The different types of home loans for buyers

Comparing the most common types of mortgages and what makes them right for you

Buying a home is a lot different than buying just about anything else since you likely don’t have the entire cost available—unless you make a cash offer. In order to buy a home, you’ll likely have to take out a loan to cover most of the price. The loan you take out to cover the remaining value of the home after you supply a down payment is a mortgage, and there are a lot of different types of mortgages to consider. 

In this article

We’ll go over the different common mortgage loan types, what sets them apart, and who is right for each.

What is a mortgage?

A mortgage loan is similar to most other loans in that lenders pay out a set amount of cash up front to the borrower. Then the borrower pays back that amount over time, plus an additional percentage of the original loan as interest that the lender collects as a fee for providing the loan. Mortgages are almost always long-term loans, so borrowers can pay them back over time and can usually take 15 and 30 years to pay off. And depending on the mortgage, you’ll find different interest rates, qualifying requirements, and down payment options. 

The mortgage process

After you decide it’s time to buy a home, and you’re confident you can afford one in your area, you’ll want to begin the process of taking out a mortgage. The lender will go through all your financial information to determine what kind of mortgage you qualify for, how much money to give you, and what interest rate to charge you. Their decision is based on how much confidence your lender has that you’ll be able to pay the monthly payments in full, on time, and for the life of the loan. For the best experience, start preparing for your mortgage application as early as possible. 

Your lender will need to know how much you’re going to spend on a home so you won’t actually get the funds until you’ve made a home offer, but depending on your application, you may be able to get pre-approved for a better chance at winning your home bid.

How do mortgages work? 

Whether or not you own your home depends on whether or not you’re able to pay your mortgage in full, and on time. Since the loan is determined by the value of your home, the bank uses the home, itself, as collateral. That means that if you fail to pay, it can foreclose and take the home back. 

But each month that you pay your mortgage payment on time, you move closer to full ownership and gain more equity in your home. And the more home equity you have, the less of a financial risk you are to the lender and you can refinance your loan at better rates. 

The pros and cons of different loans

1. Conventional loans

Conventional loans are the most common types of loans and are a traditional approach to loans, administered by a private lender to a borrower. They are not backed by the federal government and are instead a private financial product that the lender is solely responsible for. For that reason, it usually takes a higher credit score and a higher down payment to qualify for a conventional loan. 

There are two main types of conventional loans: 

Conforming loans

The reason these are called conforming loans is because they conform to a predetermined set of standards set by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). The most important standard is that they are not available above $647,200 in most areas, or $970,800 in expensive regions. Each year, these standards change to match inflation and market rates. Conforming loans are generally not available to borrowers with credit scores below 620, either. 

Non-conforming loans

These are conventional loans available to borrowers who don’t meet the standards set for conforming loans. Borrowers with lower credit scores or purchasing homes at a higher cost than what’s limited by conforming loans may qualify for these mortgages, but interest rates are usually higher. 

Pros

  • Can be used for any type of residential property—primary home, second home, or investment property
  • Borrowing costs are usually low, even with a higher interest rate
  • Reaching 22% equity automatically cancels private mortgage insurance

Cons

  • You’ll need a higher credit score than government-insured loans
  • Lenders will ask for a significant amount of documentation to approve your loan
  • You need a higher credit score than with other mortgage types
  • You need a low debt-to-income ratio to qualify

2. Jumbo loans

Jumbo loans are just what they sound like. These mortgages are for home prices that exceed the limits of the conforming standards of the FHFA. In 2022, that limit is $970,800. Borrowers in the most expensive homebuying markets like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco will generally have to take out jumbo loans. These loans are not backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Because there is a higher risk for the lender due to the larger loan amount, jumbo loans are more difficult to qualify for than conforming loans.

Pros

  • You’ll be able to buy a home in a more expensive area
  • Your interest rate will be competitive and similar to other loan types

Cons

  • These are more difficult to qualify for due to the risk to the lender
  • You must have higher cash reserves than with conforming loans
  • Your credit score will have to be above 700
woman biting pencil while sitting on chair in front of computer during daytime
Knowing the difference between each loan type and preparing your application accordingly will go a long way to getting you approved for a loan

3. FHA loans

FHA loans are insured by the Federal Housing Administration, part of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Because the government is insuring the loan, which offers security to the lender, borrowers with smaller down payments and lower credit scores may qualify more easily for this type of loan than with conventional loans. However, the borrower will pay Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) for the life of the loan. In addition, FHA loans require a funding fee equal to 1.75% of your loan amount—this fee can either be paid out of pocket up front or added to your loan amount and paid monthly.

Pros: 

  • You can finance a home with a lower credit score
  • Lenders don’t require a 20% down payment
  • It is easier to qualify for a government-backed loan

Cons: 

  • You’ll need to pay PMI
  • The only way to cancel PMI is by refinancing into a conventional loan
  • Origination fees and up front costs are usually higher than with conforming loans
  • The buyer must live in the property and not rent it out

4. VA loan 

VA loans help active-duty service members, veterans, and eligible surviving spouses buy homes. They’re available through a program of the US Department of Veterans Affairs and can be either VA-funded (where the VA is your lender) or guaranteed by the VA when your lender is a private company. These loans can fund the entire purchase price of the home and don’t require PMI. Similarly to FHA, the VA requires a funding fee of 1.25% – 3.3% of your loan amount, depending on your level of down payment, the type of your service, and whether or not this is your first VA loan.

Pros

  • You won’t need a down payment for a VA loan
  • Easy to qualify for active-duty, retired, and spouses of service members
  • Mortgages are low interest

Cons

  • VA loans still require a lending fee to offset the cost to taxpayers

Additional mortgage types

Most mortgages fall under one of two categories: a fixed-rate or an adjustable-rate mortgage. The difference is whether or not your rate changes or stays the same throughout the course of your loan. 

Adjustable rate mortgage

An adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) carries interest rates that can go up or down depending on the market. Most ARM loans begin as a fixed-rate mortgage for the first 5-10 years and then switch to a fluctuating rate that responds to market conditions. ARM loans could save you money over time if interest rates go down from where they started, but the benefits of this kind of mortgage are for borrowers who began a mortgage with high rates and expect them to decline, or for people who don’t intend to be in their home for very long. 

Fixed-rate mortgages

Fixed-rate mortgages have interest rates that stay the same for the duration of your loans—usually 15-30 years. If you take out a mortgage with low interest rates to begin with, this would save you money. But adjustable rates might be more worthwhile if you initiate a mortgage with higher rates. 

Wrapping up

Now that you’ve learned the ABCs of 4 common loan types, you’re ready to talk with lenders about the specifics of your situation. All of these loan types can have either fixed or adjustable rates, and those are some of the details to ask about during your search for your best mortgage.


Ready to get started on a mortgage loan?  

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