Posted in: Getting a mortgage, Buying a home, First time homebuyer tips

Major loan types every homebuyer should know

What are major loan types

Key insights:

  • When buying a home, most buyers will have to take out a home mortgage loan to cover the cost of the property.
  • Buyers must choose between fixed-rate and adjustable rate mortgages, and they'll have to determine if they want a conventional or government-backed loans.
  • The right loan works not only to the homeowner's immediate advantage, but will also help them to pay the least in interest and mortgage insurance over the life of the loan.

If you're considering buying a home, having a knowledge of basic mortgage terminology can help prepare you for meeting with a lender. Here are insights you can use to understand basic loan types and how they affect borrowers.

Loan types: Government-backed vs. conventional

The two different types of loans are conventional loans and government-backed loans. The main difference is who insures these loans:

Government-backed loans:

  • Are, unsurprisingly, backed by the government.
  • Include FHA loans, VA loans and USDA loans.
  • Make up less than 40 percent of the home loans generated in the U.S. each year.

Conventional loans:

  • Are not backed by the government.
  • Include conforming and non-conforming loans (such as jumbo loans).
  • Make up more than 60 percent of the loans generated in the U.S. each year.

Let’s dive in a little deeper on what a government-backed loan is and why you may want to pursue that route for your home mortgage loan.

Government-backed loan types

There are three primary types of government-backed loans: FHA loans, VA loans and USDA loans.

FHA loans

FHA loans, which are insured by the Federal Housing Administration, are typically designed to meet the needs of first-time homebuyers with low or moderate incomes. For this reason, FHA loans are often called “helper loans,” because they give a leg up to potential borrowers who may not be able to secure one otherwise.

Those who take out an FHA loan must purchase a home within a certain budget. The maximum lending limit for FHA loans is determined annually, based on the housing values of the county where the for-sale home is located. See Minnesota FHA loan limits and Wisconsin FHA loan limits by county.

Because the agency is taking on more risk by insuring FHA loans, the borrower is expected to pay mortgage insurance both at the time of closing and on a monthly basis, and the property must be owner-occupied.

What is an FHA loan?

VA loans

VA loans are backed by the Department of Veterans Affairs and they are guaranteed to qualified veterans and active-duty personnel and their spouses. VA loans can be approved with 100 percent financing, meaning VA borrowers are not required to make a down payment.

Unlike FHA loans, borrowers do not have to pay mortgage insurance on VA loans.

What is a VA loan?

USDA loans

You may also hear about USDA loans, which are backed by the United States Department of Agriculture mortgage program. USDA loans are intended to support homeowners who purchase homes in rural and some suburban areas. USDA loans do not require a down payment and may offer lower interest rates; borrowers may have to pay a small mortgage insurance premium in order to offset the lender’s risk.

What’s a conventional loan? Understanding what it means to be conforming and non-conforming

Buyers who have a more established credit history and a larger down payment may prefer to apply for a conventional loan. These loans may offer a lower interest rate and only require the home buyer to purchase monthly mortgage insurance while the loan-to-value ratio is above a certain percentage, so a conventional loan borrower can typically save money in the long run.

Conventional loans are divided into two types: Conforming loans and non-conforming loans.

Conforming loans

Conforming loans are those that meet (or conform to) predetermined standards set by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — two government-sponsored institutions that buy and sell mortgages on the secondary market. By selling the loans to "Fannie and Freddie," lenders can free up their capital and return to issue more mortgages than if they had to personally back every loan that they approve.

The main standard for conforming loans is that the amount borrowed must be under a certain amount; in Minnesota and Wisconsin, a single-family home loan must be under $766,550 in order to be considered conforming.

Properties with more than one unit have higher limits; see conforming loan limits for multi-unit properties.

Non-conforming (jumbo) loans

But what happens if a borrower wants to borrow more than the Freddie- and Fannie-approved loan amount? In this case, they would have to apply for a “jumbo loan,” which is the most common type of non-conforming loan.

Because the lender cannot resell the jumbo loan (or any non-conforming loan) to Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae, jumbo loans are considered to be riskier than a conforming loan. To protect against this risk, the bank will typically require a higher down payment; the interest rate on a jumbo loan may also be higher than if the same borrower applied for a conforming loan.

Rate types: Fixed-rate vs. adjustable-rate mortgages

In addition to the loan type you choose, you’ll also have to determine if you want a fixed-rate mortgage or an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM). A fixed-rate mortgage has an interest rate that does not change for the life of the loan, so it provides predictable monthly payments of principal and interest.

An adjustable-rate mortgage typically offers an initial introductory period with a low interest rate. Once this period is over, the interest rate adjusts periodically, based on the market index. The initial interest rate on an ARM can sometimes be locked in for different periods, such as one, three, five, seven or 10 years. Once the introductory period is over, the interest rate typically readjusts annually.

Ready to enter the buyer’s market?

Need help financing a new property? Understanding the loan types is step one, but you’ll need the help of a qualified expert to get you into your dream home.

Reach out today to get connected with an Edina Realty expert who can help you, no strings attached.


Edina Realty Mortgage is an affiliate of Edina Realty. See Affiliated Business Arrangement Disclosure Statement

Prosperity Home Mortgage, LLC may operate as Prosperity Home Mortgage, LLC dba Edina Realty Mortgage in Minnesota and Wisconsin. ©2024 Prosperity Home Mortgage, LLC dba Edina Realty Mortgage. (877) 275-1762. 3060 Williams Drive, Suite 600, Fairfax, VA 22031. All first mortgage products are provided by Prosperity Home Mortgage, LLC. Not all mortgage products may be available in all areas. Not all borrowers will qualify. NMLS ID #75164 (For licensing information go to: NMLS Consumer Access at Licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Residential Mortgage Lending Act. Licensed by the Delaware State Bank Commissioner. Georgia Residential Mortgage Licensee. Massachusetts Mortgage Lender and Mortgage Broker MC75164. Licensed by the NJ Department of Banking and Insurance. Licensed Mortgage Banker-NYS Department of Financial Services. Rhode Island Licensed Lender. Rhode Island Licensed Loan Broker. Rhode Island Licensed Third-Party Loan Servicer. Also licensed in AK, AL, AR, AZ, CO, CT, DC, FL, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, NC, ND, NE, NH, NM, NV, OH, OK, OR, PA, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WA, WI, WV and WY.

Join over {{'43232' | number}} subscribers

Status Definitions

For sale: Properties which are available for showings and purchase

Active contingent: Properties which are available for showing but are under contract with another buyer

Pending: Properties which are under contract with a buyer and are no longer available for showings

Sold: Properties on which the sale has closed.

Coming soon: Properties which will be on the market soon and are not available for showings.

Contingent and Pending statuses may not be available for all listings