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Ginnie Mae (GNMA) Loans: How The Government National Mortgage Association Works

March 29, 2024 6-minute read

Author: Kevin Graham


When you’re looking to buy a home or refinance your mortgage, it’s  helpful to be aware of your financing options. If you’re interested in getting a loan directly backed by the federal government, Ginnie Mae is an agency you should familiarize yourself with. Like other government-sponsored enterprises, Ginnie Mae creates standards and guidelines to make housing and mortgages affordable for more home buyers.

In this article, we’ll go over what Ginnie Mae is, how it works and the role it plays in the markets in backing government loans for homes. Finally, we’ll compare Ginnie Mae to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the backers of conventional loans. Let’s take a closer look at your home loan options related to Ginnie Mae loans.

What Is Ginnie Mae (Government National Mortgage Association)?

Ginnie Mae, or the Government National Mortgage Association (GNMA), is a government agency that guarantees timely payments on mortgage-backed securities (MBSs). In doing this, Ginnie Mae works with other government agencies to make affordable housing widely available through mortgage loans.

Formed as a result of a split with Fannie Mae, GNMA is overseen by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It provides liquidity in the market for home loans directly guaranteed by the U.S. government. The liquidity helps nonbank and other mortgage lenders keep government-backed loans more affordable than if banks and other mortgage originators were forced to hold the loans for significant periods of time.

What Does Ginnie Mae Do?

Ginnie Mae guarantees mortgages that are designed to open up homeownership to a wider array of people. Even with a shorter credit history or one that contains some blemishes, you may be able to qualify for a government-backed mortgage.

Ginnie Mae is one of three major bond issuers that facilitates funding for most consumers in the real estate market. By guaranteeing principal and interest payments on mortgages that are part of its mortgage-backed security portfolio (more on that later), it provides investor protection against a borrower not being able to make their payment and defaulting on the terms of the loan.

While many may believe Ginnie Mae offers loans, GNMA simply backs mortgages instead of offering the loans themselves. Mortgage originators like Rocket Mortgage® collect applications, underwrite loans and close them. Then, the mortgage is sold to GNMA to free up capital for the lender to make additional loans. The system supports the smooth functioning of the housing market.

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What Are Ginnie Mae Mortgage Bonds?

Ginnie May primarily provides the liquidity necessary to support the free flow of capital in the housing market by packaging the mortgages it buys into bonds, also known as GNMAs.

A mortgage bond is made up of many loans grouped together based on similar characteristics. For example, a possible GNMA bond might consist of 1,000 FHA loans with median FICO® Scores of 620 or better and down payments or equity amounts of at least 3.5%. Ginnie Mae puts this bond together and makes it available to investors in the bond market.

Are Ginnie Mae Bonds Safe To Invest In?

Bond payments backed by underlying mortgage payments are historically considered safe to invest in because many will prioritize their home payments over other expenses. These bonds also come with the extra assurance for an investor that GNMA will pay off what the borrower owes if the borrower defaults. This can be a huge attraction.

Mortgage Loans Secured By Ginnie Mae

Ginnie Mae secures a variety of mortgage loans that have the direct backing of the federal government. Let’s run through them.

FHA Loans

Most loans backed by Ginnie Mae are those underwritten to the requirements of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). FHA loans are aimed at borrowers with less-than-perfect credit or shorter credit histories. Although you can get an FHA loan with a 10% down payment if your median FICO® Score is 500 or better, most lenders, including Rocket Mortgage, require a median score of 580 with a down payment of 3.5% or more.

It’s also important to note that you may qualify for increased flexibility around your debt-to-income ratio (DTI) if you have a score of 620 or better. Higher credit scores can also mean lower rates if everything else is held equal.

One thing borrowers should know about FHA loans is that if you make the minimum down payment, you will pay monthly mortgage insurance payments for the life of the loan along with an upfront mortgage insurance premium.

VA Loans

GNMA also secures VA loans made through the home loan program from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). This program is intended for qualifying service members, veterans and qualifying surviving spouses.

In addition to having no required down payment, the other key selling points of this loan option include highly competitive rates and the ability to qualify with a slightly higher DTI than you could on most other loans. Additionally, you can take out 100% of your equity and convert it to cash with a minimum 620 FICO® Score.

Instead of mortgage insurance, there’s a VA funding fee that’s a percentage of the loan amount. How much you pay depends on factors like your down payment, service status and whether you’ve used a VA loan in the past.

USDA Loans

Ginnie Mae also backs loans made by the U.S. Development of Agriculture (USDA) through its Rural Housing Service (RHS) program. Intended to provide an affordable mortgage option for borrowers interested in purchasing a home in a rural area, USDA loans have several advantages.

One of the program’s main benefits is that there’s no required down payment. Another is that guarantee, or funding, fees on USDA loans are cheaper than the monthly and upfront mortgage insurance payments for FHA loans.

To qualify for this loan option, you have to purchase a home in a qualifying rural area. Plus, you and everyone in your household can’t make more than 115% of the area’s median household income.

At this time, Rocket Mortgage doesn’t offer USDA loans.

Mortgages For Native Americans

HUD’s office of Native American Programs offers low down payment options on low-interest home loans through its Section 184 Loan Program. The minimum down payment is 2.25% if your loan is over $50,000 and 1.25% if under $50,000. The interest rates are also based on the market rather than your credit score.

These loans are manually underwritten, so there may be some flexibility around credit depending on your situation. The loan features a 1% guarantee fee that can be paid upfront or built into the loan rather than a mortgage insurance requirement.

At this time, Rocket Mortgage does not originate Section 184 mortgages.

Find out if an FHA loan is right for you.

See rates, requirements and benefits.

How Does Ginnie Mae Differ From Government-Sponsored Enterprises?

GNMA bonds consist of mortgages originated by the federal government. In comparison, conventional loans are backed by a couple of big government-sponsored enterprises, also known as GSEs. Although these are private entities and not direct agencies of the federal government, the loans have an implied government guarantee because the GSEs entered government conservatorship after the 2008 housing crisis.

Let’s do some comparison of the practices of these agencies.

Ginnie Mae Vs. Fannie Mae And Freddie Mac

Ginnie Mae does have some similarities to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. They all buy mortgages to package into an MBS, which is sold on the bond market. This provides liquidity in the mortgage market and helps keep housing affordable.

A key difference between Fannie Mae versus Freddie Mac and Ginnie Mae lie in the types of mortgages they buy. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac back mortgages known as conventional loans. Because these loans require a minimum credit score of 620, interest rates on these loans are usually lower than with many government loans.

For someone looking to get a home loan, conventional mortgages offer down payments as low as 3%, although you can avoid mortgage insurance entirely with a 20% down payment. You should request that mortgage insurance come off your monthly obligations once you reach 20% equity.

Ginnie Mae FAQs

For more information about GNMA loans, please read our frequently asked questions.

What risks come with investing in GNMA bonds?

Like any bonds, GNMAs are impacted by rising and falling interest rates. Changes in interest rates, caused by ebbs and flows in the market, are considered a risk, as the value of the loan may fluctuate as well.

Is Ginnie Mae a primary mortgage lender?

While technically not a mortgage lender, Ginnie Mae is the primary government agency that guarantees mortgage-backed securities in support of more affordable homeownership.

What’s the loan limit for GNMA?

For the majority of the United States, the maximum GNMA loan limit is $766,550. The loan limit increases to $1,149,825 for Alaska, Hawaii, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Bottom Line: Ginnie Mae Provides Support For Government-Backed Mortgages

Ginnie Mae buys government-backed mortgages to provide fresh capital for the mortgage industry to make more loans and support the mission of affordable housing. After buying the mortgages, loans with similar characteristics are packaged into MBSs and sold on the bond market to investors. GNMA promises to back the bonds even in the event of loan default, in effect making housing more accessible to many home buyers.

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Kevin Graham

Kevin Graham is a Senior Blog Writer for Rocket Companies. He specializes in economics, mortgage qualification and personal finance topics. As someone with cerebral palsy spastic quadriplegia that requires the use of a wheelchair, he also takes on articles around modifying your home for physical challenges and smart home tech. Kevin has a BA in Journalism from Oakland University. Prior to joining Rocket Mortgage, he freelanced for various newspapers in the Metro Detroit area.