USDA Home Loan Program Requirements [Updated for 2017]


BY The Lenders Network

The U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn’t just provide nutrition services.

USDA also guarantees loans in eligible rural areas of the country.

The word ‘rural’ may sound off-putting at face-value. When you think “rural” you think of Famers and cows.

However, what if I told you that 97% of the country is in an eligible area?

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?

But, it’s true.

Look at the latest USDA rural housing eligibility map below. Everything in green is eligible. Those little blue specs are areas that are ineligible.

» MORE: Get Preapproved for USDA

U.S. department of agriculture USDA eligibility map

The current U.S. Department of Agriculture eligibility map shows that rural development loans are available in many areas outside of the major cities.

There is a great chance that you are located in a “rural” area of the U.S. and eligible for a USDA-backed mortgage. 0% down payment makes them great for first-time homebuyers.

You can check if a certain address is eligible here

What is the USDA Home Loan Program?

The USDA Guarantee loan is a 100% financing mortgage for moderate-to-low income homebuyers in eligible rural and suburban areas.

USDA loans are issued through the USDA Rural Development Guaranteed Housing Loan Program, which was created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

USDA loan guarantees: USDA 502 direct loan guarantees a mortgage issued by private lenders. In this way they are similar to FHA and VA Loans.

The Government insures the mortgages which protects the lenders in the event the borrower defaults on the loan. Government-backed loans will require mortgage insurance in order for them to guarantee the mortgage.

There is a guarantee fee that can be rolled into the loan. Closing costs cannot be rolled into the loan.

Benefits of The USDA Loan Program

usda loan program

No Downpayment Loan (100% Financing)

Amongst the several benefits of the USDA Rural Development Loan program, the ability to put zero-down and get 100% financing is one of the greatest benefits. USDA home loans are one of only two types of mortgage loans that require no down payment, the other being VA loans. These benefits make USDA loans perfect for first-time home buyers.

Low Mortgage Insurance Premiums

USDA mortgages the lowest MIP of any home loan program besides the VA, which requires no mortgage insurance. The annual MIP is just 0.30%. When compared to the FHA PMI fee of 0.85% the savings is substantial.

On a $200,000 home, PMI on an FHA loan is $1700 per year. A $200,000 home, USDA PMI will be just $600 annually, a savings of $1100 per year.

USDA does have a one time up-front mortgage insurance payment of 1% of the loan amount that is added into the loan.

Borrowers save an average of $100 per month with a USDA home loan over FHA loans because of the reduced mortgage insurance.

USDA Home Loan Benefits

  • Zero downpayment
  • Low mortgage rates
  • Low PMI (mortgage insurance)
  • 30yr and 15yr fixed rate options available
  • 640 credit score required
  • 97% of the U.S. is in an eligible zone
  • Must wait 36 months after a bankruptcy or foreclosure to qualify
  • Owner occupied properties only
  • Easier to qualify for that conventional mortgages

USDA Loan Requirements

To qualify for USDA financing you must meet these requirements:

  • Meet the USDA income limit requirements
  • Be a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national or qualified alien
  • Occupy the property as your primary residence
  • Show a willingness to meet debt obligations
  • Choose a home in an eligible USDA rural location
  • Work with a USDA-approved lender
  • Have an adequate credit score for the loan, preferably 620-640 or higher

To verify if the home you intend to purchase is eligible, head on to the USDA Eligibility page here. Type the exact address of the house in the search box provided, click “GO” and the site will show the eligibility status of the house.

USDA Income Limits 2017

This rural housing loan has set income limits for individuals, or family’s in order to qualify. Your household income cannot exceed 115% of your area median income.

Most moderate income families will meet the income requirements for a rural development loan. For most areas of the county the income limit for households with 1-4 family members is $75,650 and up to $153,400 in certain high cost cities. The maximum debt-to-income ratio for USDA loans are higher than a conventional loan.

You should speak to a USDA lender to determine your eligibility.

Check the income requirements in your county on the USDA website

USDA Property Eligibility

  • Single-family home
  • New constructions
  • HUD approved Condos
  • Townhomes
  • FHA approved Modular homes
  • Planned Unit Developments (PUDs)

Properties financed with direct loan funds must:

  • Not exceed 2,000 square feet
  • Market value not exceeding the area loan limit
  • In-ground swimming pools not permitted
  • Home cannot be used to produce income

USDA Loan Limits (Updated 2017)

The loan limits for USDA rural housing loans vary from county to county based on the median home prices in the area. Check the USDA loan limits in your county here.

USDA Streamline Refinance

In 2012 the USDA launched their streamline refinance program. The streamline refinance is for borrowers with a USDA mortgage loan who have a rate higher than the current interest rate.

  • Currently have a USDA home loan
  • Borrower must be current on their mortgage
  • The refinance should have a net positive (rate or monthly payments must be lowered as a result)
  • Cash-out refinancing is not an option

USDA Housing Repair Loans and Grants

The U.S.Department of Agriculture also offers loans to rural homeowners to make improvements, repairs, and modernize their home. This program is available to very-low income borrowers who cannot find loans anywhere else.

USDA grants to very-low income elderly homeowners, 62 years of age or older to remove safety and health hazards.

Who qualifies:
You must meet these requirements:

  • Very-low income less than 50% of the median income in the area
  • You must be the owner of the property
  • Be able to show usability to receive a loan elsewhere
  • Must live in a rural area as defined by the rural housing loan program
  • To be eligible for grants you must be at least 62 years of age

How much money can I get?

  • $20,000 is the maximum loan amount
  • Grants available up to $7,500
  • Grant eligible borrowers can also qualify for a loan totaling a maximum program loan amount of $27,500

USDA Loan Credit Score Requirements

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently changed the credit requirements. A 640 FICO score is required for a USDA rural development loan. Before this change, it was possible for homebuyers to qualify for with less than adequate credit history.

These loans are Governed by:

  • The Housing Act of 1949 as amended, 7 CFR, Part 3550,
  • HB-1-3550 – Direct Single Family Housing Loans Field Office Handbook

Raise Your Credit Score for a USDA Loan

If your credit rating is under 640 and you want a USDA loan the only chance you have is to increase your credit score so you’ll be eligible. There are few techniques you can do to increase your credit score before applying for a mortgage loan.

Pay Down Credit Card Balances

You credit utilization ratio is the ratio of the amount of your credit card limits you are using. It accounts for 30% of your overall credit score. Only your payment history (35%) has a bigger impact on your credit score. Try to pay down the balances your cards to less than 20% of the limit to maximize your scores.

USDA Loan FAQ

What does your credit score have to be to get a USDA loan?

In order to qualify for a USDA rural home loan you will need at least a 640 credit score.

Is there mortgage insurance on a USDA loan?

Yes. However, USDA mortgage insurance is quite a bit cheaper than any other type of mortgage loan. USDA requires an annual PMI of just 0.35% of the loan amount. This amount is configured into your monthly payment.

How do you apply for a USDA loan?

To apply for a USDA loan, like most loans you can apply online. First check that the property is in a USDA eligible area. Most private lenders offer USDA loans. You should contact a USDA-approved lender to find out if you meet all the guidelines.

Can you finance closing costs on a USDA loan?

Yes you can. However, the maximum loan-to-value ratio of a USDA loan is 100%. You cannot finance more than the purchase price of the home. You may have to come out of pocket for some up-front costs.

Is there an income limit on USDA loans?

Yes. USDA home loans are specifically for low-to-moderate income families with a household income of no more than 115% of the median area income.

How to get a usda loan with bad credit?

Unfortunately borrowers with poor credit cannot qualify for a USDA loan. A 640 credit score or higher is needed to qualify for the program. If your scores are below 640 you will need to work on improving your scores before applying.

Tips to improve your credit scores quickly

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The Lenders Network has the largest network of mortgage lenders that specialize in home loans for borrowers with all types of credit scores. We will match you will the best lender based on your specific situation.