FHA loans are one of the most popular types of home loans for first-time homebuyers cause of their low credit and down payment requirements.
Everything you need to know about FHA home loans is in this article, updated FHA loan requirements, credit guidelines, loan limits, how to apply, and who’s eligible.
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What is an FHA Loan?
An FHA loan is a government-backed mortgage guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration and issued by private lenders who are FHA-approved. Borrowers with a 580 credit score are eligible with a 3.5% down payment. Because FHA
allows for higher a debt-to-income ratio, up to 50%, they are an excellent loan option for low-to-median income borrowers.
2021 FHA Loan Requirements
- 580 credit score with a 3.5% down payment
- 500-579 score with 10% down
- Maximum 50% debt-to-income ratio
- Two years of stable employment and income history
- Must occupy the home as your primary residence
- 24 month waiting period after a foreclosure or bankruptcy
- Student loan payments factored into debt-to-income ratio
- Mortgage insurance premiums (MIP) required
- Upfront 1.75% mortgage insurance premium
- Non-occupying co-borrowers allowed
View all borrower requirements information in the HUD Handbook 4155.1
Facts about FHA Loans Infographic
An FHA mortgage requires a 580 scredit score with 3.5% down, or a 580 score with 10% down. But lenders look at more than just your credit score; what’s on your credit report is just as important.
If you meet the credit score requirement but have negative information such as late payments or collection accounts, your loan could be denied.
- Credit History – If you have no credit history, your lender will ask for alternative credit lines, such as rent and phone payments, to establish a positive payment history.
- Late Payments – A single late payment will not disqualify you; however, you should not have any more than one late payment on any of your accounts in the past 12 months.
- Foreclosures – 36 month waiting period after a foreclosure, 12 months with extenuating circumstances.
- Bankruptcy – Bankruptcy will not disqualify you. There is a 24 month waiting period after a chapter 7 bankruptcy, or 12 months if you have extenuating circumstances. You must reestablish positive payment history since your bankruptcy was filed.
- Collections, Judgements, and Federal Debt – A lender must verify that judgments and Federal debt has been paid or on a payment plan. Collections will not disqualify you; your lender may require you to pay off collections in certain situations.
Down Payment Guidelines
Your credit score determines the down payment amount you need. Borrowers with at least a 580 credit score will need a down payment of 3.5%, borrowers with a 500-579 score need 10% down.
More » FHA Down Payment Guidelines
Down Payment Assistance Programs
First-time homebuyers may qualify for downpayment assistance or grants. You can search for down payment and closing cost assistance programs available in your state on the HUD website. To be eligible for down payment assistance, your household income should not exceed the maximum threshold based on the number of people in the home.
1 person household
2 person household
3 person household
4 person household
For local down payment assistance programs, check out your local county or city website for more information.
Down Payment Gifts
Allows up to 100% of the down payment funds to be a gift from a friend or family member. If using gifted funds for the down payment will need to fill out a down payment gift letter.
FHA Loan Limits
The FHA loan limit is the maximum amount you can borrow. The loan limit was recently increased from $314,515 to $331,760 in low-cost areas and to $765,600 in high-cost areas.
Loan Limits by Property Type
Low Cost Area "Floor"
High Cost Area "Ceiling"
Guam, Hawaii, Alaska, U.S. Virgin Islands
FHA Property Requirements
FHA loans are available for single-family homes and 2-4 unit multifamily properties. Most condos and townhomes are eligible. You must occupy the home as your primary residence
FHA Eligible Property Types
- Single-family homes
- 2-4 unit multifamily properties
- Manufactured and mobile homes
- Condos and Townhomes
Minimum Property Standards
All properties must meet the minimum FHA property standards to be eligible. The home must be free from any hazards and have adequate living conditions, not needing any major repairs.
- The home must be complete and “marketable” – The interior and exterior should be a complete home. If the kitchen is not complete or other structures are not present, it will not meet property requirements.
- Must be accessible – The property should have public access and not require trespassing on private property to enter.
- Safe access – The home should be safe to access from a public road.
- Free from hazards – The property should be free from any hazards such as lead-based paint, visible electrically wiring, etc.
The Home Inspection and Appraisal
The FHA home appraisal is required before closing to determine the market value of the property. Depending on the size of the house, the average appraisal cost is $300-$600. The FHA home inspections are done before closing to ensure the home meets minimum property requirements. Home inspections cost $250-$400 on average, depending on the home’s square footage.
FHA Mortgage Insurance Premium (MIP)
Mortgage insurance premium (MIP) is required regardless of the down payment. MIP rates are 0.85% of the loan amount and is required for the life of the loan with less than 10% down.
The duration you will be required to pay for mortgage insurance depends on the down payment amount.
• Down payment of 10% or more MIP duration is 11 years
• Down payment of less than 10% MIP is required for the life of the loan
FHA MIP Rates
The mortgage insurance rate depends on the length of the loan term, loan amount, and the down payment. For most borrowers, the rate will be 0.85% of the loan amount. The rate is recalculated annually based on the principal balance.
$625,500 Loan Amount and Lower
Life of the loan
Life of the loan
FHA loans also require an upfront mortgage insurance premium (UFMIP) of 1.75% of the loan amount.
FHA vs. Conventional Loans
Conventional loans are not guaranteed by the government but by private mortgage insurance companies. They require a higher credit score (620 minimum) with a down payment between 3% – 20%.
Credit Score Requirement
Upfront Insurance Premium
FHA Loan Pros and Cons
The loan term is the specified length of time the loan repayment period is. A shorter loan term will have a higher monthly payment but has a lower mortgage rate and will save you the most money over the course of the loan.
- 30-year fixed-rate mortgage – The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is the most common term homeowners select. It will have the lowest monthly payment, and your rate will never increase.
- 15-year fixed-rate mortgage – A 15-year mortgage loan will have a higher monthly payment than a 30-year loan, but more of your payment will go towards the principal balance. You will pay off your loan in half the time and save a ton in interest. 15-year mortgages also have a lower rate than 30-year loans; your mortgage rate could be as much as .75% lower with a 15 yr mortgage.
- 5/1 Adjustable-rate mortgage – An adjustable-rate mortgage will have a low initial rate for the first five years of the loan. After five years, the interest rate will increase on an annual basis. An ARM mortgage is best suited for buyers who plan to stay in the home for less than five years or plan on paying off the loan in 5 years or less.
Types of FHA Loans
- FHA 203k Loan – If you would like to purchase a home and get additional money to make repairs or renovations, you can with the FHA 203k loan program. This renovation loan will allow you to purchase a property and get up to $35,000 additional cash to make renovations or repairs.
- Energy-Efficient Mortgage (EEM) – The FHA Energy Efficient Mortgage Program is available to borrowers purchasing an energy-efficient home. An EEM can also be used to make energy-efficient upgrades to an older home.
- Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) – The HECM is a reverse mortgage program that aims to help seniors aged 62+ convert equity in their home to cash while staying in the home.
- Section 245(a) Loan – A mortgage program for recent college graduated who expect their income to increase. Section 245(a) loans start with lower monthly payments that increase over time.
FHA Loan Alternatives
FHA loans aren’t perfect for everyone. Luckily it’s not the only low down payment home loan that is available.
- Conventional 97 Loans – Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac created the Conventional 97 loan program, which requires just a 3% down payment. They are more difficult to qualify for, requiring a 680 credit score.
- HomeReady / Home Possible Loans – Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac created the HomeReady and Home Possible loan program to compete with low down payment home loans. With just 3% down and a minimum credit score of 620, you may be eligible. Income limits apply.
- Conventional Loans – A conventional mortgage requires a 620 credit score and a down payment of 5%-20%. No PMI required if putting 20% down.
- VA Loans – Veterans of the U.S. military are eligible for a VA loan, which requires no down payment or mortgage insurance.
- USDA Loans – USDA loans are for low-to-median income homebuyers in rural parts of the country. They don’t require a down payment and have the lowest mortgage insurance rate of any home loan of just .35%.
How to Qualify for an FHA Loan
To qualify, lenders look at many factors such as income, employment, credit history, and assets.
43% to 50% maximum DTI ratio depending on the borrower
Your debt-to-income ratio (DTI) is the amount of your monthly income that goes towards reoccurring monthly payments such as auto loans and credit card payments.
For example, if your monthly income is $5,000 per month and your total monthly payments are $1,000, your DTI ratio is 20%. You will be allowed to have a mortgage payment of up to $1,500.
FHA-insured loans are suitable for low-to-median income first time home buyers. FHA’s debt-to-income ratio requirements are flexible and allow lenders more flexibility on DTI ratios than conventional mortgages.
Employment and Income Requirements
FHA loans require two years of stable employment with the same employer or in the same industry. Lenders need to see the last two years of tax returns to verify your income. If you’re self-employed or work on commissions, lenders will use your average annual income over the last two years.
A minimum 580 credit score is required with 3.5% down, borrowers with a 500-579 credit score will need a 10% down payment. If you have more than $2,000 in unpaid federal debt, your lender may require you to pay it off or be on a payment plan.
FHA Credit Requirements
- No more than one late payment on any account in the past 12 months
- No late mortgage payments in the past six months
- Two year waiting period after bankruptcy or short sale
- Three year waiting period after a foreclosure
- Collections, judgments, and federal debt should be paid or on a payment plan
Borrowers should have enough money in savings to cover the down payment, closing costs, the home appraisal and inspection, and at least two months’ worth of mortgage payments in reserve funds.
Lenders look at your bank statements to ensure the funds are coming from your savings and not a loan. If someone is gifting you the down payment, the person gifting the funds needs to provide bank statements and a gift letter stating the funds are indeed a gift and do not need to be repaid.
Closing costs are fees charged by mortgage lenders for processing and funding a loan. They include origination fees, home appraisals, title insurance, and more. Typically, FHA closing costs are 2% – 5% of the purchase price, the amount is dependent on your credit score and the mortgage lender you use.
Always compare loan offers from multiple lenders. You can use loan quotes to help you negotiate the closing costs, mortgage rate, and loan terms.
Improve Your Credit Before Applying
The interest rate and amount of closing costs you’ll be offered if tied to your credit rating. Even a half a percent difference in the rate can add up to tens of thousands of dollars over the course of the loan. So you should take steps to improve your score before applying for an FHA loan.
- Pay down credit card debt – Your credit utilization ratio is the amount of available credit you’re using; it accounts for 30% of your overall FICO score. Try to pay your balances to less than 10-15% of the card’s limit.
- Don’t apply for credit – Do not apply for new lines of credit or loans. Too many credit inquiries can lower your credit score. You’re also adding debt to your report, which can negatively affect your score.
- Pay your bills on time – Your payment history accounts for 35% of your overall score. Don’t miss a payment on any bills; set up auto-pay to ensure you don’t miss any payments.
- Dispute Inaccurate Items – You can dispute accounts you don’t believe are accurate with the credit bureaus directly. They will investigate the account and must either verify it or delete it within 30 days.
- Get added as an authorized user – If you know someone who has a credit card in good standing with no negative account activity, ask them to add you to their account as an authorized user. The entire account history will be added to your credit profile, which can increase your credit score.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I qualify for an FHA loan?
To qualify, you need a 500 credit score with a 10% down payment or a 580 credit score with 3.5% down—two years of stable employment and proof of income with two years of W2’s and tax returns. See if you qualify by applying with an FHA-approved lender.
What is the downside of an FHA loan?
FHA loans have lower loan limits than conventional loans. They also require mortgage insurance regardless of the amount you use as a down payment.
Do FHA loans have income limits?
FHA loans do not have income limits. Your debt-to-income ratio determines the loan amount you qualify for, up to the FHA loan limit in your area.
Do FHA loans take longer to close?
The average time to close for most mortgage loans, including FHA, is 46 days. However, the time to close depends on several factors. You can speed up the process by getting all of your documents to your loan officer quickly and promptly responding to any requests.
Are FHA loans only for first-time homebuyers?
No. Anyone can qualify for an FHA mortgage regardless if they’re a first-time buyer or not. You can not have two FHA loans opened at the same time unless you met certain conditions.
Which is a better loan FHA or conventional?
If your credit score is below 620 and you have less than a 20% down payment, then an FHA mortgage will make the most sense. However, if you have great credit and 20% down, then a conventional loan is a better option because you can avoid mortgage insurance.
How do I apply for an FHA loan?
FHA loans are offered by private mortgage lenders and banks who are FHA-approved. The first step is to get pre-approved.
FHA loans offer a wealth of benefits for many home buyers. They are easier to qualify for, offer lower interest rates and lower loan fees.
They’re available for many people who would not otherwise qualify for a home loan due to poor credit or, sometimes, no credit history at all.
Whether you’re a first-time homebuyer or looking for another home, FHA loans are a great option.
Talk to an FHA-approved lender for more information or to apply