SouthState Bank

$45 billion

Winter Haven, Fla.


The American Dream of homeownership has become increasingly difficult to attain due to high interest rates, tighter lending standards and a lack of starter home inventory. Housing costs have risen across most states, and according to the National Association of Realtors, the typical U.S. homebuyer now needs an income of $107,000 a year, up from $88,000 in 2022. This 22% jump—the largest on record—puts homeownership even further out of reach for many families.

Understanding the struggles that many prospective homeowners are facing, $45 billion-asset SouthState Bank in Winter Haven, Fla., rolled out the Opportunity Advantage Loan Fund, a program designed to help low- to moderate-income (LMI) individuals and families unlock the doors to homeownership. 

The initiative is fully funded by the community bank, which allocated $10 million to be used over a three‑year period. 

However, SouthState may replenish the fund if it’s depleted in less than three years. Available to LMI homebuyers in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia, the program awards a loan fund of up to $12,500 to qualifying buyers. Recipients can use the money for their down payments, closing costs or other purchase-related fees on a primary residence.

“[We] wanted to make sure that this forgivable second mortgage would go behind whatever first mortgage was beneficial to our customers.”
—Brent Harrell, SouthState Bank

Addressing housing affordability

According to Stephen Cannon, SouthState Bank’s mortgage co‑president, the loan is 100% forgivable with no repayment and 0% interest if the buyer owns the home for at least five years (there are repayment stipulations for homeowners who sell before reaching the five-year mark). 

The offer must be combined with one of these mortgages: the bank’s Buyer’s Advantage or Community Advantage, Fannie Mae’s Home Ready, Freddie Mac’s Home Possible or a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) mortgage.

Stephen Cannon
Stephen Cannon

Cannon says the community bank developed the fund to help “address housing affordability, down payment and closing cost assistance issues.” 

SouthState spoke to community leaders to learn more about the most pressing housing and home buying issues. “Overwhelmingly, the theme was that affordability was a financial barrier for many people looking to buy,” notes Cannon, “especially in the form of a down payment and funds needed to close.” 

After gathering information from the community and allocating funds to its new program, SouthState launched the Opportunity Advantage Loan Fund in May 2023. To be eligible, applicants must have an income of 80% or less of their county’s area median income (adjusted for family size). Borrowers can only use the program funds for the purchase of a primary residence.  

When developing the program, Brent Harrell, mortgage co-president, says the goal was to create a product that could be used with a variety of different mortgage loans. 

According to Harrell, the bank “wanted to make sure that this forgivable second mortgage would go behind whatever first mortgage was beneficial to our customers.” 

For example, the Community Advantage program offers up to 100% financing for first-time homebuyers with FICO scores of at least 600. Borrowers using Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac or USDA loans are also then eligible for the Opportunity Advantage Loan Fund.

Immediate success

The program took off right out of the gate. Since May, SouthState Bank has made 151 awards totaling nearly $2 million. “That’s more than 150 families we’ve been able to help, so it’s going great so far,” says Cannon, who has received much positive feedback on the program from the bank’s mortgage bankers and members of the community. 

Quick Stat


The median annual income that Americans need to attain homeownership

Source: National Association of Realtors

To get the word out about SouthState Bank’s new program, Lauren Rogers, SVP, director of mortgage business development, says the bank used a blend of internal and external communication strategies. With 251 branches spread across six states, SouthState let all mortgage bankers, branch managers and employees know about the new opportunity. 

“When a customer visits one of our bank branches to deposit their paycheck on a Friday, the branch managers and employees know about the new offering and can talk to those customers about it,” says Rogers. 

The community bank also issued a press release about the program and uses paid advertising on social media to reach both current and potential bank customers. “We’ve really tried to hit it from both ends—internally and externally,” she adds. 

Cannon says the Opportunity Advantage Loan Fund is different from other down payment programs because it factors in family size. 

Other programs require individual borrowers to earn 80% or less of the area median income, but SouthState’s program considers the total number of family members who will reside at the property. In areas where home prices are high, for example, larger families can get the extra support they need to get a mortgage. 

“This helps give borrowers greater purchasing power, so to speak,” explains Cannon. 

Both Cannon and Harrell say the program has so far exceeded expectations. They say there aren’t any real challenges to running it from the bank’s perspective but do acknowledge the fact that the initial investment may run out before SouthState hits the three-year mark. 

“At the rate we’re going, we may exhaust the fund,” says Harrell. “That’s something we’ll continue to keep an eye on. We’ve done initiatives like this in the past, and when the time comes, we’ll bring this back up with the board and see if they want to replenish it.”