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FHA Housing Loans - Everything You Need to Know

If you want to buy a home but don't qualify for a conventional mortgage, an FHA Housing Loan might solve your problem. Here's what you need to know.

Getting Started With Low-Income Housing Loans
Home ownership is a core element of the American dream, but for many Americans, the high cost of a home and difficulties qualifying for a mortgage have placed that dream out of reach. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) helps to bridge the gap and give mid to low income individuals and families a fair shot at owning their own homes.

The FHA, an agency within the Department of Housing and Urban Development, provides mortgage insurance for qualified buyers. The mortgage insurance protects the lender should the borrower default, allowing lenders to take more risks and provide potentially lower interest rates with less stringent standards and more flexible requirements.

The Benefits
Flexibility - Regulations allow buyers in a variety of scenarios to qualify. Buyers with high credit scores can make smaller down payments, and those with lower credit scores can still buy a house if they can make a larger down payment. The FHA allows sellers and lenders to help with payment of closing costs. A parent may be able to co-sign for a child under a "non-occupant co-borrower" provision. All these options provide buyers and lenders with more flexibility.

Lower Down Payment - An FHA loan requires a 3.5% down payment. Down payments for traditional mortgages can be 10-25%.

Types - FHA loans offer much more than fixed-rate mortgages. You can use them for home repairs, with amounts based on the projected value of the property after repairs.

Hardship Relief - There are regulations to ensure that borrowers will be able to pay their mortgages on time. However, hardships do occur, and under some circumstances, the FHA can arrange relief through temporary forgiveness, modifications, and deferred interest.

The Approval
Qualification is easier for most buyers than qualifying for a traditional (conventional) mortgage, but there are regulations that you must follow. Here are things to keep in mind when you're considering this option.

The Right Buyer
Down Payments and Credit Scores - Borrowers with a minimum credit score of 580 qualify for a 3.5% down payment. Borrowers with credit scores from 500 to 579 must make a 10% down payment. Only very select circumstances would allow a borrower to secure a loan with a credit score below 500. The down payment can come from a family member or, when applicable, from a state or local Government grant. The down payment does not have to be the product of the buyer's income and savings.

Debt / Income Ratio - The total debt of a borrower cannot exceed 43% of the borrower’s monthly pay. The mortgage portion of that debt cannot be greater than 31% of income. As with most policies, there are some tradeoffs and benefits for a borrower with a good credit score and cash reserves.

Employment History - Because restrictions on FHA loans are less stringent than those of conventional mortgages, lenders look for buyers with secure employment. They want to see employment with the same company/organization for two years.

Payment History - FHA loans are insured by the government. Before approving the loan, the lender will want to see that the borrower has not defaulted on any prior government programs such as previous FHA or student debt.

The Right House
Loan Limit - Approval for a house within the limit for that buyer and area is vital. You can calculate your limit with a special calculator here. Each county establishes a limit on single homes, duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes. You can check the limits for your area here.

Appraisal - The house must be appraised by an FHA-approved appraiser.

Primary Residence - FHA loans purchase a primary residence for the borrower. The FHA will not insure a loan for the purchase of investment property or a home purchased for another resident, such as a family member.

The Right Lender
The lender must be FHA approved. Even among approved lenders, rates, costs, services, and underwriting standards vary. It's wise to shop around and find the lender that offers the best deal for you.

The Process
The Documents - Borrowers will have to provide documents, including complete tax returns from the past two years, W-2 and 1099 forms, and recent pay stubs. Self-employed borrowers must submit tax returns for the past three years plus profit/loss statements. You will need bank statements, retirement and investment statements, credit card bills, and any loan statements. When applicable, bankruptcy and alimony documents are required. Other required documents include the address of your residence for the last two years, social security number, and information about any other real estate property that you own.

The Lenders - After you submit the documents, the lenders get to work. Lenders must verify employment, income, and bank account amounts. They need credit reports from three bureaus. The lender must secure an appraisal and title report to check for liens on the property.

The Underwriter - When processing is complete, an application goes to an underwriter. The underwriter reviews the file and makes a final decision as to whether the application aligns with all requirements. The underwriter submits a written decision on approval.

The Delays
You should expect delays. Glitches may involve the buyer, the seller, the property, the real estate agent, or the lender. Many different people and agencies are involved, and things can go wrong with any of these. You may need additional documents, or inspection may uncover flaws or needed repairs in the property. When the issues are resolved, the process can continue. Be patient and persistent.

The number of FHA loans has quadrupled in recent years. These popular government-backed mortgages help low-income individuals and families secure a manageable mortgage and move into their own homes now instead of later.

Want to learn more? Check out our FHA Checklist guide. Here we provide further information on the materials commonly included in an application.

For additional information, you can visit the Federal Housing Administration website.