What is an FHA loan?

conceptual mortgage section of the newspaper with yellow envelope,  and keys

In 1934, the long road to recovery began for the U.S. economy. For the housing market, this meant the creation of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan.

The loans issued under this program are insured by the federal government, decreasing the risk of loss for lenders. With its less stringent rules, more borrowers were able to qualify, which gave a boost to the housing market.

Much has changed since 1934, but the FHA loan has basically remained the same. Here are eight things to know about this government-backed mortgage.

1. Down payment as low as 3.5%

Unlike most conventional mortgages, which require 5-20% down*, the FHA loan can have a down payment requirement as low as 3.5%. This makes it much easier for lower income borrowers to purchase a home. There are even government-assisted programs available that offer grants for down-payments.

*Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac now offer a conventional mortgage program that requires 3% down.

2. Perfect credit isn’t needed

When making any large purchase, your credit score is an important number. When it comes to FHA loans, a credit score of 580 or higher will get you a down payment around 3.5%.

If you have a credit score between 500 and 579, you’ll have to put at least 10% down. For those with credit scores under 500, unless you qualify for “nontraditional credit history or insufficient credit”, you will probably not qualify for an FHA loan.

Also, if you have ever made an appearance on the governments’s Credit Alert Interactive Verification Reporting System (CAIVRS), you will have to clear your name to become eligible for an FHA loan.

3. Financial relief is possible

If the borrower is struggling to make their mortgage payments due to a legitimate financial hardship, the lender can choose to offer a temporary period of forbearance, a loan modification, or a deferral of part of the loan balance.

4. Lender must be FHA-approved

While the FHA does insure the loans, they don’t lend them, so borrowers must find an FHA-approved lender. Just like with conventional loans, lenders will offer different interest rates and fees on identical loan types.

5. Two-part mortgage insurance is required

All FHA loans require two mortgage insurance premiums. There’s an upfront premium, paid once the borrower receives the loan, which is 1.75% of the total loan amount.

Then there is the annual premium, whose title is somewhat deceiving as it’s paid on a monthly basis. The length of the loan, the amount borrowed, and the initial loan-to-value ratio (LTV) all affect how much a borrower will have to pay.

6. Funds for a fixer-upper are available 

The FHA’s 203k loan is geared specifically toward buyers who plan to purchase and renovate their home. Structural alterations, modernization and improvements to the home’s function, a roof replacement, and septic system repair are all eligible projects, along with many others.

 

7. No closing costs are possible

Closing costs are another upfront fee that can be challenging for some borrowers to pay. Recognizing this fact, the FHA permits sellers/builders/lenders to offer deals around closing costs.

8. Loan could be assumable

FHA loans can be assumable, meaning a buyer will purchase the home and take on the mortgage of the current owner. Everything is the same: the rate, the repayment period, the principal balance.

In the right circumstances, this process can be simpler and less costly than getting a new mortgage. It’s particularly attractive when rates are rising.