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FHA vs Conventional: Which Mortgage is Right For You?

It might be challenging to distinguish between conventional and federal housing administration (FHA) loans. When concepts like debt-to-income ratios, interest accrual, private mortgage insurance, and insurance premiums are mentioned, you may find yourself wanting to call Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and voice your concerns.

Making an informed choice requires having a thorough understanding of these two mortgage loan options. Let’s compare conventional and FHA loans side by side so you can make a wise decision about which loan is best for your finances.

FHA Loans

How Do FHA Loans Work?

Mortgages issued by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) have federal insurance. In essence, it’s a mortgage kind that nevertheless allows borrowers with modest salaries, lower down payments, and poor credit scores to qualify for loans. FHA loans are frequently chosen by first-time homeowners as a result.

FHA loans are intended to increase American citizens’ access to homeownership. Even though the government organization through which it shares a name insures FHA loans, you must still engage with a private lender that has been approved by the FHA to obtain this mortgage type.

Terms & Conditions

What Conditions Apply to FHA Loans?

The Federal Housing Administration annually releases its more than 1,000-page FHA loan manual, along with a host of supporting federal organizations.

No issue if federal loan manuals—or might we call manifestos—don’t cut your reading list. The following are the main FHA loan requirements that available home purchasers must meet:

  • Mortgage insurance provided by the FHA is required of all borrowers who receive FHA loans. Mortgage insurance is not required with traditional loans and is only required when the deposit is less than 20% of the home’s value. Because FHA mortgage insurance protects your lender in the event of your loan default, this restriction serves less as a “gotcha” strategy and more as a market stabilizer.
  • Minimum down payments required: FHA loan applicants make down payments in part based on their credit scores. For lower credit scores, a usual ask is a 10% down payment. Those with mid-range to excellent credit scores can normally put down about 3.5%.
  • Debt-to-income (DTI) ratio: DTIs determine how much of your gross monthly income you spend on unpaid debt each month. Those who meet the requirements for an FHA loan generally include a DTI of 30 to 50%. In general, a borrower is more competitive, as the DTI gets lower.
  • All assets a buyer wishes to use an FHA loan on should always be designated their primary residence; they cannot be a second home or a rental.
  • Verifiable employment and income: To be eligible for an FHA loan, you must have at least two years of verifiable income or employment history. (For example, consider bank statements, federal tax returns, or pay stubs.

Due to the FHA’s requirement for required mortgage insurance, borrowers must pay upfront premiums as well as annual payments.

A modest portion of the entire loan amount is required as the upfront insurance premium for FHA loans. Immediately the client receives their money, it is paid. A tiny portion of the overall loan amount is used to determine the annual mortgage insurance premium, just like the upfront mortgage insurance premiums.

However, other factors, such as the length of the loan (15 or 30 years), can affect rates. The premium rate is divided by 12 months to determine the installments, which are paid each month.

Other Things to Think About Before Applying for an FHA Loan

The goal of FHA loans is to provide a more forgiving route to homeownership. The underwriting criteria are designed for purchasers who might not have incomes or credit ratings that are typically desirable to lenders but who can nevertheless demonstrate low responsibility.

Having said that, there are certain inquiries to make before obtaining an FHA mortgage.

1. Do FHA Loans Have Any Purchase Restrictions or Limitations?

Yes. The following conditions will continue to apply to your FHA loan terms:

  • Loan amounts: The median property price for a county determines the FHA loan levels. While there are certain exceptions, the ceiling amount of your qualified FHA loan will be close to that of the median county value. Property outside of this price range is typically out of reach due to FHA loan restrictions, which apply to the bulk of U.S. housing markets.
  • Fixed interest charges: FHA loans only have fixed interest rates, they do not have variable rates. Only after you sell your house, or by refinancing the loan to a non-FHA mortgage is it possible to refinance annual premiums.

2. Who Can Benefit The Most From an FHA Loan?

FHA mortgages are more appealing to people in the following situations because they are simpler to qualify for.

  • First-time or young homebuyers: First-time homeowners received more than 80% of all FHA loans disbursed in the past couple of years.
  • Less wealthy homebuyers should consider FHA loans because they typically require lesser down payments. The stipulations of the FHA can be more favorable for buyers with less advantageous down payment capabilities.
  • Buyers with moderate or fluctuating income, like entrepreneurs or people who are self-employed, may find some breathing room thanks to the lower rates of interest on most FHA loans.

3. Who Cannot Obtain an FHA Loan?

The loan restriction may turn away potential borrowers who believe FHA mortgages to be excessively onerous.

The majority of lenders also advise against having your monthly mortgage payments go over 31% of the gross monthly income. Certain private lenders who offer FHA loans might permit up to 40%. You might still not be a good candidate for an FHA loan if any of those rates ends up taking an excessive amount of your monthly income.

Benefits of FHA Loans

Benefits of FHA Loans

FHA loans have several special benefits.

1. The accuracy of property valuations

For FHA loans, comprehensive property 

appraisals are required. Inspectors will provide a thorough study of the design, structural integrity, safety, and alignment with HUD property guidelines, true value, and the adherence to local rules and standards of your preferred home, as opposed to traditional loan property assessments.

2. Easier Permission

Lower credit ratings and more flexible debt-to-income ratio tolerances are required for FHA acceptance. According to information from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a sizable percentage of FHA-eligible borrowers maintain credit ratings that are at or above standard.

3.  Closing Costs

Due to limitations on the price the lender may charge, FHA loans often have lower closing costs. For those purchasing new homes, this restriction serves as a financial restraint.

4. Rates of Fixed Interest

One isn’t always better than the other when it pertains to variable vs fixed interest rates. However, based on the financial circumstances and overall risk tolerance, fixed interest rates, like those seen in the majority of FHA loans, may offer more financial security than variable ones.

Conventional Home Loan

What Are Conventional Loans?

Mortgages provided by private lending entities like mortgage lenders and banks are referred to as conventional loans.

Conventional loans aren’t covered by federal insurance, in contrast to FHA loans. Additionally, they may have interest rates that are set or variable, higher qualifying credit scores, and more affordable down payments that influence those interest rates.

Requirements for Conventional Loans

Borrowers contemplating conventional loans must meet more stringent conditions to be approved by private lenders. These qualifications include, among others:

  • If a borrower deposits below 20%, they must also purchase private mortgage insurance, which is payable in monthly installments. However, private mortgage insurance is not necessary for down payments greater than 20%.
  • Credit scores: To qualify for a loan, many private lenders impose a minimum credit score.
  • Debt-to-income ratio: Lower DTIs are preferred by traditional lenders. Additionally, the maximum DTI for conventional loans is restricted to a moderate to mid-range credit score; however, there are some exceptions for borrowers with credit scores over 700 or even for those with pristine credit.

Verifiable employment and income are requirements for conventional mortgage approval, just like they are for FHA loans. The requirements for after-tax income may also be greater, based on the financial institution.

Think Before Applying for a Conventional Mortgage

Other Things to Think About Before Applying for a Conventional Mortgage

Conventional mortgages do entail some distinct procedures, both during the application and approval phases. If you’re deciding between an FHA loan and a conventional loan, take into account the following factors.

1. Who Should Use a Conventional Loan?

People who fall into the following categories benefit most from conventional loans:

  • People with excellent credit: Conventional loans are beneficial if your credit rating is 640 or higher. Conventional loans may be utilized for secondary homes or properties that the owner does not live in by those looking to buy rental or vacation properties.
  • People who have put down a minimum of 20%: In general, you can escape private mortgage insurance (PMI) and the several hundred dollars that it can incur throughout your loan if you put down a minimum of 20%.

2. Which Individuals Should Not Use a Conventional Loan?

A conventional loan with ideal conditions can be more difficult to obtain for potential home buyers with income that’s not fixed or have low debt-to-income ratios. Low debt-to-income metrics make it especially challenging to be seen as an appealing applicant to private lending parties because your monthly loan payments will consume a bigger share of your income.

Low debt-to-income ratios or changeable income tend to make it more difficult to obtain a conventional loan.

Benefits of Conventional Loans

Benefits of Conventional Loans

Borrowers who are approved for conventional mortgages gain the following benefits:

1. Optional Annual PMI; No Upfront PMI

Upfront mortgage insurance is not necessary for conventional loans. Additionally, if you satisfy the minimal down payment criteria, an annual PMI is not normally required, and in most cases, PMI is removed from your mortgage after you pay off a set proportion of the loan.

2. Increasing Loan Values

FHA loans have lower ceilings than private, conventional loan. Single-family homes can be used to get loans supported by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which can reach higher amounts in more expensive housing areas.

3. Modular Loan Terms

Conventional loans come with higher values and more accommodating terms in addition to higher loan amounts. Homebuyers can renegotiate traditional 10, 20, and 30-year loans. Additionally, after the loan’s total value (LTV) reaches 78% or lower of the estate’s current value, the private mortgage insurance that the buyer purchased cancels out.

FHA vs. Conventional Loans Comparison

FHA vs. Conventional Loans Comparison

When contrasting the applications and limitations of conventional loans and FHA loans, there are a few key conclusions to draw.

  • Refinancing: Both FHA and conventional loans are eligible for refinancing. Nevertheless, refinancing conventional loans is more involved and calls for things like a home appraisal, a credit check, proof of income, and so on.
  • Areas with high and low costs that influence loan values: There are loan ceilings and floors, or the maximum and lowest values that can receive, for both conventional and FHA mortgages. The median house price in a region is used to calculate FHA loans. The protection rules for conventional loans differ by lender, state, and county but are typically compliant with Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac.
  • Debt-to-income: It’ll be more difficult to obtain a conventional loan the less your debt-to-income ratio. FHA mortgages allow DTIs up to 50%; conventional loans normally tolerate DTIs in the 30-to-43% range.

Comparison of FHA and Conventional Loan Credit Score Requirements

Both kinds of mortgage loan eligibility are heavily influenced by credit ratings.

  • Low credit scores are typically accepted for FHA loans: Credit-challenged borrowers or those with lower credit ratings typically receive approval.
  • Higher credit scores are typically preferred for conventional loans: To acquire favorable loan terms and rates, borrowers typically need credit ratings in the range of moderate to high.


Are deposits for conventional loans and FHA loans different from each other?

Sure. Conventional loans accept down payments ranging from 3 to 20%, with higher down payments, earning better terms and eliminating mortgage insurance.

For customers who meet the requirements for FHA loans, lesser down payments are permitted.

2023 Conventional loan limits 

We’ve seen lending caps for conventional conforming loans increase significantly. 

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) found that nationwide property prices have increased by an average of more than 12%. The same percentage rise in conforming loan restrictions translated into a rise in dollars of over $80,000 for the typical one-unit property. Properties with multiple units saw a boost in value.

Standard LimitHigh-Cost Area
1 Unit$726,200$1,089,300
2 Units$929,850$1,394,775
3 Units$1,123,900$1,685,850
4 Units$1,396,800$2,095,200

Keep in mind that you can also do your FHA calculations with ease. Several FHA calculators have been developed to this end.


One of life’s greatest accomplishments is buying a home, yet for many, it’s also among the most intimidating things that could be done. Don’t be scared! Although deciding between a conventional loan or FHA is a big decision, there are numerous resources available to help.

About the Author

Brian Quigley
Brian Quigley
 NMLS# #244003

Brian Quigley has been in the Denver mortgage industry since 2003. Customer satisfaction has been his top priority while guiding clients through the home loan qualification process. He is proficient in all types of mortgage financing including FHA/VA, Conventional, USDA, Jumbo, Portfolio, 1031 Exchanges, Reverse Mortgages, Refinancing, Construction loans, and FHA 203K loans.

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