What is an FHA loan?
An FHA loan is a government-backed mortgage insured by the Federal Housing Administration. FHA home loans require lower minimum credit scores and down payments than many conventional loans, which makes them especially popular with first-time homebuyers. In fact, according to FHA’s 2020 Annual Report, more than 83 percent of all FHA loan originations were for borrowers purchasing their first homes.
While the government insures these loans, they are actually underwritten and administered by third-party mortgage lenders.
How FHA loans work
FHA loans come in 15-year and 30-year terms with fixed interest rates. The agency’s flexible underwriting standards are designed to help give borrowers who might not qualify for private mortgages a chance to become homeowners.
But there’s a catch: Borrowers must pay FHA mortgage insurance, which is designed to protect the lender from a loss if the borrower defaults. Mortgage insurance is required on most loans when borrowers put down less than 20 percent. All FHA loans require the borrower to pay two mortgage insurance premiums:
- Upfront mortgage insurance premium: 1.75 percent of the loan amount, paid when the borrower gets the loan. The premium can be rolled into the financed loan amount.
- Annual mortgage insurance premium: 0.45 percent to 1.05 percent, depending on the loan term (15 years vs. 30 years), the loan amount and the initial loan-to-value ratio, or LTV. This premium amount is divided by 12 and paid monthly.
So, if you borrow $150,000, your upfront mortgage insurance premium would be $2,625 and your annual premium would range from $675 ($56.25 per month) to $1,575 ($131.25 per month), depending on the term.
FHA mortgage insurance premiums will be canceled after 11 years for most borrowers if they financed 90 percent or less of the property’s value — in other words, for those who put at least 10 percent down and stay current with their monthly mortgage payments. Loans with an initial LTV ratio greater than 90 percent will carry insurance until the mortgage is fully repaid.
FHA lenders are limited to charging no more than 3 to 5 percent of the loan amount in closing costs, and the FHA allows up to 6 percent of the borrower’s closing costs, such as fees for an appraisal, credit report or title search, to be covered by sellers, builders or lenders.
How to qualify for an FHA loan
To be eligible for an FHA loan, borrowers must meet the following lending guidelines:
- Have a FICO score of 500 to 579 with 10 percent down, or a FICO score of 580 or higher with 3.5 percent down.
- Have verifiable employment history for the last two years.
- Have verifiable income through pay stubs, federal tax returns and bank statements.
- Use the loan to finance a primary residence.
- Ensure the property is appraised by an FHA-approved appraiser and meets HUD guidelines.
- Have a front-end debt ratio (monthly mortgage payments) of no more than 31 percent of gross monthly income.
- Have a back-end debt ratio (mortgage plus all monthly debt payments) of no more than 43 percent of gross monthly income (lenders could allow a ratio up to 50 percent, in some cases).
- Wait one to two years before applying for the loan after bankruptcy, or three years after foreclosure (lenders might make exceptions on these waiting periods for borrowers with extenuating circumstances).