Losing your home can be devastating to your credit, not to mention your psyche, but you can buy again within as few as three years after a foreclosure or short sale.

It's not surprising when you lose your home you also lose some self-esteem, especially if your were raised in a culture that sees homeownership as a status symbol, as a sign that you've finally arrived.

Some lost self-esteem also comes from the belief you've lost your shot at the American Dream. Others will tell you seven to ten years must pass before you can buy again. At that time, uninformed people say, you'll have to buy at high interest rates.

That's not always true.

If you file for bankruptcy, and make the right credit and financial moves, you can buy a home again as soon as two years after your bankruptcy is discharged.

What's more, if you rebuild your credit and maintain a healthy, on-time credit profile, you can take advantage of low down payment and low interest rate loans. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) allows you to buy a home with as little as 3.5 percent down and take advantage of some of the best interest rates on the market.

FHA loans literally replaced the subprime brand, but came with federal backing.

Also see: "U.S. to lower size of guaranteed mortgages"

You also may be eligible for first-time homebuyer programs that assist you with your down payment and closing costs. First-time homebuyer programs are not just for those who have never owned a home, but allow you to qualify if you have not owned a home in the past three years.

Some private lenders, home owners and investors also may allow you to buy a home even sooner than the two- to three-year period, but it will cost you a higher interest rate and require a large down payment.

With the housing market flat and many local markets still expected to see prices fall more, it is not a bad idea to spend the next several years cleaning up and re-establishing your credit. Good credit will allow you to buy a home with a minimal down payment and the lowest interest rates.

If you lost your home to foreclosure or a short sale, don't lose hope. Don't hesitate. Begin today putting yourself in a good position to buy.

Fix your credit

• Rebuild your credit by making your monthly debt payments on time. Don't ignore your remaining credit obligations during foreclosure or after losing your home. Your credit score gets a boost, in part, based on the number of positive accounts in your credit report. The more you have, within reason, the faster your credit score rises, even after losing a home.

• Pay down your credit cards but not to a zero balance. Your credit score gets a boost if you maintain a balance that is about 30 percent or lower than your credit limit. Keeping a balance reveals you can borrow money and pay it back on time. Don't close out your credit cards because the longer your positive credit history, the more your credit score and your ability to buy a home will improve.

Save money

• Most of today's homebuyer programs require a down payment. FHA loans require 3.5 percent down -- $3,500 for every $100,000 you borrow. You likely will have to pay closing costs, another 2 percent to 3 percent of the sales price. This is another $2,000 to $3,000 per $100,000. Do the math to determine how much you need to save each month, over the next two or three years, to have enough to cover your down payment and closing costs.

Don't be pressured

• Buy only when you are ready. You didn't lose your credit overnight. Likewise, it will take time to rebuild your credit and save for a down payment. Home buying deals will be available for years to come.

• Avoid adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs) and consider a 15- or 30-year fixed rate mortgage (FRM) that is a fully amortized loan so your payment and interest rate are fixed for the duration of the loan. Full amortization means each payment helps pay down the principal. When your loan term ends, so does the loan balance.

• Buy based on what you can afford, rather than a higher amount approved by the lender. You already know the risk of biting off more than you can chew. Lenders will pre-approve you based on your gross monthly income, but that does not consider taxes subtracted from your paycheck, food, clothing, utilities and other monthly obligations.

Know your comfort zone. Don't over-extend yourself.

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