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What Is A Conventional Loan?

Hanna Kielar7-Minute Read

May 04, 2022

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A conventional mortgage loan is a “conforming” loan, which simply means that it meets the requirements for Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are government-sponsored enterprises that purchase mortgages from lenders and sell them to investors. This frees up lenders’ funds so they can get more qualified buyers into homes.

One type of common non-conforming mortgage is a jumbo loan, which is a mortgage that exceeds conforming loan limits.

Because there are several different sets of guidelines that fall under the umbrella of “conventional loans,” there’s no single set of requirements for borrowers. However, in general, conventional loans have stricter credit requirements than government-backed loans like FHA loans

Conventional Loan Requirements

Down Payment

It’s possible for first-time home buyers to get a conventional mortgage with a down payment as low as 3%. However, the down payment requirement can vary based on your personal situation and the type of loan or property you’re getting:

  • If you’re not a first-time home buyer or making no more than 80% of the median income in your area, the down payment requirement is 5%.
  • If the house you’re buying is not a single-family home (i.e., it has more than one unit), you may need to put down 15%.
  • If you’re buying a second home, you’ll need to put at least 10% down.
  • If you’re getting an adjustable-rate mortgage, the minimum down payment requirement is 5%.

If you’re refinancing a conventional loan, you’ll need more than 3% equity. In all cases, you’ll need at least 5% equity. If you’re doing a cash-out refinance, you’ll need to leave at least 20% equity in the home.

A mortgage calculator can help you figure out how your down payment amount will affect your future monthly payments.

Private Mortgage Insurance

If you put down less than 20% on a conventional loan, you’ll be required to pay for private mortgage insurance (PMI). PMI protects your mortgage investors in case you default on your loan. The cost for PMI varies based on your loan type, your credit score and the size of your down payment.

PMI is usually paid as part of your monthly mortgage payment, but there are other ways to cover the cost as well. Some buyers pay it as an upfront fee included in their closing costs. Others pay it in the form of a slightly higher interest rate. Choosing how to pay for PMI is a matter of running the numbers to figure out which option is the cheapest for you.

The nice thing about PMI is that it won’t be part of your loan forever – that is, you won’t have to refinance to get rid of it. When you reach 20% equity in the home on your regular mortgage payment schedule, you can ask your lender to remove the PMI from your mortgage payments.

If you reach 20% equity as a result of your home increasing in value, you can contact your lender for a new appraisal so they can use the new value to recalculate your PMI requirement. Once you reach 22% equity in the home, your lender will automatically remove PMI from your loan.

Other Requirements

  • Credit score: In most cases, you’ll need a credit score of at least 620 to qualify for a conventional loan. When you apply, your lender will check your credit history to determine if you have good credit. If you don’t, you might not get approved for the loan.
  • Debt-to-income ratio: Your debt-to-income ratio (DTI) is a percentage that represents how much of your monthly income goes to pay off debts. You can calculate your DTI by adding up the minimum monthly payments on all your debts (like student loans, auto loans and credit cards) and dividing it by your gross monthly income. For most conventional loans, your DTI must be 50% or lower.
  • Loan size: For a conforming conventional loan, your loan must fall within the loan limits set by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The loan limit changes annually. For 2022, the conforming loan limit for a single-family home is $647,200. There are exceptions, however. Alaska, Hawaii and other high-cost areas of the country have higher loan limits, ranging up to $970,800. To see loan limits for your area, visit the Federal Housing Finance Agency website.

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How Is A Conventional Mortgage Different Than Other Loan Types?

Let’s take a look at how conventional loans compare to some other popular loan options.

Conventional Loans Vs. VA Loans

While conventional loans are available to anyone who can meet the requirements, VA loans are a benefit of military service, only available to veterans, active-duty servicemembers and their surviving spouses.

The requirements for VA loans are similar to that of conventional loans. VA loans, however, come with a few excellent benefits.

First, VA loans don’t require a down payment. Second, VA loans never require you to pay mortgage insurance.

If you’re thinking about getting a VA loan instead of a conventional loan, here are a few things to consider:

  • You can’t use a VA loan to buy a second home. The Department of Veterans Affairs requires that VA loan holders occupy the home they purchased with a VA loan. Second homes and vacation homes are not allowed through VA loans.
  • You’ll have to pay a funding fee. The VA funding fee offsets the cost to taxpayers of getting the VA loan. Certain groups (surviving spouses, those on VA disability and Purple Heart recipients serving in an active-duty capacity) are exempt from paying the funding fee. The funding fee ranges from 1.25% to 3.3% of the loan amount and varies based on your down payment , whether you’re buying a home or refinancing and how many times you’ve used your VA loan benefit.

Conventional Loans Vs. FHA Loans

Conventional loans have stricter credit requirements than FHA loans. FHA loans, which are backed by the Federal Housing Administration, offer the ability to get approved with a credit score as low as 500 with a 10% minimum down payment. Credit scores above 580 only require a minimum down payment of 3.5%. While conventional loans offer a slightly smaller down payment (3%), you must have a credit score of at least 620 to qualify.

When you’re deciding between a conventional loan versus an FHA loan, it’s important to consider the cost of mortgage insurance. If you put less than 10% down on an FHA loan, you’ll have to pay a mortgage insurance premium for the life of the loan – regardless of how much equity you have. On the other hand, you won’t have to pay private mortgage insurance on a conventional loan once you reach 20% equity.

Conventional Loans Vs. USDA Loans

While conventional loans are available in all areas of the country, USDA loans* can only be used to purchase properties in qualifying rural areas. Those who qualify for a USDA loan may find that it’s a very affordable loan compared to other loan options. Although Rocket Mortgage doesn’t offer USDA loans currently, we’re providing this information to you to help you understand all of your choices for mortgages.

There’s no maximum income for a conventional loan, but USDA loans have income limits that vary based on the city and state where you’re buying the home. When evaluating your eligibility for a USDA loan, your lender will consider the incomes of everyone in the household – not just the people on the loan.

USDA loans don’t require borrowers to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI), but they do require borrowers to pay a guarantee fee, which is similar to PMI. If you pay it upfront, the fee is 1% of the total loan amount. You also have the option to pay the guarantee fee as part of your monthly payment. The guarantee fee is usually more affordable than PMI.

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What Are Rates For A Conventional Mortgage?

Interest rates for conventional mortgages change daily. Conventional mortgage interest rates are usually slightly lower than FHA loan interest rates and slightly higher than VA loan interest rates. However, the actual interest rate you get will be based on your personal situation.

While many sites can give you estimated conventional loan interest rates, the best way to see your actual interest rate for a mortgage is to apply. When you apply with Rocket Mortgage®, you’ll be able to see your real interest rate and payment without any commitment.

Conventional Loan FAQs

Learn more about conventional loans by reading the most common questions that potential homeowners have about this type of mortgage.

Is a pest inspection required for a conventional loan?

In most cases, your lender won’t require a pest inspection for the home you’re buying. If there is evidence of an infestation or termite damage, your appraiser or home inspector may recommend having a pest expert complete an assessment.

Can I get down payment assistance with a conventional loan?

Yes, you may be able to qualify for down payment assistance with a conventional home loan. Government agencies and community programs offer assistance to buyers that are struggling with difficult financial situations, no matter what type of financing they’re using.

How many conventional loans can I have at one time?

The obvious answer to this question is as many as you can reasonably afford, but you can technically have up to ten conventional mortgages in your name. If you’re interested in real estate investing, you may be able to use alternative financing methods to purchase several properties without having to apply for multiple conventional loans.

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The Bottom Line

Conventional loans generally offer lower costs than other loan types, and if you meet credit score requirements and want a down payment of as low as 3%, a conventional mortgage might be the best solution for you.

To find out what types of financing you qualify for, talk to a Home Loan Expert who can help you decide which one works for your situation.

*As of July 6, 2020, Rocket Mortgage® is no longer accepting USDA loan applications.

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Hanna Kielar

Hanna Kielar is a Section Editor for Rocket Auto, RocketHQ, and Rocket Loans® with a focus on personal finance, automotive, and personal loans. She has a B.A. in Professional Writing from Michigan State University.