WASHINGTON (AP) – Dec. 9, 2014 – Some Americans will soon be able to buy a home with a down payment as low as 3 percent, compared with the current minimum of 5 percent, the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac say.

The new lending guidelines announced by the companies Monday are designed to help more low-income and first-time buyers afford homes. Millions of Americans lost their savings or no longer had the income needed to set aside money for a home in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and the Great Recession. That has held down the sales of houses and condominiums and slowed the economic recovery.

The guidelines are designed to prevent the kind of reckless lending that fueled a housing bubble and eventually triggered the recession. Borrowers must have enough income to repay loans on a monthly basis for homes that would be their main residence. This guideline would be intended to limit financial speculation.

"These underwriting guidelines provide a responsible approach to improving access to credit while ensuring safe and sound lending practices," Mel Watt, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), said in a statement. The FHFA oversees Fannie and Freddie, which have been under government control since 2008 because of the housing bust.

Watt had announced in October that Fannie and Freddie had reached an agreement with major banks to expand lending. The FHFA declined Monday to say how many borrowers might benefit from having a 3 percent down payment.