Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are ready to ramp up purchases and guarantees of mortgages in which borrowers put just 3 percent down, and first-time homebuyers will be able to apply for the loans as early as next week, Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mel Watt announced today.

Borrowers will have to meet the mortgage giants’ usual underwriting, income documentation and risk management standards. As is the case for all loans in which buyers put less than 20 percent down, Fannie and Freddie will require that borrowers take out private mortgage insurance or other risk sharing.

Watt shared details about the new credit options to a roomful of bankers in Las Vegas, who were hopeful the options will encourage first-time buyers to join the housing market. The loans will also allow homeowners with a sliver of equity who are not eligible for the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) to refinance, although they’ll have little or no ability to take cash out of their homes in the process.

The new initiative — which builds on a program Fannie Mae offered through state housing finance agencies — will include homeownership counseling, and FHFA will monitor loan performance on an ongoing basis, Watt said in a statement.

Fannie Mae said borrowers can start paperwork as early as Dec. 13. Freddie Mac’s new Home Possible Advantage program will become available for mortgages with settlement dates on or after March 23.

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