What is 'FHA Loan: Basics and Requirements'

An FHA loan is a mortgage issued by federally qualified lenders and insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). FHA loans are designed for low-to-moderate income borrowers who are unable to make a large down payment.

As of 2018, these loans allow the borrower to borrow up to 96.5% of the value of the home (with a credit score of at least 580; otherwise, a 10% down payment is required). The 3.5% down payment requirement can come from a gift or a grant, which makes FHA loans popular with first-time homebuyers.

BREAKING DOWN 'FHA Loan: Basics and Requirements'

FHA loans were introduced after the Great Depression in the 1930s. During this time, defaults and foreclosures skyrocketed. In response, the government created federally insured loans that gave mortgage lenders peace of mind, reduced lender risk and stimulated the housing market. By insuring mortgages, lenders were (and still are) more inclined to issue large mortgages in cases where they normally would not have approved the loan application.

Who are FHA Loans for?

FHA loans are offered to low-income individuals who have credit scores as low as 500. Individuals with a credit score between 500-579 can obtain an FHA loan with a down payment of 10%; individuals with a credit score higher than 580 can get an FHA loan with as little as 3.5% down. The Federal Housing Administration does not lend the borrower the money to take on a mortgage or to buy the house. Rather, the borrower pays a monthly or annual mortgage insurance premium to the FHA to insure the loan, which the lending institution issues to him or her. In case of default, the lender’s financial risk is minimized because the FHA would step in to cover the payments.

Having no credit history is not a problem with an FHA loan. Instead of your credit report, the lender may look at other payment-history records, such as utility and rent payments. Even people who have gone through bankruptcy and foreclosure may still qualify for an FHA loan. However, the lower the credit score and the lower the down payment, the higher the interest rate.

In addition to the traditional first mortgages, the FHA offers a reverse mortgage program known as Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM). This program helps seniors convert the equity in their homes to cash while retaining the titles to their homes. FHA also offers a special product known as an FHA 203(k) loan, which factors in the cost of certain repairs and renovations into the loan. This one loan allows an individual to borrow money for both a home purchase and home improvement. This can make a big difference for a borrower who does not have a lot of cash on hand after making the down payment. The FHA’s Energy Efficient Mortgage program is a similar concept, but aimed at upgrades that lower the utility bill. The cost of newer, more efficient appliances, for example, becomes part of the loan.

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