The term conventional loan includes loans under the current lending limits set by the Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA) and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (FHLMC), commonly known as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, respectively. A Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan is a loan based on an insurance program that enables you to buy a home with a down payment of as low as 3%. FHA is administered by Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It is one of two government loan programs available to borrowers. The other is a Veterans Administration (VA) loan, available only to veterans of the military service.
The FHA loan program, similar to conventional loan programs, allows for mortgage refinancing of owner occupied properties as fixed mortgage rate loans and adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs). Similar to conventional refinances, FHA refinances can be used for such purposes as:
- Home Improvements and Renovations.
- Debt Consolidation, including consolidating a home equity loan (second mortgage), if 2nd loan is less than 1 year old.
- Large Purchases.
- Investment(s), including second home or vacation home purchase.
According to the FHA, 1-2 unit primary residences may cash-out up to 95% of the estimated property value. For other property type the maximum cash-out is 85%. This is at least 5% more than on a conventional refinance loan. And, you do not have to have an existing FHA loan in order to get FHA refinancing.
While FHA loans are funded by financial institutions such as mortgage centers or banks like conventional loans, it does not actually lend money but rather guarantees a loan in case of borrower default. As a result, there is less financial risk to the lender, allowing them to offer lower rates to borrowers than rates offered by conventional refinancing. And, FHA has the most forgiving credit criteria–FICO scores of 580 (east coast), 560 (Midwest) and 520 (west coast) being considered acceptable.
Similar to conventional loans, FHA mortgages require mortgage insurance. Conventional loan mortgage insurance is cancelable under most circumstances once you build at least 20% equity in your home. The FHA states that, in most cases, FHA insurance will drop off after five years or when the remaining balance on the loan is 78 percent of the value of the property, whichever is longer.