What They Are and Why They Matter

Conventional Loan Requirements Guide

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ByChristopher Boston
Edited byCasie McCoskey
ByChristopher Boston
Edited byCasie McCoskey

Updated: October 14, 2023

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Mortgages are a stepping stone for many aspiring homeowners. They provide a financial bridge that turns the dream of owning a home into reality. Among the various types of mortgages, the conventional loan stands out for its flexibility and straightforward terms. Despite their reputation, these loans still come with unique conditions. These requirements act as guidelines, helping borrowers navigate the mortgage process with clarity and confidence. By familiarizing yourself with them, you're setting the stage for a smoother homebuying journey.

What Is a Conventional Loan?

A conventional loan is a type of mortgage not insured by the federal government. That sets it apart from government-backed loans, such as FHA loans, VA loans and USDA loans, which have certain guarantees from federal agencies. A conventional loan typically offers several benefits, such as flexible terms and lower insurance costs. On the downside, they might have stricter conditions concerning credit scores and down payments. However, the upside is you can enjoy more freedom, like the ability to use the loan for various property types. You need to meet specific eligibility criteria for conventional loans, and knowing these ensures you're well-equipped to make an informed decision on your home financing journey.

Types of Conventional Loans

Grasping the nuances of conventional loans — both conforming and non-conforming — equips borrowers with the tools to make informed choices. Your choice can influence everything from your interest rates to repayment terms. By understanding the landscape of conventional loans, you're positioning yourself for an efficient homebuying experience.

Conforming loans are tailored to adhere to the guidelines set by government-sponsored entities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. For 2023, the loan limit is $726,200 in most states and $1,089,300 in high-cost areas.

Non-conforming loans diverge from the norms set by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These loans primarily stand out because their values surpass the standard loan limits.

There are several misconceptions about these conventional loan types, and our table below explores these:

Type of Conventional Loan

Conforming Loan

They're exclusively for first-time homebuyers.

While popular among first-timers, these loans are open to anyone who meets the specific requirements set by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

They always come with high-interest rates.

Interest rates vary based on several factors. Often, with a good credit score and market conditions, rates can be quite competitive.

Non-Conforming Loan

They're designed solely for the wealthy.

They're not exclusive to high-income earners. These loans are primarily for buyers needing a loan exceeding the standard conforming limit.

They invariably come with inflexible, unreasonable terms.

Many lenders offer a range of flexible terms for non-conforming loans that they tailor to the borrower's needs and financial situation.

Knowing the distinctions between conforming and non-conforming loans gives you the leverage to choose wisely. With this insight, you can ensure every decision aligns with your needs and aspirations for a mortgage.

Applying for a Conventional Loan

Navigating the application process for a conventional loan starts with gathering the necessary documents — your income proof, credit reports and employment details will come in handy. These factors, combined with market trends, influence the interest rate you receive. Knowing that your repayment structure can affect your monthly payments is also helpful. While a fixed rate ensures steady payments, an adjustable rate may lead to an increase (or decrease) over time.

Conventional loans aren't exclusive to first-time homebuyers — they can also be an excellent option for those considering refinancing their mortgage. Grasping the workings of conventional home loans, especially its requirements, is invaluable. It can help you negotiate better and recognize advantageous deals. A thorough understanding can be a game-changer for your financial decisions.

Credit Score Requirements

A credit score provides a snapshot of your financial trustworthiness. Lenders look at this number to gauge how you've managed money in the past, making it a critical element when assessing your eligibility for a conventional loan.

The significance of a good credit score stretches beyond loan approval. Lenders find higher scores more attractive and use them to determine the terms they'll offer. The better your score, the lower the interest rate you might receive. That can translate to significant savings over the loan's life. So, if your credit score is less than ideal, consider improving it before pursuing your loan application. Here are some strategies to help:


By understanding and nurturing your credit score, you're setting yourself up for loan approval and ensuring the terms you receive align with your financial goals. While a high credit score helps you meet the requirements for a conventional loan credit, it isn't the only factor — lenders will examine your entire financial history.

Debt-to-Income Guidelines

When lenders assess your loan qualification, your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio plays a crucial role. It gives lenders insight into how much of your earnings go toward debt, indicating how comfortably you can manage an additional loan.

Lenders generally look for an ideal DTI ratio of 36% or lower. It implies you have enough income for other necessities and unexpected costs. A higher DTI ratio can raise concerns and lead to higher interest rates or even loan disapproval, as lenders might view them as financially stretched.

To put your best foot forward, here are tips to improve your DTI ratio:

  • Reduce Your Debt: This might sound obvious, but paying off outstanding debts, especially high-interest ones like credit card balances, can significantly lower your DTI. Even small extra payments each month can add up over time.

  • Avoid Taking On Additional Large Debts: While getting a new car or taking out a personal loan for a vacation is tempting, these can negatively impact your DTI. If you're considering a significant purchase, delaying until after securing your conventional loan might be wise.

  • Increase Your Income: Look for additional sources of income, whether through a part-time job, freelancing or even selling items you no longer need.

  • Reevaluate Your Budget: Track your monthly spending and identify areas to cut back. It can free up more of your income to address existing debts, leading to a better DTI.

When calculating your DTI, lenders consider various types of debt. These include car loans, student loans, credit card balances and your projected mortgage payment. Regarding income, it's not just about your salary — bonuses, alimony, investment returns and other sources also come into play. Staying informed about the conventional loan debt-to-income ratio requirements can help you make the best decisions to support your financial journey.

Minimum Down Payment

A down payment for a conventional loan is usually around a minimum of 3%. Lenders consider your down payment because it signifies your commitment and financial readiness for a mortgage. A larger down payment can benefit you and your lender. For you, it reduces the amount you owe and might get you better loan terms. For lenders, it decreases the risk they take on. A heftier down payment also means you might avoid paying private mortgage insurance (PMI), which is an extra cost added to protect the lender if you default.

If you're eyeing a home, consider strategies like setting aside a fixed amount monthly or exploring employer-assisted housing programs. Understanding the requirements for conventional home loans can pave the way for your homeownership journey.

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If you put down less than 20% on a conventional loan, lenders typically require private mortgage insurance. It's their protection if you're unable to keep up with payments. While it safeguards the lender, PMI increases your monthly payments.

That said, a PMI is not permanent. Once you've paid off 20% of your home's value, or if your home's value increases, you can request to have it removed. By understanding what PMI is and working towards its removal, you can reduce your monthly costs in the long run.

Home Appraisal Process

A home appraisal is an evaluation that determines the market value of the property you're interested in. Lenders require it to ensure they're not lending more money than what the home is truly worth. An accredited appraiser inspects the house, taking note of its condition, size, and location and comparing it to recent sales of similar properties nearby.

If the appraisal value comes back lower than the purchase price, it could complicate your loan process. Lenders might offer a smaller loan amount, requiring you to either renegotiate with the seller or cover the difference yourself. However, if it's higher, you're in a favorable position with more equity in your home from the start.

Here are some tips to better navigate the appraisal process:

  • Stay Informed on Local Property Values: Before diving into the buying process, familiarize yourself with recent sale prices of homes in your desired area. It can give you a baseline and help set realistic expectations for the appraisal.

  • Attend the Appraisal: Though it's not always mandatory, being present gives you a firsthand look at the process. You can ask questions and understand the factors influencing the property's value.

  • Review the Appraisal Report: Once you receive the report, thoroughly review it. If something seems off or not accounted for, like a recent sale of a similar home, discuss it with your lender or consider getting a second opinion.

Understanding the appraisal process can give you an advantage in negotiations and potentially save you from overpaying for a property. Be proactive and ensure the home aligns with conventional loan appraisal requirements. That way, you're making a sound financial investment in your home.

Impact of Financial History

Lenders gauge your financial stability by examining your job history — it tells them about your ability to pay back a mortgage. In their eyes, stable employment often translates to a reliable source of income, making you a less risky borrower. Documentation, like recent pay stubs, W-2 forms or tax returns, validates it.

Different income sources include salaried jobs, self-employment earnings and rental income. While salaried income may have straightforward documentation, self-employment and other income sources might require more detailed records. Regardless of the type, meeting conventional loan income requirements is necessary. Ensuring you present all sources of income can bolster your mortgage application and open doors to homeownership.

Credit History Requirements

When lenders look at your credit history, they want to see your debt management track record. Past financial missteps like bankruptcies or late payments can cast shadows on your credit score, suggesting potential risk. Understanding conventional home loan requirements, including credit expectations, can aid your loan application process. Remember, a spotless credit history isn't just about past actions — it's a commitment to future financial responsibility.

Who Conventional Loans Are For

Conventional loans can offer long-term financial perks, such as lower interest rates or the possibility of not needing mortgage insurance. While these benefits are enticing, there might be more suitable mortgage products for some homebuyers. Evaluate specific factors about your situation to determine if this type of loan matches your needs.

Here are questions to guide your decision-making:


Do I need to borrow more than the conforming loan limit?

A jumbo loan might be a better option if you're eyeing a high-priced property and require a loan amount surpassing the conventional loan limit.


Is my credit score less than ideal, or do I have a smaller down payment?

An FHA loan assists borrowers who might not meet the stringent criteria of conventional loans. If your credit score isn't stellar or you can't afford a significant down payment, you might find an FHA loan more accommodating.


Am I considering a home in a rural or suburban area?

If you're drawn to the charm of rural living or the suburbs and meet certain income requirements, a USDA loan can offer beneficial terms and even 100% financing.

Understanding how to qualify for a conventional loan is a starting point. But remember that assessing your financial position comprehensively and seeking tailored advice is valuable to your future. Remember, a mortgage is a long-term commitment — finding the loan that aligns with your unique journey will support your financial well-being for years to come.

Frequently Asked Questions About Conventional Loan Requirements

Before diving headfirst into conventional loans, it's wise to gather as much information as possible. We addressed common inquiries, offering deeper insight into conventional loan requirements.

What is considered a conventional loan?
What credit do you need for a conventional loan?
Do all conventional loans require 20% down?
When should I use a conventional loan?
What are the advantages of choosing a conventional loan over other types?
How many conventional loans can I have at one time?
How does the home appraisal process work for a conventional loan?
Are there specific employment or income requirements for conventional loans?
What should I know about Debt-to-Income ratios when applying for a conventional loan?

About Christopher Boston

Christopher Boston headshot

Christopher (Croix) Boston was the Head of Loans content at MoneyGeek, with over five years of experience researching higher education, mortgage and personal loans.

Boston has a bachelor's degree from the Seattle Pacific University. They pride themselves in using their skills and experience to create quality content that helps people save and spend efficiently.