David Slade is a senior Post and Courier reporter. His work has been honored nationally by Society of Professional Journalists, American Society of Newspaper Editors, Scripps foundation and others. Reach him at 843-937-5552 or dslade@postandcourier.com

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Members of the S.C. National Guard are eligible for downpayment assistance offered through a state houing agency. File

Potential South Carolina home buyers can now get up to $8,000 in forgivable down payment assistance, and a low mortgage interest rate, if they are employed in certain professions or are veterans.

For those who qualify, and plan to buy a home and live in it for many years, this can be a big help if down payment money has been a major hurdle. The advance does not have to be paid back if the buyers occupy the residence for at least either 10 or 20 years, depending on their income.

The latest version of the Palmetto Heroes Program adds several enhancements compared to last year's. The mortgage interest rate offered has dropped slightly, to 3.875% from 4%. Also, the amount of potential down payment assistance has increased to $8,000 from $6,000, and now even those with higher qualifying incomes don't have to pay it back, as they did previously (it's now forgiven if they occupy the home for 20 years).

So, what does it take to be a "hero"? That requires borrowers to be:

  • Law enforcement officers — employed full-time as a state or local law enforcement officer, and certified by the Law Enforcement Training Council as of the date of the loan application.
  • Firefighters, EMTs and paramedics — employed full-time, or a volunteer firefighter, with a state or local government agency. EMTs and paramedics may be employed by a company contracted by a state or local government agency to provide emergency medical services.
  • Correctional officers — employed full-time with the state departments of corrections or juvenile justice, or with a state, county or municipal detention center.
  • Teachers — employed as a full-time classroom teacher (or have a contract to begin teaching within 60 days of loan closing), and have a state teacher certification. 
  • Nurses — be a registered nurse, licensed practical nurse, or advanced practice registered nurse licensed with the S.C. Board of Nursing. Borrower must be employed full-time in a hospital, doctor’s office, school or other medical facility.
  • Certified nurse aides — have a nurse aide certification, be listed on the S.C. Nurse Aide Registry and be employed full-time in a hospital, doctor’s office, school or other medical facility.
  • S.C. National Guard members — in good standing with the S.C. Army National Guard or the S.C. Air National Guard as of loan application date. 
  • Veterans — must have served on active duty (other than active duty for training) and received a discharge other than dishonorable within the past 25 years. Eligible veterans cannot have an ownership interest in another principal residence at the time of loan closing.

There are income and home price limits, which vary by county. For example, to get the 10-year forgivable down payment assistance in the three-county Charleston region, a borrower's household income can't exceed $62,300, and the home price is capped at $225,000.

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Those with higher incomes — up to $109,000 for a family of three in Dorchester County or Berkeley County — can buy a home costing up to $300,000 and get the 20-year forgivable assistance.

The S.C. State Housing Finance & Development Authority runs the program, along with private lending partners, and offers $6,000 in down payment help. The additional $2,000 in forgivable assistance comes from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta Community Heroes Program, and borrowers must work with specific lenders to get that. The lenders and other details about Palmetto Heroes are listed on schousing.com.

The additional $2,000 is available to a smaller group: law enforcement officers, firefighters, EMT’s and paramedics, correctional officers, public school K-12 teachers and S.C. National Guard members.

Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552. Follow him on Twitter @DSladeNews.