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FHA Loans: Benefits, Guidelines, Tips & Requirements

Mai Browne Updated: June 27, 2023 • 7 min read
what is an FHA loan

If you're unable to qualify for a conventional mortgage, an FHA home loan might be the right alternative for you. These loans, backed by the government, have lower credit score requirements and allow you to make a lower down payment than traditional mortgages. However, FHA loans come with additional costs such as annual mortgage insurance premiums. To understand how FHA loans function and determine if they are the right choice for you, keep reading.

down payment for FHA loan

How Does an FHA Loan Work? 

An FHA home loan is similar to a conventional mortgage, where you borrow money from a lender to buy a home and make regular monthly mortgage payments over a set period of time. Because FHA loans are backed by the government, lenders are more willing to work with you if you have credit score challenges and need to make a smaller down payment. When you're searching for FHA loans, take note that they're not issued by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) itself, rather by banks, credit unions and mortgage companies that follow FHA guidelines. Typical requirements are a credit score of 580 and above and a down payment of at least 3.5%. 

FHA loans offer fixed interest rates and are available in 15-year and 30-year terms. The interest rates for FHA loans aren't necessarily lower than those for conventional loans, but you may save money in the long run due to more flexible closing costs. Unlike conventional loans, the FHA allows sellers, builders or lenders to cover a certain percentage of your closing costs, such as appraisals. The downside? FHA loans require you to purchase two mortgage insurance premiums: an upfront and a monthly insurance premium.

Although FHA loans are not intended for investment properties, there are some instances where you can use an FHA loan for an investment property. If you buy a multi-unit property and live in one of the units while renting out the others, it may be possible to quality for an FHA mortgage. Another possibility is to rent out the rooms you don’t use in your single-family home, an arrangement known as house hacking. A third option is to stay in your home for at least a year after your FHA loan originated and then move out and convert it into an investment property.

Benefits of an FHA Loan

There are several benefits to getting an FHA loan, including:

  • Lower down payments: With an FHA loan, you may be able to put down as little as 3.5% of the home’s purchase price, compared to 20% with a conventional loan. 
  • Lower credit score requirements: You may be able to qualify for a mortgage with a credit score of 580. If you can afford a bit of a higher down payment of about 10%, you may be able to qualify with a credit score as low as 500. 
  • More flexible closing costs: The FHA caps closing costs at no more than 3 - 5% of the total loan amount, and allows up to 6% of closing fees to be covered by your lender. In contrast, closing costs for conventional loans can quickly add up to an additional 2 - 5% upfront of the home's overall purchase price. 
  • Streamlined refinancing options: If you find yourself needing to refinance your FHA loan to get a lower interest rate, shorten your loan term or free up money for a home renovation project, there are several FHA refinance options available including FHA rate and term refinance, cash-out refinance and more. FHA refinance loans typically require minimal credit checks and appraisals, making the process quicker and easier for eligible borrowers.

Drawbacks to FHA Loans

Prior to committing to an FHA loan, it's critical to understand the added costs and requirements:

  • High mortgage insurance premiums: As discussed, FHA loans require you to pay for mortgage insurance premiums (MIPs), which can quickly add a significant amount to your monthly mortgage payments. To break down the costs, see the example below:
    • If your total FHA loan amount is $450,000, your upfront mortgage insurance premium would be 1.75% of the loan amount, which is $7,875. This upfront mortgage insurance premium can be bundled into your overall financed loan amount, so you don't necessarily need to pay a lump sum upfront. 
    • Your annual mortgage insurance premium at 0.75% of the total loan amount would be $3,375 for the year, split into 12 payments of $281.25 per month. 
    • If you've put at least 10% down on your home and never missed a mortgage payment, however, it's possible to have your FHA mortgage insurance premiums canceled after 11 years. 
  • Lower loan limits: FHA loans have lower loan limits compared to conventional loans, which means you may not be able to borrow as much money as with a conventional loan. The specific amounts vary from state to state, but 2023 FHA loan limits range from $472,000 in some areas to over $1 million in others. 
  • Property requirements: In order to ensure that the home you're buying is up to standards and is a sound investment, the FHA will require a more strict appraisal process compared to conventional loans.

fha closing costs

How to Choose the Right Type of FHA Loan and Get Preferred Rates

There are several different types of FHA loans, each with its own requirements and benefits. Here are a few of the most common types:

  • FHA basic home mortgages: This is the most common type of FHA loan, which can be used to purchase a single-family home or a multi-family property (up to four units).
  • FHA refinance loans: If you already have an FHA loan, you may be able to refinance to a new FHA loan to get a lower interest rate or switch to a different type of loan.
  • FHA renovation loans: Also known as FHA 203(k) loans, these can be used to finance the purchase or refinance of a home along with renovation costs into a single loan. The loan amount is based on the projected value of the property after renovations, and funds are disbursed to cover both the purchase price and renovation expenses.

To get the best rates on an FHA loan, it’s important to shop around and compare rates from different lenders. You should also work to improve your credit score and save up as much money as possible for a down payment. Finally, make sure to work with a lender who has experience with FHA loans and can provide you with personalized guidance to choose the right type of FHA loan that suits your needs and financial goals. 

By understanding the different types of FHA loans and their average interest rates, you can make an informed decision. Remember to consider factors such as the loan term, your budget, and the specific requirements of each loan type. With the right lender and loan choice, you can maximize the benefits of an FHA loan and secure preferred rates that fit within your long-term homeownership plans.

FHA Loan Requirements

To qualify for an FHA loan, you will need to meet certain requirements, including:

  • Minimum credit score: The FHA generally requires a credit score of at least 580. However, individual lenders may have their own, more stringent, credit score requirements. For example, some lenders may require a credit score as high as 620. 
  • Down payment: If you have a credit score of 580 or higher, you may be able to put down as little as 3.5% down payment with an FHA loan. If you have a credit score between 500 and 579, you'll need to put down 10%. Either way, the down payment is still much lower than the typical 20% down payment expected for conventional mortgages.
  • Debt-to-income ratio: Lenders will evaluate your debt-to-income ratio, a calculation that compares your monthly debt payments to your gross monthly income. Lenders use DTI to assess your ability to repay the loan. The FHA generally allows a debt-to-income ratio of up to 43%, while some lenders go up to 50%.
  • Mandatory mortgage insurance: As discussed, unlike conventional mortgages, all FHA loans require you to get mortgage insurance. You'll be required to pay for two different mortgage insurance premiums. The first is an upfront mortgage insurance premium (MIP) of 1.75% of the loan amount, and the second is an annual mortgage premium of 0.45% to 1.05%, depending on the loan term.

It's important to note that while these are the minimum requirements set by the FHA, individual lenders may have more stringent requirements that borrowers need to meet.

Costs and Fees Associated with FHA Loans

In addition to FHA mortgage insurance, when obtaining an FHA loan, borrowers should be aware of the following costs and fees:

  • Lender fees: Although not all lenders charge these types of fees, you should prepare for fees such as origination, underwriting, application, document preparation and a rate lock fee
  • Closing costs: These include various fees associated with the loan transaction, such as title and escrow fees. The FHA caps closing costs at 3 - 5% of the total loan amount.
  • Appraisal: FHA loans require a specialized property appraisal from an FHA-approved professional to ensure that the home meets minimum property requirements. The typical fee is between $600 to $2,000. 

It's essential for borrowers to factor in these fees and ongoing costs when budgeting for an FHA loan to ensure they have a realistic understanding of the total expenses involved.

fha insurance requirements


In conclusion, FHA loans can be an excellent choice for borrowers who may face challenges in meeting the requirements of conventional loans. These loans provide accessible homeownership opportunities with lower down payments and more flexible credit requirements. However, borrowers need to consider the costs associated with FHA loans, such as mortgage insurance premiums and closing costs.

Before applying for an FHA loan, it is crucial to assess your financial situation, review the requirements, and compare offers from different lenders. By understanding the benefits, requirements, and costs of FHA loans, borrowers can make informed decisions and work towards their homeownership goals.


How many FHA loans can you have?

Borrowers can typically have only one FHA loan at a time, with a few exceptions for certain circumstances such as relocation or significant increase in family size.

How long does it take to close an FHA loan after the appraisal?

The time it takes to close an FHA loan can vary but is usually between 30 to 60 days after the appraisal is completed.

Can you build a house with an FHA loan?

Yes, it is possible to obtain an FHA loan for new construction. However, the borrower is expected to work with an approved builder and follow specific guidelines set by the FHA.

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Written by Mai Browne linkedin-icon

Mai Browne has 20+ years of experience working at and writing for Fortune 500 companies, financial services firms, and professional services firms, including three of the Big 4. She has also written for Money Magazine, The Journal of Accountancy, and other publications.