Conventional loans are growing in popularity thanks to low rates and increasingly flexible guidelines.
A conventional loan is one that is not formally backed by any government entityÂ such as FHA, VA, and USDA. Rather, it is a loan that follows guidelines set by Fannie Mac and Freddie Mae, two agencies that help standardize mortgage lending in the U.S.
Conventional loans are also known as conforming loans because they "conform" to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac standards.
Does the lack of government backing make conventional loans less desirable? Hardly.
While a conventional mortgage appeals to a wide demographic, it's especially good for first-time borrowers with decent credit and some amount of downpayment.
Although, itâ€™s a myth that you need a 20 percent downpayment for a conventional loan.
From the ten-percent-down piggyback loan to the three-percent-down HomeReadyTMÂ andÂ Conventional 97Â loans,Â conventional low-downpayment options not only exist but are extremely popular with todayâ€™s buyers.
So, how do you qualify for a conventional loan? Simply by matching expectations set out by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Once you do that, you join the club of conventional loan homeowners who make up about 65% of the market.Click to see today's rates (Feb 22nd, 2017)
Like most loans, you have an option about how long you will be paying your mortgage.
Conventional loans come in 15, 20, 25, and thirty year terms. Some lenders even offer 10-year conventional loans.
The shorter your loan term, the higher your monthly payment. Fortunately, a loan term of 30 years still comes with low fixed interest payments that help home buyers budget and cover the other costs of home ownership.
Conventional loans are also a smart choice for those who know they won't remain in their house long and want a shorter-term, adjustable-rate mortgage. This option comes with a lower interest rate than that of a fixed-rate loan.
Adjustable rates are in fact fixed, but only for a period of time â€“ usually 3, 5 or 7 years. During that initial â€śteaserâ€ť period, the homeowner pays ultra-low interest and can save thousands.
The glitch here is that if they don't sell at the end of the loan's life, the rate adjusts -- maybe down, but also maybe up. It's a gamble that they should discuss with their lender and financial advisor.
Another advantage to conventional loans is the lack of an upfront mortgage insurance fee, even if the buyerÂ puts less than 20 percent down.
FHA loans, plus USDA mortgages and even VA loans require an upfront â€śfunding feeâ€ť usually between 1% and 3% of the loan amount.
Conventional loans only require a monthly mortgage insurance fee, and only when the homeowner puts down less than 20 percent. Plus, that mortgage insurance cost is often lower than that of government-backed loans.
Conventional loans are actually the least restrictive of all loan types, in some respects.
USDA loans require the property purchasedÂ to be in a designated rural area. This is fine for those who live and work in suburban and rural locations. However, for those in major cities, a USDA-eligible home could extend commuting distance beyond what is reasonable.
VA loansÂ areÂ exclusive to current and former military service members. They offer a lot of benefits, like zero downpayment and no monthly mortgage insurance. But they are not available to the general population.
FHA loans are a powerful home buying tool, but can come with high upfront and monthly mortgage insurance fees that are payable for the life of the loan -- up to 30 years. The only way toÂ cancel FHA mortgage insuranceÂ is to refinance out of the FHA loan. This can incur additional costs.
First-time and repeat buyers can land a good value when they choose a conventional loan for their home purchase. And, more buyers qualify for this loan than you might expect.Click to see today's rates (Feb 22nd, 2017)
Conventional loans come with low rates that make home buying affordable.
Rates are based on mortgage backed securities (MBS) which are traded just like stocks. And like the stocks, conventional loan rates change daily, and throughout the day.
What's the best way to secure a low rate? Watch market movements so you know a good rate when you see one.
Conventional loan rates can drop -- or rise --Â quickly when financial news hits the market. For instance, if the Federal Reserve decides to cut its benchmark rate, conventional loan rates could fall, too.
Rates for 30-year fixed conventional loans have remainedÂ below 4.5% for some time, and rates are not expected to rise above that level in the near future. Still, the lowest rates are available to those who are ready to lock in when rates drop.
Locking a rate is available to any approved applicant who has selected a property to buy.
Short-term conventional loans come with very low rates. The most popular conventional loan lengths are as follows.
Twenty and twenty-five year terms are also available from manyÂ lenders.
Don't rule out a conventional adjustable rate mortgage (ARM). These loans come with ultra-low rates for a periodÂ ofÂ typically 3, 5, or 7 years. They then adjust based on current rates.
Today's home buyersÂ often choose aÂ 5-year ARMÂ orÂ 7-year ARM. These loansÂ can provide thousands in savings while giving the home buyerÂ enough time to refinance into a fixed-rate loan, sell the home, or pay off the mortgage entirely.
It pays to get at least three written quotes from different lenders, no matter which loan length or conventional loan type you choose.Â According to one government study, applicants who shopped around receive rates up to 0.50% lower than non-shopping home buyers.
Conventional loan rates are heavily based on credit score, more so than rates for FHA loans. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac publishÂ Loan Level Price AdjustmentsÂ which increaseÂ interest rates for lower-credit-score buyers. This is why an FHA loan is often more suitable for these applicants.
For instance, a home buyer with a 740 score and 20% down will be offeredÂ about 0.50% lowerÂ rate than a buyer with a 640 score.
It's important get a personalized rate quote. Published rate averages are often based onÂ theÂ "perfect" applicant -- one with great credit and a large downpayment. Your rate might be higher or lower.
Get a conventional rate quote to based on your information, not on that of an average buyer.Click to see today's rates (Feb 22nd, 2017)
Conventional loans have a reputation of being too hard to qualify for.
Thatâ€™s not the case.
Elements of approval are the same as those for â€śeasyâ€ť government-backed loans: you need to prove you make enough money, that your income is expected to continue, you have enough assets to cover the downpayment, plus you have adequate credit history.
But it is true that lenders set a higher bar for conventional loan applicants than for other applicants -- FHA buyers, for instance.
Conventional loans do not come with an implicit government guarantee that repaysÂ the lender if the buyer fails to do so. That comes with higher risk for -- and therefore higher standards from -- the lender.
Still, home buyers shouldnâ€™t be scared away and assume they canâ€™t qualify. Conventional loan qualification is not difficult for the average home buyer.
According to loan software company Ellie Mae, the average credit score for all applicants who successfully complete a mortgage is around 720. This is plenty high to get approved for a conventional loan.
The minimum accepted score for most conventional loans is 620. "We want to know that people pay their bills on time and are financially disciplined and good at money management," saysÂ Staci Titsworth, regional vice president sales manager with PNC Mortgage in Pittsburgh, Pa. A slightly higher score may pass the credit-score test, but necessitate a higher interest rate to compensate for the greater risk.
Applicants with lower credit may want to choose an FHA loan, which does not charge extra fees or higher rates for low credit scores.Click to see today's rates (Feb 22nd, 2017)
Above and beyond credit, approvals will be issued to applicants who can provide proof of earnings which may involve some or all of the following documentation.
"Most lenders require a two-year documentation to show a consistent earnings stream," Titsworth says. Maintenance, also termed alimony, can also be counted if documented in a divorce decree, along with the recurring method of payment such as automatic deposit. Seasonal income is also accepted, again with proof in a tax return.Click to see today's rates (Feb 22nd, 2017)
The lender will likely insist that the house itself be a worthy risk, documented by an appraisal that values the house at the selling price. If not, use the appraisal as a bargaining chip to get the seller to come down in price. The lenderâ€™s maximum loan amount is based on appraised value if it is lower than the purchase price. This could leave the buyer to come up with extra cash, or choose another property.
For instance, a home is offered at $200,000. But it appraises for $190,000.
The applicant must come up with his downpayment plus an extra $10,000 to cover the shortfall. Or the seller can come down in price.
Value isnâ€™t the only thing to watch for when getting a convention loan appraisal. Sometimes, during an inspection the appraiser may require another professional's opinion. "If the appraiser sees water stains or a lot of leaky faucets, he may request a plumbing inspection. The seller may need to make improvements, which could delay a closing," Titsworth says.
However, conventional loans actually come with less strict appraisal and property requirements than do FHA, VA or USDA loans. This is another advantage to conventional: you can qualify for a home in slightly worse condition and plan to make the repairs after your loan is approved and you move in.
The amount of the borrower's downpayment can affect the interest rate and final loan costs.
Putting down a larger amount means that the monthly mortgage costs will be less. A payment of at least 20 percent will eliminate mortgage insurance, a requirement of the FHA and USDA loans even with a large downpayment.
Many conventional loans are made with as little as 3 percent down.
The HomeReadyTM mortgage program is one such option. It allows non-borrowing members of the household help the actual loan applicant become approved. Lenders will consider the income of mothers, fathers, extended family, and even that of non-married household members, even when they are not officially on the loan file.
The Conventional 97, as the name suggests, allows home buyers to borrow ninety-seven percent of the homeâ€™s price. Unlike the HomeReadyTM option, these loans are available to applicants at any income level buying a home in any location.
The drawback to a 3% down loan is that the interest rate may be higher to compensate for the smaller amount down. Mortgage insurance may be more expensive as well, as compared to a five- or ten-percent down conventional loan.
The piggyback 80/10/10 loan option lets the applicant skip the full 20% downpayment and mortgage insurance.
The applicant applies for a first mortgage for eighty percent of the purchase price. Simultaneously, he or she opens a second mortgage, such as a home equity line of credit (HELOC) for 10% of the purchase price. Then, only ten percent down is required.
The lender allows the borrowed ten percent loan to â€ścountâ€ť toward the applicantâ€™s downpayment. The amount down, then, is considered twenty percent in this case, removing the need for mortgage insurance altogether.
A conventional loan borrower has the option to put anywhere from three to 20 percent down or more. Plus, a downpayment gift can cover the entire amount down in some cases. Check with your lender for gift and donor documentation requirements.
Without a gift, the applicant will need to verify a valid source of the downpayment such as a savings or checking account. Applicants can liquidate investment accounts and even use a 401k loan for the downpayment.
Typically, home buyers will need to supply a 60-day history for any account from which downpayment funds are taken.Click to see today's rates (Feb 22nd, 2017)
Private mortgage insurance, or PMI, is required for any conventional loan with less than a 20% downpayment.
PMI rates vary considerably based on credit score and downpayment.
For instance, one PMI company is quoting the following rates, as of the time of this writing, for a $250,000 loan amount and 5% down.
And these are quotes for a 10% downpayment:
High PMI ratesÂ for lower credit scores prompt many buyers to use an FHA loan. Unlike conventional loans, FHA loans do not charge higher mortgage insurance rates, even for applicants with very low scores.
Another factor that might affect your PMI rate: the mortgage insurance company itself.
Many PMI companies exist, and your company is usually chosen by your lender. However, you do have some say in the choice. If you know a particular PMI company that offers the best deal, ask if your lender works with them.
If not, the lender may be able to provideÂ a similar offer from a different PMI provider, or you can choose a lender that works with your chosen mortgage insurance company.
Nationwide conventional loan limits stand at $424,100Â and go higher in many locations.
For instance, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac allow a loan amount up to $636,150 in Los Angeles County, California.
Home buyers who need a loan amount above the standard limit should checkÂ for the specific limit for their area.
The potential buyer's debt-to-income ratio also plays a factor since it, too, can reveal good or poor financial prudence.
When it comes to buying a house, lenders factor in all debt to determine the total mortgage payment, including the loan, homeownerâ€™s insurance, and real estate taxes.
ManyÂ lenders want this ratio to be less or equal to 36 percent of the borrower's income, says Sam Mischner, senior vice president, sales and client management for Lending Tree in Charlotte, N.C.
But many lenders will issue loans up to a forty-three percent debt-to-income ratio, the limit set by recent federal legislation.
With a good credit score, you can qualify for more house and a bigger payment than you probably think.Click to see today's rates (Feb 22nd, 2017)
Closing costs will involve fees such as a lender's Â origination fee plus vendor fees like the appraisal, title insurance, and credit reporting fees, says Titsworth.
Sometimes, a lender or seller will pay all or some of these expenses depending on the strength of the market and desire to close the transaction.
Check whether your chosen lender offersÂ lender credits, and make sure any seller contributions are within Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac guidelines. Typically, sellers and other interested parties can contribute the following amounts, based on the home price and downpayment amount.
When buying a rental or investment property, the seller can contribute only two percent with any downpayment amount.
The bottom line is that it's very important for home buyers to shop around for a conventional mortgage with at least three lenders. Todayâ€™s rates are very low, and can be even lower with the right shopping practices.
Get a rate quote now for your conventional loan, or see if another loan type is right for you. Quotes can be obtained in minutes, and no social security number is required to start.Click to see today's rates (Feb 22nd, 2017)
The information contained on The Mortgage Reports website is for informational purposes only and is not an advertisement for products offered by Full Beaker. The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not reflect the policy or position of Full Beaker, its officers, parent, or affiliates.
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2017 Conforming, FHA, & VA Loan Limits
Mortgage loan limits for every U.S. county, as published by Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)