48-hour approval process. Eligibility for HARP in Iowa is limited to owners of single-family homes or condos. Advantages of the program include a lower debt-to-income ratio than would be required from conventional lenders, plus another property appraisal is usually not required on the house being refinanced.

For a closer look at mortgage refinancing check out this MoneyGeek guide.

Other Iowa Mortgage Resources

Affordable Mortgage Programs

Loans for first-time homebuyers through the Iowa Finance Authority. Outlines current eligibility requirements for the FirstHome and Homes for Iowans programs.

Homeownership Assistance Iowa HUD

Federal programs and information on homebuying from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

FHA Home Loans Iowa

Mortgage products backed by the Federal Housing Administration available in Iowa.

Homebuyer Assistance Programs in Dubuque

Financial aid for individuals looking to buy a home in this Iowa city. Down payment loans of up to $5,000 at 0% interest are available as well as loan programs for specific neighborhoods.

Down Payment Assistance in Waterloo

Low-income first-time homebuyers looking at properties in this Iowa city may be eligible for up to $5,000 in the form of a five-year forgivable loan to assist with a down payment.

First-Time Homebuyer Program in Cedar Rapids

Down payment assistance forgivable after five years from $1,000 to $5,000 for income-eligible residents of this Iowa city.

First-Time Homebuyer Assistance in Oskaloosa

Zero percent loans for up to $3,500 to cover down payments and/or closing costs on a new home to city residents.

InFill Housing Program

Down payment grants of up to $20,000 for first-time homebuyers in Council Bluffs of a newly constructed single-family home

Down Payment Assistance and Grants for first-time home buyers in Iowa

Rundown of financing options and free money for homebuyers in Iowa who have not bought their own house in the last three years.

Foreclosure Prevention Help

Advice and resources from the non-profit Iowa Legal Aid.