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

House in Mauldin "For Sale" (copy)

Some South Carolina homebuyers can get a below-market mortgage rate and $10,000 in down payment money from SC Housing's Palmetto Heroes Program. File/Stephanie Mirah/staff

Home prices have soared and interest rates are rising, so a South Carolina initiative that offers $10,000 in forgivable down payment assistance and below-market mortgage rates should be of interest to many potential buyers.

This year, at this time, the opportunity to get a 30-year mortgage with a 4.5 percent interest rate is particularly notable. The national average was 5.27 percent as of May 5, and the difference amounts to real savings on a home loan.

The Palmetto Heroes Program has been around for years and has helped more than 1,800 homebuyers in South Carolina. The annual funding usually gets exhausted within months, and this year there's $25 million available on a first-come basis.

Palmetto Heroes is different from some other homebuyer assistance programs because it's only available to people working in South Carolina in certain jobs or professions. And the qualification list can change from year to year.

For example, two years ago people who staffed grocery stores and medical offices, and those who delivered products to people's homes, were eligible, but now they aren't.

This year the "heroes" list includes: "Qualifying South Carolina educators, law enforcement, corrections professionals, firefighters, emergency medical service personnel, licensed medical professionals, members of the U.S. Armed Services, S.C. Army National Guard and S.C. Air National Guard, and veterans."

New for this year, the "educators" category has a broader definition, so it includes certified school personnel such as librarians and counselors who aren't necessarily teachers.

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That list covers a whole lot of Palmetto State residents and potential homebuyers. While the below-market-rate loan offered is a large incentive by itself, the $10,000 in down payment assistance can put people across the goal line, and if they live in the home for 10 years or more it doesn't have to be repaid.

The program run by the SC Housing just reopened for 2022, and here's how it works: 

  • There are home-price and income limits. The maximum home price for all counties is $350,000.
  • Income limits vary by county but are generous. A single person or a couple could earn as much as $115,680 in Dorchester or Berkeley counties, or $94,080 in most counties. Some counties have lower limits, such as $85,200 in Greenville, but none go below $78,400 for a family of one or two (and they rise for families of three or more).
  • This is a first-time buyer program, but that doesn't really mean you must be a first-time buyer. In most counties, it means you can't own a home at the time you use this program to buy one. In a dozen "non-targeted" counties, including Charleston, that means you can't have owned a home during the previous three years.
  • The non-targeted counties where the rules are stricter are: Aiken, Anderson, Charleston, Greenville, Greenwood, Lancaster, Lexington, Oconee, Pickens, Richland, Spartanburg and York.
  • Borrowers must have an executed sales contract on the home they plan to buy. The mortgage loans are arranged through more than 100 lenders participating in the program statewide.

Here's the phone number for Palmetto Heroes: 803-896-2211.

If this all sounds good but you're not a "hero" check out SC Housing's other programs for first-time buyers at schousing.com/Home/HomeBuyers.

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