Decisions, decisions – FHA or Conventional Loan?

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It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you’re considering a home loan. The last thing you want to feel is conflicted and confused! We’re here to help. One of the questions we hear most often is “What is the difference between a conventional loan and an FHA loan?” Let us tell you.

FHA stands for Federal Housing Administration, which means that FHA loans are backed by the government. Originally, they were created to help make homeownership more accessible to buyers with damaged credit or minimal savings. Over time, they became popular across all income levels and especially with first time buyers.

Conventional loans are your “basic loan.” They must conform to specific guidelines, but they are not backed by the government. They also are very popular.

Both loans offer you flexibility in type (fixed rate vs adjustable rate) and term length (30 years or 15 years).

There are some key differences between the two loan types.

FHA vs Conventional Credit Guidelines

FHA Credit Score Requirements
FHA has lower credit score requirements. A credit score of 580 or over allows you to make a down payment of just 3.5%. If your score is between 500-579, and you need to put down at least 10%. Buyers with credit scores under 500 likely won’t be able to qualify.

Conventional Credit Score Requirements
Exact credit score numbers needed vary from lender to lender and are impacted by other factors, but as a “rule of thumb,” 620 is generally the lower limit of conventional credit requirements.

Down Payment Requirements
One of the biggest myths about mortgage loans is that you need to put 20% down to buy a home. There are options available to put as little as 3% down.

FHA Loan 3.5% Down Payment
With an FHA loan, you can put as little as 3.5% down. For many, this is the same amount as you’d put down for a rental deposit.

Conventional Loan 3% Down Payment
With a conventional home loan, you can go as low as 3% with the program’s “conventional 97 loan.”

Private Mortgage Insurance for FHA and Conventional
If you put less than 20% down using any loan except a VA loan, you must have private mortgage insurance. Private mortgage insurance (PMI) protects lenders in the event that borrowers with low equity default on their loans.

FHA Loan PMI
For FHA loans you pay PMI for the life of the loan if you initially make a down payment of less than 10%. To remove the PMI, you must refinance once you build enough equity. In addition, PMI tends to be slightly higher for FHA loans than it is for conventional loans, since FHA have slightly more relaxed credit and debt requirements.

Conventional Loan PMI
PMI is simple with conventional loans. Once you have 20% equity in your home, PMI drops off. You can get there by putting 20% down on the house for your down payment, or by paying PMI until you hit 20% equity with your monthly mortgage payments. Your lender is legally required to drop your PMI automatically at 22%, or per your request at 20%.

Income Requirements
Debt to Income (DTI) is the percentage of your gross monthly income that will go toward paying off debt Lenders use the following formula to work out this number:
monthly expenses ÷ pre-tax monthly income = DTI %

FHA Debt to Income Requirements
With FHA home loans, some lenders may offer a bit more flexibility if the borrower’s finances and credit are good.  However, you want to choose a lender who has your best financial picture in mind, so working with someone who wants you to get your DTI more in line is a positive factor for your long-term financial security.

Interest Rates
FHA loans tend to come with lower interest rates than conventional loans, likely due to the fact that FHA borrowers have historically been less likely to pay off their mortgage early than conventional borrowers. However, if interest rates are your only factor, the difference is usually negligible, and you can easily pay more in PMI during the life of the loan.

Property Eligibility for FHA and Conventional Loans

FHA Property Guidelines
FHA home loans are backed by the government and are designed to help families, so they place more restrictions on the type of house that qualifies.
• Must be occupied by the buyer
• Must be your primary residence
• Must be occupied within 60 days of closing
• Must be assessed for safety with an additional home inspection
• Must be under the capped lending amount

Conventional Mortgage Property Guidelines
Conventional loans have fewer restrictions. Second homes and investment properties both qualify, and don’t require special inspections.

They have a capped loan amount called the conforming loan limit, which your lender can share with you.

Conventional 97 Property Qualifiers
However, if you use a conventional 97 loan and put just 3% down, there are additional requirements:
• The property must be a one-unit, single family home, co-op, PUD, or condo
• The property will be the buyer’s primary residence
• The buyer (or one of the buyers) can’t have owned a house in the last 3 years
• The loan amount is at or under the capped amount

Which Mortgage Loan is Right for You?
There’s no definitive answer here. Your lender will help you to review your finances to determine your best choice. You may want to consider the following:

An FHA loan may be best if:
• You have lower or no credit
• You have a lot of debt
• You already have an FHA loan and want to refinance
• You don’t plan on staying in the home long enough to hit 20% equity
• You have a bankruptcy or foreclosure in your past

A conventional loan may be best if:
• You have fair to excellent credit
• You have a reasonably low DTI ratio
• You need to be able to make the smallest possible down payment
• You want to be able to dump PMI without having to refinance
• You’re buying an investment property or second home

Remember, this is just a guideline to these two loan types. At Universal Lending we work to educate and inform our borrowers so they make the best financial decisions possible to keep themselves and their families financially secure while enjoying the benefits of homeownership.

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