Mortgage BasicsWhat is a USDA Loan?

What is a USDA Loan?

Let’s face it. The concrete jungle just isn’t for everyone. Some people like to be surrounded by nature rather than cars and people. Thankfully, there are still rural areas of the United States available for potential homebuyers to purchase. But the reality is, not everyone has the cash. If you’re seeking a rural refuge but need help with financing, a USDA loan might be your best option. 

In this article, you will learn about

USDA Loans

The United States Department of Agriculture recognizes that not all people want to live in an urban setting. As such, they established a program that helps homebuyers looking for something a little further from the city. The USDA loan program is a zero down payment mortgage assistance program offered to prospective rural homebuyers. It’s designed for low- to moderate-income families that may have trouble buying a home otherwise. 

USDA loans are offered through the USDA Rural Development Guaranteed Housing Loan Program, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture oversees. In 2020 alone, the UDSA program provided loan guarantees and helped 143,795 families. They were able to purchase or upgrade their homes using the funding provided by the program.

Three Different USDA Loans Offered

There are three distinct types of loans available, loan guarantees, direct loans, and home improvement loans and grants.

Loan Guarantees

The Loan Guarantees portion of the programs ensures that a loan is offered by a local lender. This is similar to VA and FHA loans. It’s a way of ensuring that interest rates for mortgages stay low, even without a down payment. However, mortgage insurance premiums are required if the borrower doesn’t pay any down payment.

Direct Loans

As the name implies, these loans are issued by the Department of Agriculture. Also known as Section 502 loans, these loans are exclusively given to families with very low incomes. The income limit on these loans depends on the region that they’re issued in. Interest rates can be as low as 1%.

Home Improvement Loans and Grants

These are funds specifically meant for improving homes. Grants can be awarded outright, while loans are borrowed in a typical fashion. However, households can apply for both, and when combined, up to $27,500 can be secured.

Qualifying for a USDA Loan

Applicants for USDA loans have to meet a specific set of standards, just like any other mortgage program. Generally speaking, the USDA states that individuals have to meet particular needs, as follows: 

  • They have to be without safe, sanitary housing
  • They must be unable to secure home loans from traditional sources;
  • They have to be below the income threshold for the area that they live in.

While all of these needs are subjective to the USDA, some objective standards must be met, including:

  • Applicants must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents
  • Standard debt-to-income ratio of 29%/41%, which means that the total monthly payment after calculating principal, interest, and taxes must be less than 29% of the applicant’s income; other monthly debt payments cannot be higher than 41% of monthly income. The maximum DTI on a USDA loan must not exceed 34%/46% of the gross monthly income.
  • Proof of income for 24 months (or more)
  • An applicant’s credit history must be acceptable, with no accounts going to collections within the last 12 months; exceptions can be made if credit was affected by extenuating circumstances
  • A minimum credit score isn’t listed, but applicants with a score higher than 640 are streamlined, while those with a score lower will have to go through more stringent underwriting

What Homes Are Eligible?

Of course, all rural homes are eligible for this program. While homes in metropolitan areas are not, some suburban homes may meet the qualifications. The USDA issues direct loans for homes that are less than 2,000 square feet, and the market value must be below the local area loan limit.

What is the Process of Securing a USDA Loan?

When you’re looking to secure a USDA loan, you’re typically looking at a time frame that lasts several weeks to a few months. The process is similar to that of a traditional home loan, with a few extra steps in terms of approval.

Gather Documentation and Get Approved

If you’re applying for a USDA loan, you’ll need specific documentation on hand for the approval process. These documents include  

    • Proof of citizenship or residency
    • Last two years of pay stubs and tax returns
    • Documentation of bills, financial obligations, and debts
    • Records of alternate credit, like rental and utility payments, if you have no traditional credit history

The USDA-approved lender will review all of this information, let you know if anything is missing, and give you a general amount that they’d feel comfortable offering.

Find a Property

Once you’ve been approved and given an idea of the loan you’re qualified for, you can begin looking for a house. Remember, it must be in the USDA-designated area and fit their criteria.

Complete the Mortgage Process

Once you’ve found your future home and it’s been approved, you’ll be able to finish the mortgage process. Once the lender has confirmed it fits the USDA loan guidelines, you’ll sign off on the mortgage.

USDA Approval

The lender will send the application for the USDA loan program, and they will determine whether or not it is approved.


After the USDA communicates that the home and loan are approved, you’ll follow through with closing on the property. You’ll be able to move in within a few days.

Key Takeaways

The USDA loan program is offered by the Department of Agriculture, and it’s not highly popular like other programs are. The process, therefore, is a bit more streamlined than other loan programs, and the process is quick and easy. If you have your heart set on a rural home and you fit the program’s criteria, consider finding a USDA-approved lender to get things started!