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FHA vs. conventional loans

Learn the differences between FHA and conventional loans

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Many people compare FHA loans to conventional loans when they are thinking about buying a home. Both these mortgages have advantages and disadvantages. Read on to learn more about the benefits of FHA loans versus conventional loans, and decide which one is a better choice for you!

What is an FHA loan?

FHA loans are mortgages offered by private lenders like Freedom Mortgage and insured by the Federal Housing Administration (or "FHA"). This insurance is designed to help make homeownership more affordable for people with moderate incomes.

Advantages of an FHA loan versus a conventional loan

It can be easier to qualify for an FHA loan compared to a conventional loan. You can often make a down payment that's smaller with an FHA loan and the interest rates on FHA loans can be competitive with rates you might get on a conventional loan. Lenders may have more flexible credit score requirements too. Learn more about getting an FHA loan with bad credit.

It can be simpler to refinance an FHA loan too. Homeowners who qualify may choose an FHA streamline refinance which can have less paperwork and faster approvals. You can only use a streamline refinance to replace an existing FHA loan with a new FHA loan, however. You cannot use streamline refinancing to switch from an FHA to a conventional loan or to refinance a conventional loan.

Disadvantages of an FHA loan

One disadvantage of FHA loans versus conventional loans is that there are limits on how much money you can borrow to buy a house. These FHA loan limits vary by county and are based on the median home price in that county. In counties where homes are the most affordable, the current maximum amount you can borrow with an FHA loan is $472,030. In counties where homes are more costly, the current maximum amount is $1,089,300. These loan limits are current as of 2023.

FHA loans come with two kinds of mortgage insurance premiums. The first is the Upfront Mortgage Insurance Premium (or "UFMIP"), which every person who gets an FHA loan has to pay. This upfront premium is currently equal to 1.75% of the loan amount. So if you are borrowing $250,000, you will need to pay an Upfront Mortgage Insurance Premium of $4,375.

FHA loans also come with monthly mortgage insurance premiums (or "MIP"). The amount you pay for MIP depends on several factors, including the size of your down payment. For example, those who get FHA loans today with a down payment of at least 10% will have to pay Mortgage Insurance Premiums for 11 years. However, those who get an FHA loan with less than a 10% down payment will have to pay MIP for the full life of the loan.

Finally, you can only use an FHA loan to buy a "primary residence," which is a house where you intend to live. You cannot buy a vacation or second home, rental house, or investment property with an FHA loan.

What is a conventional loan?

Conventional loans are mortgages offered by private lenders without a guarantee from a government agency. Sometimes lenders talk about two types of conventional loans. There are "conforming" loans, which means the mortgages conform to loan limits set by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And there are jumbo" loans, which are mortgages for amounts greater than the limits of conforming loans.

Advantages of a conventional loan versus an FHA loan

Generally speaking, you can often borrow more money with conventional or jumbo loans than you can with FHA loans. There are no upfront mortgage insurance premiums with conventional mortgages. And you can avoid paying for mortgage insurance if you make a 20% down payment.

You do have to buy private mortgage insurance (or "PMI") when you make a down payment of less than 20% with a conventional loan. It can be easier to stop paying PMI for a conventional loan than it is to stop paying MIP for an FHA loan, however. If your loan is subject to the federal Homeowners Protection Act (HPA), you can request to stop paying private mortgage insurance when your home equity reaches 20%. Additionally, if you are current on your loan and it is covered by the HPA, your lender is required to remove PMI from your monthly bill once your home equity reaches 22%.

You can buy a home, vacation home, second home, rental house, or investment property with a conventional loan. You do not have to occupy the house as your "primary residence," as FHA loans require.

Disadvantages of a conventional loan

Because they are not insured by the government, it can be harder to qualify for a conventional loan versus an FHA loan. Lenders may require you to have a higher credit score, make a larger down payment, or meet other financial requirements before they approve your loan application.

FHA vs. conventional loans table


FHA Loans
house icon for conventional loans
Conventional/Jumbo Loans
Down Payment Yes Down Payment Yes
Mortgage Insurance Yes Mortgage Insurance Yes
if less than 20% equity
Credit Lower credit scores Credit Higher credit scores
Type of Property Primary residence only Type of Property No restrictions
Government insured Yes Government insured No

Want to learn more about FHA or conventional loans?

You can use FHA and conventional loans to buy and refinance homes. Would you like to speak to one of our knowledgeable Loan Advisors? Please complete our Get Started form or call us at 877-220-5533.

Freedom Mortgage is a top FHA lender in the United States according to Inside Mortgage Finance, Jan-Jun 2022

Last reviewed and updated September 2022 by Freedom Mortgage Corporation.

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Get started today by getting a personalized evaluation of your home loan options from Freedom Mortgage.