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Guide to Getting a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) Mortgage

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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Not all homebuyers have the money to make a traditional 20% down payment. The perception that you need one is one of the main financial obstacles that can discourage people from pursuing homeownership.

In reality, there are several options for buyers who want to get a mortgage but can only pull together a small down payment. One of the best ones, particularly for first-time homebuyers, is an FHA loan.

This article offers you a guide to getting an FHA mortgage, including details on how to qualify and the costs to consider.

What it takes to qualify for the FHA mortgage program

FHA mortgages are insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The program is a key way that people of moderate income can become homeowners. Nearly 83% of homeowners who borrowed an FHA loan in 2018 were first-time homebuyers, according to a report from HUD.

FHA mortgages are funded by FHA-approved lenders and then insured by the government. This backing protects lenders from loss if borrowers default. Because of this protection, lenders can be more lenient with their qualifying criteria and can accept a significantly lower down payment.

You can get approved for an FHA mortgage with as little as a 3.5% down payment and a credit score of 580. You may also qualify with a credit score as low as 500, though you’ll need to put down 10% instead.

On a $200,000 home, that comes out to a down payment of $7,000 to $20,000 when taking out an FHA loan, depending on your credit score.

Keep in mind you’ll also be responsible for closing costs, which typically cost 2% to 5% of a home’s purchase price. Closing costs are necessary to complete your transaction, and include services such as appraisals and home inspections. However, you may be able to negotiate to have some of these costs covered by the seller.

Is an FHA loan right for you?

FHA loans are particularly suited for several different types of homebuyers.

First-time homebuyers, who often have lower credit scores and smaller available down payments, tend to gravitate to FHA loans. Additionally, boomerang buyers — people who lost a home in the past due to a bankruptcy, foreclosure or short sale — might also benefit from an FHA loan.

Negative credit events such as foreclosure can drop credit scores by more than 100 points in many cases, and there’s typically a waiting period of three years before you’re eligible to buy a home again. Once that’s up, the lower credit score requirements of the FHA loan program could help you become a homeowner again.

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Types of FHA mortgages

The FHA offers both 15- and 30-year mortgages, each with fixed rates or adjustable rates.

With a fixed-rate FHA mortgage, your interest rate is consistent through the loan term. You know what your principal and interest payment will be for the life of the mortgage. However, your overall monthly payment may increase or decrease slightly based on your homeowners insurance, mortgage insurance premium and property taxes.

Adjustable-rate FHA mortgages start out with a low and fixed interest rate during an introductory period of time, usually five years. Once the introductory period ends, the interest rate will adjust annually, which means your monthly mortgage payments may increase based on market conditions.

A unique situation where signing up for a low, adjustable-rate FHA mortgage could make sense is if you plan to sell or refinance the home before the introductory period ends and the interest rate changes. Otherwise, a fixed-rate FHA mortgage has predictable principal and interest payments and may be the better option.

FHA loan limits

The FHA imposes a limit on the amount of money that homebuyers are allowed to borrow each year. For 2019, the FHA loan limits for one-unit properties are $314,827 in most U.S. counties and $726,525 for high-cost areas. You can find your county’s loan limit information for one- to four-unit properties by using the FHA’s lookup tool.

Qualifying for an FHA loan

Credit scores

Besides the low down payment, an undeniable benefit of the FHA mortgage is the low credit score requirement. You may qualify for a 3.5% down payment with a credit score of 580 or higher. You can qualify with a minimum credit score of 500, but you’ll have to make at least a 10% down payment.

Debt-to-income ratio

Your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio is another key metric lenders use when determining whether you can afford a mortgage. DTI measures the percentage of your gross monthly income that is used to repay debt. Lenders consider two DTI ratios when determining your eligibility — the front-end (housing debt) ratio and the back-end (total debt) ratio.

Your front-end ratio is the percentage of your income it would take to cover your total monthly mortgage payment. Lenders typically like to see a front-end ratio of no more than 31%.

Your back-end ratio illustrates the percentage of your income that covers your total monthly debts. Lenders prefer a back-end ratio of 43% or less, but may approve a higher ratio if you have compensating factors, such as a higher credit score or a larger down payment.

You’ll also need to have a steady income and proof of employment for the last two years. Additionally, the home you’re purchasing via FHA must also be your primary residence, at least for the first year.

FHA mortgage insurance

At first glance, an FHA mortgage probably seems like the ultimate hack to buying a home with minimal savings. The flip side to this is you must pay mortgage insurance premiums (MIP) in exchange for your lower down payment.

Remember, FHA-approved lenders offer mortgages that require less money down and flexible qualifying criteria because the Federal Housing Administration will cover the loss if you default on the loan. The government doesn’t do this for free.

FHA mortgage borrowers must “put money in the pot” to cover the cost of this backing through upfront and annual mortgage insurance premiums. The upfront insurance premium costs 1.75% of the loan amount and can be rolled into your mortgage balance.

The annual mortgage insurance premium is divided into 12 installments and paid monthly as part of your mortgage payment. The annual premium ranges from 0.45% to 1.05%, based on your loan term, loan amount and loan-to-value ratio (LTV).

How your loan-to-value ratio affects mortgage insurance

Your LTV is a metric that compares your loan amount to your home’s value. It also represents the equity you have in the property. For example, putting 3.5% down means your LTV would be 96.5%. In other words, you have 3.5% equity in the home, and your loan is covering the remaining 96.5% of the home value.

Here’s the annual MIP on a 30-year FHA mortgage (for loans less than or equal to $625,500):

  • LTV over 95% (you initially have less than 5% equity in the home) – 0.85%
  • LTV under 95% (you initially have more than 5% equity in the home) – 0.8%

As you can see, starting off with a smaller down payment will cost you more in mortgage insurance premiums. Additionally, in most cases, you’ll pay annual MIP for the life of your loan.

However, if your LTV was less than or equal to 90% at time of origination — meaning you made a down payment of at least 10% — you can cancel MIP after 11 years.

FHA loans vs. conventional loans

Government-backed home mortgages like the FHA loan are special programs serving borrowers who might not qualify for a traditional mortgage.

Conventional mortgages are offered by lenders and banks and typically follow Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s mortgage standards. Fannie and Freddie are government-sponsored enterprises that buy loans from mortgage lenders and banks that fit their requirements.

The qualifying criteria bar for conforming loans is usually set higher. For instance, you typically need to have at least a 620 credit score to qualify for a fixed-rate conventional loan. However, credit score minimums vary by lender, but in any case, a score above 620 will be necessary for the most competitive interest rates.

A misconception about conventional mortgages is that borrowers must have 20% for a down payment to qualify. Mortgage lenders may accept less than 20% down for a conventional mortgage if you have a high credit score and pay their version of mortgage insurance premiums, which is called private mortgage insurance (PMI).

Similar to FHA mortgage insurance, PMI is a private insurance policy that protects the lender if you default. Be careful not to confuse the two types of insurance policies.

If you have PMI on a conventional mortgage, you’re able to request the removal of those insurance payments when you build up 20% equity in your home. On the other hand, the mortgage insurance premiums for most new FHA mortgages can’t be removed unless you refinance.

When to choose a conventional mortgage instead

Choosing an FHA loan can be a shortcut to homeownership if you don’t have much cash saved or the credit history to get approved for a conventional mortgage. Still, the convenience comes at a price that can follow you for the entire loan term.

Furthermore, putting a small sum down on a home means it will take you quite some time to build up equity. A small down payment can also increase your monthly payments and interest rate.

Homebuyers with a strong credit score should consider saving a bit more money and shopping for a conventional home loan first before thinking an FHA mortgage is the only answer to a limited down payment.

If you plan to put down at least 5% toward your home purchase and have a good or excellent credit score, it might make sense to borrow a conventional mortgage instead. A conventional home loan with PMI may not require the same upfront insurance payment as the FHA home loan, so you can find some savings there. Plus, you’re capable of getting rid of PMI without refinancing.

There are a few conventional mortgage programs that allow a 3% down payment, including Fannie Mae’s HomeReady program and Freddie Mac’s Home Possible program. These products also have cancellable mortgage insurance.

Shopping for an FHA loan

So, you’ve reviewed all the information and determined that an FHA loan is right for you. Once you’re ready to start the homebuying process, one of the most important things on your to-do list is shopping around.

Gather quotes from multiple FHA-approved lenders to find the most competitive rate. If you’re unfamiliar with the approved lenders in your area, you can use the HUD’s lender list search to locate them.

Comparison shopping for the best mortgage rate can save you thousands in interest over the life of your loan, according to research from LendingTree, which owns MagnifyMoney. Be sure you also compare the various other costs associated with borrowing a mortgage, including lender fees and title-related expenses.

Don’t rush to a decision. If you’re still not sure which mortgage type will be the most cost-effective for you, ask each lender you shop with to break down the costs for a comparison.

This article contains links to LendingTree, our parent company.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Crissinda Ponder
Crissinda Ponder |

Crissinda Ponder is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Crissinda here

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Mortgage

Should You Save for Retirement or Pay Down Your Mortgage?

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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On the list of financial priorities, which comes first — paying off your mortgage or saving for retirement? The answer isn’t simple. On one hand, owning a home with no mortgage attached to it provides long term security knowing you’ll have a place to live with no monthly payment except property taxes and insurance. However, you’ll also need income to live on if you plan to retire, and how much you save now will have a big impact on your quality of retirement life.

We’ll discuss the pros and cons of whether you should save for retirement or pay down your mortgage, or maybe a combination of both.

Pros of paying down your mortgage vs. saving for retirement

The faster you pay your mortgage off, the sooner you own the home outright. However, there are other benefits you’ll realize if you take extra measures to pay your loan balance off faster.

You could save thousands in long-term interest charges

Most homeowners take out a 30-year mortgage to keep their monthly payments as low as possible. The price for that affordable payment is a big bill for interest charged over the 360 payments you’ll make if you’re in your “forever” home.

For example, a 30-year fixed $200,000 loan at 4.375% comes with a lifetime interest charge of $159,485.39. That’s if you never pay a penny more than your fixed mortgage payment for that 30-year period. Using additional funds to pay down your mortgage faster can significantly reduce this.

Even one extra payment a year results in $27,216.79 in interest savings on the loan we mentioned above. An added bonus is that you’ll be able to throw your mortgage-free party four years and five months sooner.

You’ll build equity much faster

Thanks to a beautiful thing called amortization, lenders make sure the majority of your monthly mortgage payment goes toward interest rather than principal in the beginning of your loan term. Because of that, it’s difficult to make a real dent in your loan principal for many years. You can, however, counteract this by making additional payments on your mortgage and telling the lender to specifically put those payments toward your principal balance instead of interest.

Not only do you pay less interest over the long haul with this strategy, but you build the amount of equity you have in your home much faster. And to homeowners, equity is gold — you’re closer to owning your home outright, and equity can also be a resource if you need funds for a home improvement project or another big expense.

You can access that equity as your financial needs change by doing a cash-out refinance or by taking out a home equity loan or home equity line of credit (HEL or HELOC).

You won’t lose your home if values drop

When you contribute extra money into a retirement account, there is always the risk that you’ll lose some or all of the money you invested. When you contribute money to paying off your mortgage, even if the values drop, you still have the security of a place to live, and are increasing the equity in the home, no matter how much it’s ultimately worth.

Making extra payments ensures you’ll eventually have a debt-free asset that provides shelter to you and your family, regardless of what happens to the housing market in your neighborhood.

Cons of paying down your mortgage vs. saving for retirement

There are some cases where paying down your mortgage faster might actually hurt you financially. Before adding extra principal to your mortgage payments, you’ll want to make sure you aren’t doing damage to your financial outlook with an extra contribution toward your mortgage payoff.

You might end up paying more in taxes

The higher interest payments you make during the early years of your mortgage can act as a tax benefit, so paying the balance down faster could actually result in you owning more in federal taxes. If you are in a higher tax bracket in the early (first 10 years) of your mortgage repayment schedule, it may make sense to focus extra funds on retirement savings, and let your mortgage interest deduction work for you. Of course, everyone’s tax situation is different, so you’ll have to decide (with help from an accountant ideally) if it makes sense to itemize your taxes in order to claim mortgage interest payments as a deduction.

You won’t get to enjoy the return on your paydown dollars until you sell

The only real benchmark for figuring out the value of paying down your mortgage is to look at how much equity you’re gaining over time. However, the equity doesn’t become a tangible profit until you actually sell your home. And the costs of a sale can take a big bite out of your equity because sellers usually pay the real estate agent fees.

Home equity is harder to access

The only way to access the equity you’ve built up is to borrow against it, or sell your home. Borrowing against equity often requires proof of income, assets and credit to confirm you meet the approval requirements for each equity loan option. If you fall on hard financial times due to a job loss, or are unable to pay your bills and your credit scores drop substantially, you may not be able to access your equity.

Pros of saving for retirement vs. paying down your mortgage

Depending on your financial situation and savings habits, it may be better to add extra funds monthly to your retirement account than to pay down your mortgage. Here are a few reasons why.

You may earn a higher return on dollars invested in retirement funds

The growth rate for a stock portfolio has consistently returned more than housing price returns. The average return in the benchmark S&P stock fund is 6.595% for funds invested from the beginning of 1900 to present, while home values have increased just 0.1% per year after accounting for inflation during that same time period.

Assuming your portfolio at least earns 7%, if you consistently invest your money into a balanced investment portfolio, you can expect to double your money every 10 years. There aren’t many housing markets that can promise that kind of growth.

Retirement funds are generally easier to access than home equity

Retirement funds often give you a variety of options for each access, with no income or credit verification requirements, and only sufficient proof of enough funds in your account to pay it back over time. For example, a 401k loan through the company you work for will just require you to have enough vested to support the loan request, and sufficient funds left over to pay it off over a reasonable time.

Just be cautious about making a 401k withdrawal, which is treated totally differently than a loan. You aren’t expected to pay it back like you would a 401k loan, but you could get hit with taxes and penalties.

Cons of saving for retirement vs. paying down your mortgage

You’ll need to weather the ups and downs of the market

Most people who have invested money in the stock market or tracked the performance of their 401k over decades have stories about periods when the value of those investments dropped substantially. While the 7% return on investment is a reliable long term indicator how much your retirement fund might earn, the path to that return is hardly linear.

For example, if you were considering retirement between 1999 and 2002, you may have had to delay those plans when the S & P plummeted over 23% in value in 2002. If you look at each 10-year period since the 1930s, every decade has been characterized by periods of ups and downs.

Calculating the benefit of paying down your mortgage vs. saving for retirement

If you’re torn as to what to do with that extra cash or windfall, let’s look at an example of someone who has an extra $200 to put into either their nest egg or their mortgage each month for the next 30 years.

For this scenario, we’re going to assume their retirement account earns an average 7% rate of return and that their mortgage loan balance is $200,000.

Here’s how much they’d save:

Savings From Paying $200 per Month Down on Your Mortgage
Years PaidMortgage Interest SavingsExtra Equity in HomeTotal Interest Savings and Equity Built Up
10 years$6,040$30,039$36,079
20 years$28,529$76,529$105,058
22 years 6 months$50,745$200,000$250,745

One thing you may notice about the mortgage savings chart — it includes how much extra equity you’re building. Often only the mortgage interest savings is cited when people look at how much you save with extra payments, but that ignores the fact that you’re building equity in your home much faster as well. So not only do you save over $50,000 in interest with your extra contribution, you replenish $150,000 of equity that was used up by your mortgage balance.

As you can see, adding that extra $200 to their mortgage principal each month saved them about $200,000 in the long haul — but the real savings don’t stop there.

By adding an extra $200 to their mortgage payment each month, this borrower turned their 30-year loan into a 22-and-a-half year loan and became mortgage debt-free seven years faster.

That means, in addition to saving $50,000 in interest savings and gaining $200,000 of equity, they also no longer have a mortgage payment. That frees up $998.57 per month that they can now use as discretionary income. That’s an extra $89,871 they could potentially save over that 7.5 year period.

When you add that to the $250,745.41 they saved on mortgage interest and earned in home equity, they’re looking at a total savings of $340,616.

That gives the mortgage paydown a $54,000 net positive edge over saving that extra $200 for retirement, as you can see in the table below.

Savings From Contributing $200 per Month to a Retirement Fund
Years PaidRetirement Balance
10 years$34,404
20 years$102,081
30 years$235,212

The one caveat for this retirement calculation is we assumed the saver was starting at a $0 investment balance. If they already had a healthy balance in their nest egg, they might actually come out in better shape than paying down their mortgage.

There are clearly benefits to each option, and you should consider running your own calculations with your real numbers to get the best answer for yourself.

Paying down your mortgage and saving for retirement at the same time

There’s a fair case to be made for both paying down your mortgage and saving more for retirement, but why choose? If you’re somewhat on track with your retirement savings goals, and like the idea of having your mortgage paid off quicker, you could allocate a certain amount to each.

Pick a number you feel comfortable paying to your principal every month, and then to your 401k, and put it on autopilot for a year. Any time your income increases, or you get bonuses, divide up the amount between principal pay down and retirement additions.

Let’s look at what happens if you evenly divide up your $200 per month between investing your retirement and paying down your mortgage. We’ll use the same $200,000 loan at 4.375% referenced above, and look at the lifetime results.

Savings From Paying $100 Down on Your Mortgage Until Paid Off
Years PaidInterest SavingsExtra Home EquityTotal Interest Savings and Equity Built Up
10 years$3,020$15,020$18,040
20 years$14,265$38,265$52,350
25 years$30,534$200,000$230,534
Savings From Contributing $100 to a Retirement Fund for 30 Years
Years PaidRetirement Balance
10 years$17,202
20 years$51,401
30 years$117,607

Balancing the $100 investment in both strategies still yields a six-figure retirement balance after 30 decades, a debt-free house after 26 years, and shaves off $30,000 in mortgage interest expense. If you don’t like putting all your eggs into one financial basket, this may balance the risks and rewards of each option.

Final thoughts

Looking at the short term and the long term may provide you with the best framework for making a good decision about how to spend dollars on retirement versus extra mortgage payments. Be wary of any financial professional that tells you one path is absolutely better than another.

Having a stable source of affordable shelter is equally as important as having enough income to live when you retire, so a balanced approach to paying down your mortgage and savings for retirement may help you accomplish both goals.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Denny Ceizyk
Denny Ceizyk |

Denny Ceizyk is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Denny here

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Life Events, Mortgage

What Is Mortgage Amortization?

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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One of the biggest advantages of homeownership versus renting is each mortgage payment gradually pays off your mortgage and builds equity in your home. The difference between your home’s value and the balance of your loan is home equity, and your equity grows with each payment because of mortgage amortization.

Understanding mortgage amortization can help you set financial goals to pay off your home faster or evaluate whether you should refinance.

What is mortgage amortization?

Mortgage amortization is the process of paying off your loan balance in equal installments over a set period. The interest you pay is based on the balance of your loan (your principal). When you begin your payment schedule, you pay much more interest than principal.

As time goes on, you eventually pay more principal than interest — until your loan is paid off.

How mortgage amortization works

Understanding mortgage amortization starts with how monthly mortgage payments are applied each month to the principal and interest owed on your mortgage. There are two calculations that occur every month.

The first involves how much interest you’ll need to pay. This is based on the amount you borrowed when you took out your loan. It is adjusted each month as your balance drops from the payments you make.

The second calculation is how much principal you are paying. It is based on the interest rate you locked in and agreed to repay over a set period (the most popular being 30 years).

If you’re a math whiz, here’s how the formula looks before you start inputting numbers.

Fortunately, mortgage calculators do all the heavy mathematical lifting for you. The graphic below shows the difference between the first year and 15th year of principal and interest payments on a 30-year fixed loan of $200,000 at a rate of 4.375%.

For the first year, the amount of interest that is paid is more than double the principal, slowly dropping as the principal balance drops. However, by the 15th year, principal payments outpace interest, and you start building equity at a much more rapid pace.

How understanding mortgage amortization can help financially

An important aspect of mortgage amortization is that you can change the total amount of interest you pay — or how fast you pay down the balance — by making extra payments over the life of the loan or refinancing to a lower rate or term. You aren’t obligated to follow the 30-year schedule laid out in your amortization schedule.

Here are some financial objectives, using LendingTree mortgage calculators, that you can accomplish with mortgage amortization. (Note that MagnifyMoney is owned by LendingTree.)

Lower rate can save thousands in interest

If mortgage rates have dropped since you purchased your home, you might consider refinancing. Some financial advisors may recommend refinancing only if you can save 1% on your rate. However, this may not be good advice if you plan on staying in your home for a long time. The example below shows the monthly savings from 5% to 4.5% on a $200,000, 30-year fixed loan, assuming you closed on your current loan in January 2019.

Assuming you took out the mortgage in January 2019 at 5%, refinancing to a rate of 4.5% only saves $69 a month. However, over 30 years, the total savings is $68,364 in interest. If you’re living in your forever home, that half-percent savings adds up significantly.

Extra payment can help build equity, pay off loan faster

The amount of interest you pay every month on a loan is a direct result of your loan balance. If you reduce your loan balance with even one extra lump-sum payment in a given month, you’ll reduce the long-term interest. The graphic below shows how much you’d save by paying an extra $50 a month on a $200,000 30-year fixed loan with an interest rate of 4.375%.

Amortization schedule tells when PMI will drop off

If you weren’t able to make a 20% down payment when you purchased your home, you may be paying mortgage insurance. Mortgage insurance protects a lender against losses if you default, and private mortgage insurance (PMI) is the most common type.

PMI automatically drops off once your total loan divided by your property’s value (also known as your loan-to-value ratio, or LTV) reaches 78%. You can multiply the price you paid for your home by 0.78 to determine where your loan balance would need to be for PMI to be canceled.

Find the balance on your amortization schedule and you’ll know when your monthly payment will drop as a result of the PMI cancellation.

Pinpoint when adjustable-rate-mortgage payment will rise

Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) are a great tool to save money for a set period as long as you have a strategy to refinance or sell the home before the initial fixed period ends. However, sometimes life happens and you end up staying in a home longer than expected.

Knowing when and how much your payments could potentially increase, as well as how much extra interest you’ll be paying if the rate does increase, can help you weigh whether you really want to take a risk on an ARM loan.

The bottom line

Mortgage amortization may be a topic that you don’t talk about much before you get a mortgage, but it’s certainly worth exploring more once you become a homeowner.

The benefits of understanding how extra payments or a lower rate can save you money — both in the short term and over the life of your loan — will help you take advantage of opportunities to pay off your loan faster, save on interest charges and build equity in your home.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Denny Ceizyk
Denny Ceizyk |

Denny Ceizyk is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Denny here

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