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5 types of mortgage loans for homebuyers

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Before you begin searching for the right home to buy, you’ll need to search for the right kind of mortgage to help make the purchase.

Types of mortgages

  1. Conventional loan – Best for borrowers with a good credit score
  2. Jumbo loan – Best for borrowers with excellent credit looking to buy an expensive home
  3. Government-insured loan – Best for borrowers who have lower credit scores and not much cash for a down payment
  4. Fixed-rate mortgage – Best for borrowers who want the predictability of the same payments throughout the entire loan
  5. Adjustable-rate mortgage – Best for borrowers who do not plan to stay in the home for a long time, and are comfortable with the risk of larger payments down the road

1. Conventional loan

Conventional loans are not backed by the federal government, and they come in two packages: conforming and non-conforming.

  • Conforming loans – As the name implies, a conforming loan “conforms” to the set of standards put in place by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), which includes credit, debt and loan size. For 2022, the conforming loan limits are $647,200 in most areas and $970,800 in more expensive areas.
  • Non-conforming loans – These loans do not meet FHFA standards. They might be for larger homes, or they might be offered to borrowers with subpar credit or who have experienced serious financial catastrophes such as a bankruptcy.

Pros of conventional loans

  • 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
  • Can ask your lender to cancel private mortgage insurance (PMI) once you’ve reached 20 percent equity, or refinance to remove it
  • Can pay as little as 3 percent down on loans backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac
  • Sellers can contribute to closing costs

Cons of conventional loans

  • Minimum FICO score of 620 or higher often required (the same applies for refinancing)
  • Higher down payment than some government loans
  • Must have a debt-to-income (DTI) ratio of no more than 43 percent (50 percent in some instances)
  • 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

Who should get a conventional loan?

If you have a strong credit score and can afford to make a sizable down payment, a conventional mortgage is probably your best pick. The 30-year, fixed-rate conventional mortgage is the most popular choice for homebuyers.

2. Jumbo loan

Jumbo mortgages are appropriately named: These loans fall outside FHFA limits. Jumbo loans are more common in higher-cost areas such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City and the state of Hawaii, where home prices may well exceed the conforming loan limits.

Pros of jumbo loans

  • Can borrow more money to buy a more expensive home
  • Interest rates tend to be competitive with other conventional loans

Cons of jumbo loans

  • Down payment of at least 10 percent to 20 percent needed
  • A FICO score of 700 or higher typically required
  • Cannot have a DTI ratio above 45 percent
  • Must show you have significant assets in cash or savings accounts
  • Usually require more in-depth documentation to qualify

Who should get a jumbo loan?

If you’re looking to finance a sum of money larger than the latest conforming loan limits, a jumbo loan is likely your best route.

3. Government-insured loan

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 without a large down payment or 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, which can increase the overall cost of your mortgage. Lastly, with an FHA loan, the home seller is allowed to contribute to closing costs.
  • 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. There are extra fees, though, including an upfront fee of 1 percent of the loan amount (which can typically be financed with the loan) and an annual fee.
  • 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, mortgage insurance or a minimum credit score, and closing costs are generally capped and may be paid by the seller. VA loans charge a funding fee, a percentage of the loan amount, which can be paid upfront at closing or rolled into the cost of the loan along with other closing costs.

Pros of government-insured loans

  • Help you finance a home when you don’t qualify for a conventional loan
  • Credit requirements more relaxed
  • Don’t need a large down payment
  • Available to repeat and first-time buyers
  • No mortgage insurance and no down payment required for VA loans

Cons of government-insured loans

  • Mandatory mortgage insurance premiums on FHA loans that cannot be canceled unless refinancing into a conventional mortgage
  • Loan limits on FHA loans are lower than conventional mortgages in most areas, limiting potential inventory to choose from
  • Borrower must live in the property (although you may be able to finance a multi-unit building and rent out other units)
  • Could have higher overall borrowing costs
  • Expect to provide more documentation, depending on the loan type, to prove eligibility

Who should get a government-insured loan?

If you cannot qualify for a conventional loan due to a lower credit score or limited savings for a down payment, FHA-backed and USDA-backed loans are a great option. For military service members, veterans and eligible spouses, VA-backed loans are often better than a conventional loan.

4. Fixed-rate mortgage

Fixed-rate mortgages maintain 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 or 30 years, although some lenders allow borrowers to pick any term between eight and 30 years.

Pros of fixed-rate mortgages

  • Monthly principal and interest payments stay the same throughout the life of the loan
  • Can more precisely budget other expenses month to month

Cons of fixed-rate mortgages

  • Generally need to pay more interest with a longer-term loan
  • Interest rates typically higher than rates on adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs)

Who should get a fixed-rate mortgage?

If you are planning to stay in your home for at least five to seven years, and want to avoid the potential for changes to your monthly payments, a fixed-rate mortgage is right for you.

5. Adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM)

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. For example, you might see a 7-year/6-month ARM, which means that your rate will remain the same for the first seven years and will adjust every six months after that initial period. If you consider an ARM, it’s essential to read the fine print to know how much your rate can increase and how much you could wind up paying after the introductory period expires.

Pros of ARMs

  • Lower fixed rate in the first few years of homeownership (although this isn’t a guarantee; as of late, 30-year fixed rates have actually been keeping pace with 5/1 ARMs)
  • Can save a substantial amount of money on interest payments

Cons of ARMs

  • 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 before the loan resets

Who should get an ARM?

If you don’t plan to stay in your home beyond a few years, an ARM could help you save on interest payments. However, it’s important to be comfortable with a certain level of risk that your payments might increase if you’re still in the home.

Other types of home loans

In addition to these common kinds of mortgages, there are other types you may find when shopping around for a loan:

  • Construction loans – If you want to build a home, a construction loan can be a good choice. You can decide whether to get a separate construction loan for the project and then a separate mortgage to pay it off, or wrap the two together (known as a construction-to-permanent loan). You typically need a higher down payment for a construction loan and proof that you can afford it.
  • Interest-only mortgages – With an interest-only mortgage, the borrower pays only the interest on the loan for a set period of time. After that time is over, usually between five and seven years, your monthly payment increases as you begin paying your principal. With this type of loan, you won’t build equity as quickly, since you’re initially only paying interest. These loans are best for those who know they can sell or refinance, or for those who can reasonably expect to afford the higher monthly payment later.
  • Piggyback loans – A piggyback loan, also referred to as an 80/10/10 loan, actually involves two loans: one for 80 percent of the home price and another for 10 percent. Then, you make a down payment of 10 percent. These are designed to help the borrower avoid paying for mortgage insurance. While eliminating those PMI payments might sound appealing, keep in mind that piggyback loans require two sets of closing costs and two loans accruing interest. You’ll need to crunch the numbers to find out if you’re really saving enough money to justify this unconventional arrangement.
  • Balloon mortgages – Another type of home loan you might come across is a balloon mortgage, which requires a large payment at the end of the loan term. Generally, you’ll make payments based on a 30-year term, but only for a short time, such as seven years. At the end of that time, you’ll make a large payment on the outstanding balance, which can be unmanageable if you’re not prepared. You can use Bankrate’s balloon mortgage calculator to see if this kind of loan makes sense for you.

Next steps

Now that you have an idea of the right kind of loan for your home purchase, it’s time to find the right mortgage lender to make it happen. Every lender is different, and it’s important to comparison shop to find the best terms that fit your finances. From the brick-and-mortar bank and credit unions in your neighborhood to online-only mortgage companies, there is a wide range of options to choose from. Read Bankrate’s lender reviews of some of the leading names in mortgages, and follow this guide to find the best lender.

With additional reporting by David McMillin

Written by
Miranda Marquit
Contributing writer
Miranda Marquit is a contributing writer for Bankrate. Miranda writes about topics related to investing, saving and homebuying.
Edited by
Mortgage editor
Reviewed by
Senior mortgage loan originator, American Fidelity Mortgage