Buying your first house or condo is an exciting and agonizing affair. If you will be asking for home loan money, you need to know these mortgage tips for first-time homebuyers.

1. Save a Down Payment

Except in the case of Veterans Affairs VA loans, today’s lenders want to see cash before they will finance a purchase. Traditional fixed-rate mortgages and adjustable-rate mortgages often require 10 to 20 percent down. Even Federal Housing Administration FHA loans require 3.5 percent of the purchase price. Some states offer down payment assistance for people living in target areas or moving into affordable housing options.

2. Improve Your Credit Score

Your credit score is one of the factors that determine whether you can get a home loan and what your interest rate will be. Banks typically like to see FICO scores at 620 or above, but most are willing to waive the minimum if you show sufficient income, pledge a larger down payment or add a co-signor. Use the six months before buying a house to catch up on missed payments and reduce the amount of credit being used. Do not close old accounts, even if you no longer need them.

3. Get Preapproved

Prequalifying for a mortgage gives you a rough idea of how much you can borrow, but getting preapproved will put the lender’s top offer in writing. The lending officer will want to see your completed home loan application, a credit report for each borrower, one to two years’ worth of pay stubs, one to two years of tax returns and down payment documentation. In exchange, the mortgage lender will give you a letter stating the amount and terms of financing. You do not even need to have picked out a house at this stage. In fact, showing a preapproval letter to a seller can help get your offer accepted.

4. Avoid Becoming House Poor

Just because a bank is willing to lend you a certain amount does not mean that you can afford to accept the loan. Before jumping into a real estate deal, you must figure out whether you can afford the property. Your budget should include room for your total housing expense, including principal, interest, taxes, mortgage insurance, homeowners insurance, HOA dues, home maintenance costs and other expenses. Ideally, your housing expense would be 28 percent or less of your gross income. Be careful not to put so much money into your house that you cannot afford to do anything else.

5. Partner With a Professional

You can shop around for the best home loan rates, but always make sure you are working with a supportive mortgage broker or lender. As a first-time homebuyer, you need tips and resources, not hype and run-arounds.