A conventional mortgage or conventional loan is any type of homebuyer's loan that is not offered or secured by a government entity, like the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) or the USDA Rural Housing Service, but rather available through or guaranteed a private lender (banks, credit unions, mortgage companies) or the two government-sponsored enterprises, the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac).
Conventional loans are often (erroneously) referred to as conforming mortgages or loans; while there is overlap, the two are distinct categories. A conforming mortgage is one whose underlying terms and conditions meet the funding criteria of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Chief among those is a dollar limit, set annually by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA): currently, in most of the continental U.S., a loan must not exceed $424,100. So, while all conforming loans are conventional, not all conventional loans qualify as conforming. For example, a jumbo mortgage of $800,000 is a conventional mortgage, but not a conforming mortgage – because it surpasses the amount that would allow it to be backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.
Currently, conventional mortgages represent around two-thirds of the homeowner's loans issued in the U.S. The secondary market for conventional mortgages is extremely large and liquid. Most conventional mortgages are packaged into pass-through mortgage-backed securities, which trade in a well-established forward market known as the mortgage TBA (to be announced) market. Many of these conventional pass-through securities are further securitized into collateralized mortgage obligations (CMOs).