Understanding FHA Loans: Benefits, Requirements and Tips

Enter your ZIP code to get started


Free. Simple. Secure.

Banner image
fact checked icon
Reviewed byTimothy Manni
fact checked icon

Updated: April 19, 2024

Advertising & Editorial Disclosure

FHA loans, backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), are mortgages designed to make homeownership more accessible. They can be especially beneficial for people with lower credit scores or who can't afford a large down payment.

We explore how they work, the various types, eligibility requirements and the steps to secure one. Knowing the ins and outs of FHA loans can help you determine whether it's the most effective path to homeownership for your situation.


What Is an FHA Loan?

FHA loans are mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration. The FHA doesn’t originate the loans—traditional lenders do. Lenders are more comfortable providing loans to people who don’t fit an ideal financial profile when the FHA backs them, separating them from conventional loans.

FHA loans are also more forgiving of past credit issues, such as bankruptcies. Combined with lower down payment requirements, they are a popular choice for first-time homebuyers and people who don’t have a lot of money in the bank.

How FHA Loans Work

FHA loans are similar to conventional mortgages. They come with fixed and adjustable rates and limited loan terms of either 15 or 30 years. Eligibility depends on your income, the location of the home and the type of house you’re interested in (single versus duplex, for example). FHA loans offer competitive interest rates but require you to pay for mortgage insurance. Here are some key ideas about FHA loans you should know:


Understanding the nuances of FHA loans streamlines the home-buying journey. With clarity on eligibility, requirements and benefits, you can navigate the process confidently and efficiently.

Types of FHA Loans

Understanding the array of FHA loan types opens up possibilities tailored to your unique financial and housing needs. Knowing which loan aligns best with your situation allows you to navigate the homebuying journey more confidently and make more informed decisions. Here are the most common types of FHA loans:


Traditional mortgage or the 203(b)

This is your go-to option for buying or refinancing a home. Its lower down payments and flexible credit requirements make it a favorite among first-time buyers. However, be mindful of loan limits and mandatory mortgage insurance.


203(k) loans

203(k) loan offers the unique advantage of combining the purchase price and repair costs into one loan. It’s a solid option if you're looking at a home that needs a little TLC, but be prepared to show your lender detailed project plans and undergo a longer closing process.


Energy Efficiency Loans

Energy efficiency loans are for those wanting to make eco-friendly home improvements. You can get extra funds for these projects on top of your primary FHA loan. It may require additional documentation and could increase your overall loan amount.


Section 245(a) Loan

Section 245(a) loan caters to borrowers who expect their income to grow over time. It offers graduated payment options that adapt to your future earning potential. But it’s best to be aware that it could result in higher total interest paid over the loan's lifespan.


Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM)

Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) is designed for seniors who own their homes and want to convert some of that equity into cash. The loan is flexible but comes with age and home equity requirements, which may affect your eligibility for certain benefits.

Choosing the right FHA loan type helps you seize an opportunity and make a calculated decision that aligns with your current circumstances and aspirations.

Pros and Cons of FHA Loans

FHA loans have low down payments and more lenient credit requirements but also require mortgage insurance. Weigh the benefits and drawbacks as you shop for rates, and remember that loan limits can change even between zip codes.

mglogo icon

FHA loans can be an appealing choice, with down payment rates as low as 3.5% — often lower than the offerings of many other conventional loan products. However, they may not feature the lowest down payment requirements. For instance, Fannie Mae's Conventional 97% LTV Standard loan enables down payments as low as 3% for first-time homebuyers, and this is often considered one of the most competitive options in terms of down payment flexibility. — Timothy Manni, Mortgage and Real Estate Consultant

FHA Loans: How Do They Compare?

FHA loans may stand out among various mortgage options, but there are other paths to homeownership. Understanding how they compare to conventional and government-backed mortgages highlights their unique benefits and limitations.


FHA loans and conventional mortgages are often compared because they are the two most common types of mortgages prospective homebuyers encounter. Both are widely available from various lenders and offer a route to homeownership. However, there are distinct differences between them.

For example, although both offer the chance to secure a home loan, FHA loans often have lower down payment requirements — sometimes as low as 3.5%. Because of that, they usually require mortgage insurance if your down payment is less than 20%. Conventional loans may have higher down payment demands but offer more flexibility in areas like mortgage insurance and property type.

Your choice should factor in your credit score, down payment and long-term financial goals. Each has its pros and cons, so weigh your options carefully.

FHA Loans vs. Conventional Loans

FHA loans and conventional loans cater to a wide variety of homebuyers. However, each one has distinct advantages and considerations. The table below can help you understand these nuances.


Choosing between these two mortgage types hinges on individual financial situations and housing needs. MoneyGeek’s FHA vs. Conventional Loan Calculator can offer deeper insights, ensuring your choice aligns with your long-term financial goals.

FHA Loans vs. Other Government-Backed Loans

FHA loans are just one type of government-backed mortgage. Others include VA (Veterans Affairs) loans and USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) loans. While FHA loans are widely accessible, VA loans are exclusively for veterans and active military members, while USDA loans are aimed at buyers in rural or certain suburban areas.

Both USDA and VA loans waive the need for a down payment or mortgage insurance. While their eligibility criteria are more stringent than those of FHA loans, they can offer more favorable terms to eligible applicants, including lower interest rates and closing costs.

FHA Loan Requirements

FHA-approved lenders use standard requirements to assess your eligibility and readiness for a loan. Knowing these areas of focus can help improve your chances of success. It can streamline your application process while keeping your expectations consistent.


Investing time in comprehending FHA loan prerequisites can bolster your standing as a qualified applicant. This effort enhances the likelihood of a seamless loan application process, potentially resulting in acquiring your home with less stress.


How to Apply for an FHA Loan

Knowing how to navigate the FHA loan application process can give you a head start, allowing you to prepare the needed documents and manage your time efficiently. Here’s a step-by-step guide to getting an FHA loan.


Review your financial profile

Look closely at your credit score, debts and income. Knowing these lets you set a realistic budget and understand what interest rates you could qualify for.


Choose an FHA-approved lender

Not all financial institutions offer FHA loans. Research to find FHA-approved lenders and compare their terms, such as interest rates and fees, to find the best deal.


Get pre-approved

Submitting basic financial documents like recent pay stubs and bank statements can help you secure pre-approval. This gives an estimate of how much you can borrow, which can be a big help when house hunting.


Complete the application and provide supporting documents

Complete a more comprehensive form and provide additional documents, like tax returns, W-2s and government-issued IDs. Lenders use this information to evaluate your loan eligibility. Anticipate ongoing communication with your lender as you progress through this stage of the process.


Order a property appraisal

The lender will commission an appraisal of the property you want to buy, ensuring the property's value aligns with the loan amount and meets FHA property standards. Note that you'll typically pay for this appraisal, and it's non-refundable even if the loan doesn't go through. Your lender might provide a recommendation, or you can use your appraiser.



This is when you'll pay the down payment and any closing costs, such as loan origination fees. The closing process is the official transfer of ownership from the previous homeowner to you. Be prepared with the necessary funds and read the loan agreement carefully before signing. This process is done with the help of lawyers and real estate agents who can help answer any particular questions you have. Lawyers will charge a fee for this service, which is built into the closing costs.

Frequently Asked Questions About FHA Loans

We answered some frequently asked questions about FHA loans to provide deeper insights. Our answers can enrich your understanding of FHA loans, ensuring you have the necessary knowledge for your home-buying journey.

An FHA loan is a government-insured mortgage designed for lower down payments and more lenient credit requirements. They are beneficial for first-time homebuyers, those with less-than-perfect credit and individuals who cannot make large down payments.

FHA loans accommodate borrowers with lower credit scores, starting at 500 with a 10% down payment or 580 for a 3.5% down payment. Unlike conventional loans, FHA requires mortgage insurance regardless of the down payment size, which can last for the loan's lifetime or a minimum of 11 years.

MIP is required for all FHA loans regardless of down payment size, often for the loan's lifetime. PMI is for conventional loans with down payments of less than 20% and can be removed once equity reaches 20%.

FHA loan limits are reviewed and potentially updated annually to reflect changes in home prices and the real estate market.

Yes, FHA loans are assumable, allowing a future buyer to take over the loan under the same terms, subject to lender approval.