5 Types of Mortgages: Which is right for you?
Buying a home is exciting, but the financing side of things can feel overwhelming. Unless you’re paying cash, the second half of the homeownership challenge is finding a mortgage to finance that dream. How do you know which type of mortgage is best for you?
Choosing a mortgage isn’t as simple as it sounds. That’s because there are many types of mortgages available and they’re made up of different components- from interest rate to the length of the loan to the lender.
The best mortgage will always be the one that’s a match for your financial goals. With so many options, however, finding that ideal fit could feel daunting.
To help you choose a mortgage with greater confidence, let’s examine the six most common types of mortgages:
1. Conventional mortgages
A conventional mortgage is a home loan that’s not insured by the federal government.
Private lenders, such as banks and credit unions, fund conventional mortgages. These loans are flexible in purpose, and you can use the proceeds to purchase either your primary or secondary residence.
There are two types of conventional loans: conforming and non-conforming loans.
A conforming loan simply means the loan amount falls within the maximum limits set by the Federal Finance Agency. The types of mortgage loans that don’t meet these guidelines are considered non-conforming loans. Jumbo loans, which represent large mortgages above the FHFA limits for different counties, are the most common type of non-conforming loan.
Generally, lenders require to pay private mortgage insurance on many conventional loans when you put down less than 20 percent of the home’s purchase price.
Can be used for a primary home, second home or investment property
Overall borrowing costs tend to be lower than other types of mortgages, even if interest rates are slightly higher
You can ask your lender to cancel PMI once you’ve reached 20 percent equity
You can pay as little as 3 percent down on loans backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac
A minimum FICO score of 620 or higher is often required
You must have a debt-to-income ratio of 45 percent to 50 percent
You’ll likely need to pay PMI if your down payment is less than 20 percent of the sales price
Significant documentation required to verify income, assets, down payment, and employment
Conventional loans are ideal for borrowers with strong credit, a stable income and employment history, and a down payment of at least 3 percent.
A “jumbo” mortgage is a loan that falls outside the lending limits set by the FHFA. Because of this, jumbo mortgages are nonconforming conventional loans. If you’re buying a luxury home, you’ll likely be looking at a jumbo mortgage to accommodate the price.
Lenders see these larger mortgages as riskier than conforming loans since they’re not guaranteed by any of the government-sponsored entities (GSEs). Thus, the qualification guidelines are often more stringent.
For 2021, the maximum conforming loan limit for single-family homes in most of the U.S. is $548,250. In certain high-cost areas, the ceiling is $822,375. Jumbo loans are more common in higher-cost areas, and generally require more in-depth documentation to qualify.
Down payment of at least 10 to 20 percent is needed
A FICO score of 700 or higher typically is required, although some lenders will accept a minimum score of 660
You cannot have a debt-to-income ratio above 45 percent
Must show you have significant assets (generally 10 percent of the loan amount) in cash or savings accounts
Jumbo loans make sense for more affluent buyers purchasing a high-end home. Jumbo borrowers should have good to excellent credit, a high income, and a substantial down payment. Many reputable lenders offer jumbo loans at competitive rates. Keep in mind: whether or not you need a jumbo loan is determined solely by how much financing you need, not by the purchase price of the property.
3. Government-insured mortgages
The U.S. government isn’t a mortgage lender, but it does play a role in helping more Americans become homeowners. Three government agencies back mortgages: the Federal Housing Administration (FHA loans), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA loans) and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA loans).
FHA loans – Backed by the FHA, these types of home loans help make homeownership possible for borrowers who don’t have a large down payment saved up or don’t have pristine credit. Borrowers need a minimum FICO score of 580 to get the FHA maximum of 96.5 percent financing with a 3.5 percent down payment; however, a score of 500 is accepted if you put at least 10 percent down. FHA loans require two mortgage insurance premiums: one is paid upfront, and the other is paid annually for the life of the loan if you put less than 10 percent down, which can increase the overall cost of your mortgage.
USDA loans – USDA loans help moderate- to low-income borrowers buy homes in rural areas. You must purchase a home in a USDA-eligible area and meet certain income limits to qualify. Some USDA loans do not require a down payment for eligible borrowers with low incomes.
VA loans – VA loans provide flexible, low-interest mortgages for members of the U.S. military (active duty and veterans) and their families. VA loans do not require a down payment or PMI, and closing costs are generally capped and may be paid by the seller. A funding fee is charged on VA loans as a percentage of the loan amount to help offset the program’s cost to taxpayers. This fee, as well as other closing costs, can be rolled into most VA loans or paid upfront at closing.
They help you finance a home when you don’t qualify for a conventional loan
Credit requirements are more relaxed
You don’t need a large down payment
They’re open to repeat and first-time buyers
Many of these loans have mandatory mortgage insurance premiums that cannot be canceled on some loans
You could have higher overall borrowing costs
Expect to provide more documentation, depending on the loan type, to prove eligibility
Government-insured loans are ideal if you have low cash savings or less-than-stellar credit and can’t qualify for a conventional loan. VA loans tend to offer the best terms and most flexibility compared to other loan types for qualified borrowers.
Fixed-rate mortgages keep the same interest rate over the life of your loan, which means your monthly mortgage payment always stays the same. Fixed loans typically come in terms of 15 years, 20 years, or 30 years.
You’ll generally pay more interest with a longer-term loan
It takes longer to build equity in your home.
Interest rates typically are higher than rates on adjustable-rate mortgages
If you plan to stay in your home for at least seven to 10 years, a fixed-rate mortgage offers stability with your monthly payments.
5. Adjustable-rate mortgages
Unlike the stability of fixed-rate loans, adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) have fluctuating interest rates that can go up or down with market conditions. Many ARM products have a fixed interest rate for a few years before the loan changes to a variable interest rate for the remainder of the term. Look for an ARM that caps how much your interest rate or monthly mortgage rate can increase so you don’t wind up in financial trouble when the loan resets.
Your monthly mortgage payments could become unaffordable, resulting in a loan default
Home values may fall in a few years, making it harder to refinance or sell your home before the loan resets
You must be comfortable with a certain level of risk before getting an ARM. If you don’t plan to stay in your home beyond a few years, an ARM could save you big on interest payments.
Which Type of Mortgage Is Right for You?
Now that you have the basics about the different types of mortgages, you can start matching them with your dream home. A savvy next step is to sit down with a mortgage professional and discuss your finances and homeownership goals. Together, you’ll find the best loan—for your needs, your dream home, and your specific real estate market.