The Pros and Cons of Conventional Mortgages and FHA Loans

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The two most common types of mortgages in the country today are conventional loans and FHA loans. Conventional mortgages conform to Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac guidelines and are a financial agreement between the lender and borrower. FHA loans are also between the lender and borrower, but the Federal Housing Authority backs FHA loans for borrowers who can’t typically qualify for a conventional loan.

Because of that fact, you might think conventional loans are the gold standard of mortgages, while FHA loans are what you would be forced to take if you can’t qualify for a conventional loan. This isn’t necessarily the case, however. There may be a situation where an FHA loan would be more preferable to a conventional loan and vice versa.

There are a lot of differences between the two types of loans, and understanding all of the requirements and features of each is essential to getting yourself the best deal when it comes to financing the cost of your home purchase.

Let’s take a look at the positives and negatives of both conventional loans and FHA loans to help you see which loan might be right for you.

Conventional Mortgage Pros

Conventional loans are what a lot of buyers strive to qualify for because it often will result in a cheaper total cost of financing. This is mainly true because conventional loans may not need private mortgage insurance (PMI).

First, conventional loans have no upfront PMI, and as long as you make a down payment of at least 20% at closing, you will avoid monthly PMI payments as well. If you make a down payment of less than 20% for a conventional loan, you can request your PMI payments be canceled once you’ve reached a loan-to-value ratio of 78%.

Conventional mortgages also allow you to finance the purchase of more expensive homes. For 2019, the Department of Housing and Urban Development set a national conforming property limit of $484,350 for a one-unit property. Properties above that amount would need to be financed through a jumbo loan.

Conventional Mortgage Cons

In exchange for the higher loan limits and no or shorter-term PMI, lenders require stricter standards when it comes to the borrower’s financial situation. Generally speaking, lenders will require a minimum credit score of 620 to qualify for a conventional loan. In addition, you must have a debt-to-income ratio of 45% or less and assets in reserve.

Conventional loans also require you to make a larger down payment. The minimum down payment on a conventional loan is 5%, unless you qualify for a Conventional LTV loan as a first-time homebuyer, which would allow you to make a 3% down payment.

Finally, interest rates tend to be higher on conventional loans. You need good credit to get the best rates, though — regardless of conventional vs. FHA. You may be able to secure a low rate with a conventional loan if your credit is good or you have a low DTI.

FHA Loan Pros

You can typically qualify for an FHA loan if you have a minimum score of 580. If you have a credit score of at least 580, you can make a down payment as low as 3.5%, and the entire down payment and your closing costs can be covered with gift funds.

In the same vein, your debt-to-income ratio does not have to be as low as it would for a conventional loan. Reserve funds are generally not required either, as they are with conventional loans.

Another positive is you may have the option of financing the cost of upgrades, modernization, and renovation of a home through the FHA 203(k) loan program. This program would allow you to finance the cost of these upgrades through the mortgage, instead of forcing you to either pay for the upgrades in cash or through more expensive financing options such as credit cards or personal loans. This could be a great option if you’re purchasing an older home or one that would be considered a fixer-upper.

FHA Loan Cons

The biggest negative to FHA loans is the mortgage insurance premium (MIP) fees you must pay in exchange for having a lower credit score, lower debt-to-income ratio, and/or making a lower down payment. Rates are market-based and consumers pay extra fees so a lender will take on a “riskier” loan. The fees are paid to accommodate more flexible credit qualifications.

The first fee is the upfront MIP, which equates to 1.75% of the total loan cost, due at closing. Then there will be an annual MIP, charged monthly — no matter how much of a down payment you make. Even if you make a 20% down payment, for example, you will still be required to pay a monthly MIP.

Another negative to FHA loans are the type of properties that qualify. First, the FHA has stricter standards when it comes to the condition of the property. The FHA requires homes financed through this program to be in better shape than conventional loans would, unless you’re financing through the FHA 203(k) program. Not all condos and townhomes qualify to be financed through an FHA loan, either.

Finally, the limit for how much you can finance through an FHA loan is lower as well. The FHA loan limits are 65% of the national conforming limit, which for 2019 is $314,827 for a one-unit property. However, the FHA does allow for high balance loan limits in particular areas and may go as high as $726,525 for 2019.

Which Is Better?

Generally speaking, a conventional loan would be preferable to an FHA loan, but for reasons you may not think. The reason for this is that if you qualify for a conventional loan, it means you are typically in a better financial position — with a higher credit score, a better debt-to-income ratio, a larger down payment, and more money in the bank.

This doesn’t mean an FHA loan isn’t good, though, or is a consolation prize to the conventional loan. FHA loans are the most popular mortgage program for first-time homebuyers, for example, because this group of people typically hasn’t had the ability to build up credit or assets to make a large down payment — through no fault of their own.

As the cost of goods in all areas continues to rise, more and more people who are buying their second home are opting for FHA loans as well, willing to pay the MIP in exchange for the ability to make a smaller down payment.

Have a Qualified Mortgage Expert Help You Decide

In sum, whether a conventional loan or an FHA loan is “better” is a very personal calculation. That’s why it’s so important you work with a mortgage professional who can educate you about what program would be right for you.

At Embrace Home Loans, we have more than 35 years of experience serving homebuyers of all kinds, from all walks of life. Our experts can guide you through the decision-making process and help you get the best loan for you. Call us today at (888) 907-6261.

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