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Although financing a first home can be challenging, buyers who are prepared, and know what they can afford up front, can help expedite the process and save themselves unnecessary headaches later.  Before starting your home search, follow these financial tips from the National Association of Home Builders and

Figure out what you can afford to pay each month.  In addition to principal and interest, figure expenses for local taxes, insurance, and if buying a condominium, monthly assessments.  Once you have these calculations, don't be tempted by lenders to pay more than that.  Free mortgage calculators, which are available on many real estate and finance websites, can help you estimate monthly payments based on current interest rates and down payment.  Generally speaking, no more that 28 percent of gross monthly income should be allocated to housing costs.

Pay down you debts.  Any credit card debt you have can limit how much you can borrow from a lender.  Check your credit report thoroughly for any errors or unpaid accounts.  Resolve these issues before moving ahead.  Experts suggest allowing at least six months to iron out any credit problems before shopping for a home.

Determine your monthly cash flow.  Track your spending for two or three months to see where the money is going.  Once you know what you can afford and what your cash flow is, you can determine your down payment.

Organize documents, especially those that validate income and taxes.  Most lenders may want to see two recent pay stubs, W-2's and tax returns from the previous two years, and the last two monthly bank statements.  Having these documents ready ahead of time can help the lending process run more smoothly. 

If you are just getting started, check out local home-buying seminars or sites like which provide information about shopping for, and financing a home.  Ask friends, family and co-workers for referrals for lending professionals they've worked with previously, and talk with lenders to find the financing options that will work best for you.