FHA Loans

FHA loans are an attractive option, especially for first-time homeowners because it is insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).  Primarily, the federal government insures loans for FHA-approved lenders in order to reduce their risk of loss if a borrower defaults on their mortgage payments.Typically the borrower can be approved with 3.5% down vs 20% that is required on other loan programs.

What is an FHA Loan?

The Complete FHA Consumer Guide

An FHA loan is a mortgage that’s insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). They are popular especially among first time home buyers because they allow down payments of 3.5% for credit scores of 580+. However, borrowers must pay mortgage insurance premiums, which protects the lender if a borrower defaults.

Borrowers can qualify for an FHA loan with a down payment as little as 3.5% for a credit score of 580 or higher. The borrower’s credit score can be between 500 – 579 if a 10% down payment is made.  It’s important to remember though, that the lower the credit score, the higher the interest borrowers will receive.

The FHA program was created in response to the rash of foreclosures and defaults that happened in 1930s; to provide mortgage lenders with adequate insurance; and to help stimulate the housing market by making loans accessible and affordable for people with less than stellar credit or a low down payment. Essentially, the federal government insures loans for FHA-approved lenders in order to reduce their risk of loss if a borrower defaults on their mortgage payments.

FHA Loan Requirements

For borrowers interested in buying a home with an FHA loan with the low down payment amount of 3.5%, applicants must have a minimum FICO score of 580 to qualify. However, having a credit score that’s lower than 580 doesn’t necessarily exclude you from FHA loan eligibility. You just need to have a minimum down payment of 10%.

The credit score and down payment amounts are just two of the requirements of FHA loans. Here’s a complete list of FHA loan requirements, which are set by the Federal Housing Authority:

  • Borrowers must have a steady employment history or worked for the same employer for the past two years.
  • Borrowers must have a valid Social Security number, lawful residency in the U.S. and be of legal age to sign a mortgage in your state.
  • Borrowers must pay a minimum down payment of 3.5 percent. The money can be gifted by a family member.
  • New FHA loans are only available for primary residence occupancy.
  • Borrowers must have a property appraisal from a FHA-approved appraiser.
  • Borrowers’ front-end ratio (mortgage payment plus HOA fees, property taxes, mortgage insurance, homeowners insurance) needs to be less than 31 percent of their gross income, typically. You may be able to get approved with as high a percentage as 40 percent. Your lender will be required to provide justification as to why they believe the mortgage presents an acceptable risk. The lender must include any compensating factors used for loan approval.
  • Borrowers’ back-end ratio (mortgage plus all your monthly debt, i.e., credit card payment, car payment, student loans, etc.) needs to be less than 43 percent of their gross income, typically. You may be able to get approved with as high a percentage as 50 percent. Your lender will be required to provide justification as to why they believe the mortgage presents an acceptable risk. The lender must include any compensating factors used for loan approval.
  • Borrowers must have a minimum credit score of 580 for maximum financing with a minimum down payment of 3.5 percent.
  • Borrowers must have a minimum credit score of 500-579 for maximum LTV of 90 percent with a minimum down payment of 10 percent. FHA-qualified lenders will use a case-by-case basis to determine an applicants’ credit worthiness.
  • Typically borrowers must be two years out of bankruptcy and have re-established good credit. Exceptions can be made if you are out of bankruptcy for more than one year if there were extenuating circumstances beyond your control that caused the bankruptcy and you’ve managed your money in a responsible manner.
  • Typically borrowers must be three years out of foreclosure and have re-established good credit. Exceptions can be made if there were extenuating circumstances and you’ve improved your credit. If you were unable to sell your home because you had to move to a new area, this does not qualify as an exception to the three-year foreclosure guideline.
  • The property must meet certain minimum standards at appraisal. If the home you are purchasing does not meet these standards and a seller will not agree to the required repairs, your only option is to pay for the required repairs at closing (to be held in escrow until the repairs are complete).

Benefits of FHA Loans: Low Down Payments and Less Strict Credit Score Requirements

Typically an FHA loan is one of the easiest types of mortgage loans to qualify for because it requires a low down payment and you can have less-than-perfect credit. For FHA loans, down payment of 3.5 percent is required for maximum financing. Borrowers with credit scores as low as 500 can qualify for an FHA loan.

Borrowers who cannot afford a 20 percent down payment, have a lower credit score, or can’t get approved for private mortgage insurance should look into whether an FHA loan is the best option for their personal scenario.

Another advantage of an FHA loan it is an assumable mortgage which means if you want to sell your home, the buyer can “assume” the loan you have. People who have low or bad credit, have undergone a bankruptcy or have been foreclosed upon may be able to still qualify for an FHA loan.

Mortgage Insurance is Required for an FHA Loan

You knew there had to be a catch, and here it is: Because an FHA loan does not have the strict standards of a conventional loan, it requires two kinds of mortgage insurance premiums: one is paid in full upfront -– or, it can be financed into the mortgage –- and the other is a monthly payment. Also, FHA loans require that the house meet certain conditions and must be appraised by an FHA-approved appraiser.

Upfront mortgage insurance premium (UFMIP) — Appropriately named, this is a one-time upfront monthly premium payment, which means borrowers will pay a premium of 1.75% of the home loan, regardless of their credit score. Example: $300,000 loan x 1.75% = $5,250. This sum can be paid upfront at closing as part of the settlement charges or can be rolled into the mortgage.

Annual MIP (charged monthly) — Called an annual premium, this is actually a monthly charge that will be figured into your mortgage payment. The amount of the mortgage insurance premium is a percentage of the loan amount, based on the borrower’s loan-to-value (LTV) ratio, loan size, and length of loan:

Loan Term Loan Amount LTV Ratio Annual Insurance Premium
Over 15 years $625,000 or less 95% or less 0.80%
Over 15 years $625,000 or less Over 95% 0.85%
Over 15 years Over $625,000 95% or less 1.00%
Over 15 years Over $625,000 Over 95% 1.05%
15 years or less $625,000 or less 90% or less 0.45%
15 years or less $625,000 or less Over 90% 0.70%
15 years or less Over $625,000 90% or less 0.70%
15 years or less Over $625,000 Over 90% 0.95%

For example, the annual premium on a $300,000 loan with term of 30 years and LTV less than 95 percent  would be $2,400: $300,000 x 0.80% = $2,400. To figure out the monthly payment, divide $2,400 by 12 months = $200. So, the monthly insurance premium would be $200 per month..

How Long Do Borrowers Have to Pay FHA Mortgage Insurance?

The duration of your annual MIP will depend on the amortization term and LTV ratio on your loan origination date.

For loans with FHA case numbers assigned on or after June 3, 2013:

Borrowers will have to pay mortgage insurance for the entire loan term if the LTV is greater than 90% at the time the loan was originated. If your LTV was  90% or less, the borrower will pay mortgage insurance for the mortgage term or 11 years, whichever occurs first.

Term Original Down Payment Duration
15 years or less less than 10% Life of loan
15 years or less 10% or higher 11 years
Over 15 years less than 10% Life of loan
Over 15 years 10% or higher 11 years


For loans with FHA case numbers assigned before June 3, 2013:

Term Original Down Payment Duration
15 years or less 22% or higher No annual MIP
15 years or less less than 22% Cancelled at 78% LTV
Over 15 years 22% or higher 5 years
Over 15 years less than 22% Cancelled at 78% LTV(5 years minimum)


FHA Loan Limits

The Federal Housing Authority sets maximum mortgage limits for FHA loans that vary by state and county. In certain counties, you may be able to get financing for a loan size up to $729,750 with a 3.50 percent down payment. Conventional financing for loans that can be bought by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac are currently at $625,000.

How Do You Get an FHA loan?

A lender must be approved by the Federal Housing Authority in order to help you get an FHA loan. You can shop for mortgage quotes for an FHA loan quickly and easily on Clifton Saunders Mortgage Team. Our Purchase Assistants will help narrow down options based on your individual needs. It’s quick, it’s easy, and the more questions you answer – the more accurate your results. You’ll receive the Purchase information you need instantly without all the calls and emails.