South Carolina has increased incentives available to help people buy homes, as long as they are in certain professions or are veterans.

With $7,000 in downpayment assistance, below-market mortgage interest rates, and a federal tax credit, it's a pretty attractive offer.

Some of those incentives are available regardless of what you do for a living. It's the combination of incentives and downpayment help that are reserved for "Palmetto Heroes" in the enhanced program administered by the State Housing Finance and Development Authority.

State and local law enforcement officers, firefighters, teachers, nurses and aides, emergency medical technicians and paramedics, corrections officers, and veterans who served on active duty all may qualify.

There are limits on how much you can earn, and how much your house can cost, but they're pretty generous. For example, a couple in Dorchester County could earn more than $74,000 and buy a home costing up to $255,000.

Let me point out that if you don't work in a "hero" profession, you can still qualify for incentives.

There's the mortgage credit certificate program that allows buyers to get a federal tax credit rebating 30 percent of the mortgage interest they pay, up to $2,000 each year.

For those looking for assistance who aren't "heroes" other programs offer up to $5,000, or $8,000 if the home is new construction.

These incentives are meant to help buyers with upfront costs, and to help the building industry. Unless borrowers have low incomes, the money must be repaid with interest.

So, here's what qualifying homebuyers can get:

$7,000 in downpayment aid. After three years, during which no payments are due and no interest is charged, the assistance essentially turns into a 5-year loan at 4 percent interest. For those earning 80 percent or less of their county's median income, the money doesn't have to be repaid.

A mortgage credit certificate. This qualifies a buyer for a federal tax credit of up to $2,000 every year they own and occupy the home. It's available to all residents who meet the guidelines but only while purchasing a home.

A mortgage interest rate of 4 percent on a 30-year loan.

Here are the household income limits for our local counties.

In Berkeley and Dorchester, it's $86,660 or less for a family of three or more, or $74,280 or less for up to two people.

In Charleston, it's $71,185 or less for three or more, or $61,900 for up to two people.

In all three counties, the maximum home price is $255,000.

Those and other rules and income limits apply for Palmetto Heroes, the other downpayment initiatives and to the mortgage credit. In each case, it's necessary to work with an approved lender.

A list is at