Mortgage BasicsMortgage Types Explained

Mortgage Types Explained

With so many different mortgage loans available, how do you know which one is good for you? This post will go over the most common residential mortgage loans to help you get one step closer to owning your dream home.

To start, most mortgages you’ll likely encounter as a homebuyer fall into these two categories – “conventional mortgages” and “government-backed mortgages.”

Conventional Mortgages

Conventional mortgages are mortgages that are not secured by a government entity. Instead, they are funded by private lenders and then sold to government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) – Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Most conventional mortgages are “conforming,” as they conform to the guidelines set by the Federal Housing Finance Administration (FHFA). Such guidelines include:

Jumbo loans, however, are “non-conforming.”

Let’s now look at each type of conventional mortgage.

Fixed-Rate Mortgages

Fixed-rate mortgages are the most common type of conventional loans. Like the name suggests, a fixed-rate mortgage has a fixed rate throughout the life of the loan. This means your monthly payment remains the same even though the amount of principal and interest paid varies each month because of amortization.

The most common terms for fixed-rate mortgages are 15 years and 30 years. The shorter the term, the lower the rate, as it costs banks less to make shorter-term loans. However, while a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage typically comes with a lower interest rate, the monthly payments are significantly higher, as the burden is stretched out over only 15 years. But since you’re only paying half as long as a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, you save more on interest in the long run with a 15-year mortgage.

The 30-year fixed mortgage, among others, is the most popular option among homeowners. With a 30-year fixed, borrowers have 30 years to fully pay back the bank, so the monthly payments are lower. That said, a lot of the money will go toward interest, therefore making it more expensive in the long run.

Adjustable-Rate Mortgages (ARMs)

Adjustable-rate mortgages are great for homeowners who don’t plan to have the loan for an extended period of time. For instance, if you expect to get a windfall in a few years and pay off the loan on your home, a 5/1 ARM or 7/1 ARM could be perfect for you.

So, what is an adjustable-rate mortgage? An ARM is a home loan with a low introductory fixed mortgage rate, or “teaser rate,” for a set period, followed by periodical rate adjustments. The most common ARM terms are 3/1, 5/1, 7/1, and 10/1. The first number indicates the length of the period for the initial teaser rate, and the second number specifies the adjustment period. For a 3/1 ARM, that means the initial fixed-rate will last for three years, and after that, your lender will adjust your rate once a year.

Of course, lenders don’t just adjust your rate arbitrarily. Instead, the rate adjustments are an index rate plus the margin the lender charges to factor in lending risk. The most widely adopted benchmark indices are the one-year constant maturity Treasury, the Cost of Funds Index, and the prime rate. If you’re considering taking on an ARM, make sure you understand which index your lender uses so you can monitor the rate movements accordingly.

While ARMs allow you to get a lower interest rate during the introductory period and, therefore, lower payments, ARMs could be risky, especially if the rates are on the rise. When interest rates go up, your monthly payments go up, and you might end up defaulting and losing your home.

In today’s rising interest rate environment, be sure to understand how your rate could change before taking out an ARM.

Jumbo Mortgages

A jumbo loan is a type of loan that exceeds the conforming loan guidelines. The limits differ by county and are adjusted annually, usually released in November for the upcoming year. The limits for 2022 by area can be found here. Because the jumbo loans exceed the conforming loan limit, they are “non-conforming,” meaning these mortgages cannot be resold to agencies such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

You will likely need a jumbo loan if you want to purchase an expensive home or look to refinance with a substantial amount. Jumbo loans could be fixed-rate or adjustable-rate depending on what lenders in your area offer. The interest rate could also potentially be lower than conforming conventional loans. However, keep in mind that jumbo loans come with stricter underwriting criteria. Lenders often require a credit score of 700 or higher for jumbo loan borrowers. You will also need a lower debt-to-income ratio in order to qualify.

Government-Backed Mortgages

Government-backed mortgages, by definition, are home loans secured by the government. Since these mortgages are backed by the government, they come with lower lending criteria, further assisting those with poor credit scores or limited income to purchase homes. Let’s take a look at the most common government-backed mortgages: FHA loans, USDA loans, and VA loans.

FHA Loans

FHA loans are mortgages backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). When a mortgage is backed by the FHA, it means that the FHA guarantees and protects lenders from potential financial losses on riskier mortgages. Because of this, FHA loans can offer a minimum down payment of 3.5% and reduce the credit requirement to as low as 500 to start.

Various FHA loans are available, and they all have slightly different details. Check out which FHA loan might fit your needs best. Keep in mind that FHA loans do come with limits. The limits for 2022 range from $420,680 to $970,800. Depending on the area you live in, the loan you want to take out cannot exceed the area’s maximum loan limit. The ceiling differs by county. You can research the limits based on the area using the tool here.  

USDA Loans

USDA loans are mortgages backed by the United States Department of Agriculture. These loan programs are designed to provide families and individuals in rural America the opportunity to buy and build homes.

Similar to the FHA loans, USDA loans offer favorable terms, including no down payment requirement on most properties for income-qualified homebuyers. However, borrowers must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents, and the property must be their primary residence.

Learn more about USDA loan requirements and available programs.

VA Loans

VA loans are mortgages secured by the Department of Veteran Affairs and are designed to help service members, veterans, and eligible surviving spouses with their homebuying endeavors. Like other mortgage options backed by government entities, VA loans come with favorable terms, including no down payment requirement, lower interest rates compared to conventional loans, and limited closing costs.

You might wonder if private mortgage insurance (PMI) would be required for VA loans since there’s no down payment. Good news – VA loans do not require PMI, which means if you qualify, you can save up to hundreds of dollars per month compared to going with a conventional lender.

Which one is right for me?

Of course, you must meet specific criteria to apply for government-backed mortgages. If you are shopping around for conventional loans and are unsure about fixed-rate or adjustable-rate mortgages, make sure you speak to potential lenders and fully understand your monthly obligations. You can also utilize a payment calculator to understand better how your payment changes throughout the term.