Understanding FHA Loans: Benefits, Requirements and Tips

Enter your ZIP code to get started


Free. Simple. Secure.

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.

Key Takeaways

FHA loans have low down payment and credit score requirements. Down payments can be as low as 3.5% of the purchase price of a home.

FHA loans require mortgage insurance, which affects the long-term costs.

FHA loan limits can vary by county.

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:

    loanPro icon

    Available Loan Terms

    FHA loans have two terms: 15 or 30 years.

    loans icon

    Loan Limits

    The FHA sets loan limits to reflect the cost of living and housing prices in different parts of the country, ensuring loans remain accessible yet responsible. The 2024 loan limit for single-family homes is $498,257 in most areas, but it can go up to $1,149,825 in high-cost areas.

    loanCon icon

    Closing Costs

    These costs may include appraisal, credit reports and title expenses. FHA loans allow these to be covered by the seller or negotiated into the loan. Closing costs typically range from 2% to 6% of the loan amount. For example, on a $200,000 home purchase, closing costs could range between $4,000 and $12,000.

    money icon


    The FHA does not fund loans directly — banks and other financial institutions do this. FHA-insured loans reduce lenders' risk and make it easier for borrowers to qualify.

    homeMortgage icon

    Mortgage Insurance

    Before 2013, FHA mortgage insurance could be canceled, like private mortgage insurance on conventional loans. Today, if your down payment is at least 10%, you'll only pay mortgage insurance for the first 11 years of the loan. If it's less, mortgage insurance is required for the lifetime of the loan.

    discount icon

    Interest Rates

    FHA loans can come with fixed or variable rates. Factors like your down payment, credit score and the overall economy can influence the rate you receive.

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.


Lower credit score requirements: FHA loans often allow for lower credit scores, making them accessible to more borrowers.

Mandatory mortgage insurance premiums: All FHA loans require mortgage insurance premiums, which can make the loan more expensive over time.

Smaller down payments: As low as 3.5% down payment makes it easier for first-time homebuyers to enter the market.

Loan limits: FHA loans have federal limits that vary by location, potentially limiting the type of home you can purchase.

More lenient lending policies: FHA loans are generally more forgiving of past financial missteps like bankruptcy or foreclosure.

Property standards: Homes purchased with an FHA loan must meet specific safety, soundness and security standards, which could limit your choices.

Rate and payment stability: Fixed-rate options provide predictable payments, making budgeting easier.

More upfront costs: FHA loans come with upfront costs such as appraisal and origination fees, which you’ll need to pay or negotiate.

Seller contributions allowed: Sellers can contribute up to 6% towards closing costs, potentially lowering out-of-pocket expenses.

Occupancy restrictions: FHA loans usually require the borrower to live in the property as their primary residence, limiting investment opportunities.

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.

Comparison Areas
FHA Loans
Conventional Loans

Minimum Down Payment

At least 3.5%

As low as 3% (for first-time homebuyers)

Credit Score Requirements

500 (with 10% down) or 580 (with 3.5% down)

Typically 620

Mortgage Insurance

Required, regardless of down payment

Required only if down payment is less than 20%

Loan Limits

$498,257 in low-cost areas;

$766,550 in low-cost areas (one-unit home);

Interest Rates

$1,149,825 in high-cost areas

$1,149,825 in high-cost areas (one-unit home)

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.

    excellentCredit icon

    Credit Score

    For optimal loan conditions, aim for a credit score of 580 or more. Higher scores signal lower lending risk. Improve yours by paying debts punctually and maintaining low credit card balances.

    homeMortgage icon

    Down Payment

    People with credit scores over 580 need to make a minimum down payment of 3.5% of a home’s purchase price. Save regularly or consider a family gift to meet this threshold.

    wallet icon

    Debt-to-Income Ratio (DTI)

    Lenders favor a DTI ratio below 43%. A lower ratio shows you can handle additional mortgage payments alongside current debts. Lower your DTI by reducing debt or increasing your income.

    wage icon

    Steady Income History

    Stable, verifiable income is required for loan approval. Prepare to show documents like pay stubs and tax returns that prove consistent earnings over at least two years.

    financialPlanning icon

    Payment History

    A record of timely payments enhances lender trust in your financial management. Regular, on-time payments to all debts are key to meeting this requirement.

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.

Mortgage Calculator

Edit your mortgage details
Total monthly payment$1,271
Total monthly payment$1,271

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.

What is an FHA loan and who can benefit most from it?
How do FHA loans differ from conventional ones?
How is an FHA loan’s Mortgage Insurance Premium (MIP) different from Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)?
How often do FHA loan limits change?
Are FHA loans assumable?