The Balance's Guide to Home Finance
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you get preapproved for a home loan?
A mortgage preapproval shows sellers you are a serious buyer with the means to make a purchase. To get one, you’ll complete a mortgage application with a bank or broker. You will be asked to provide details about your finances and income, including pay stubs, tax documents, and bank statements. Note that this process differs from a mortgage prequalification, which is less stringent and requires less documentation.
What is an FHA loan?
An FHA home loan is issued by a private lender and insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). Because they are insured, these loans provide assurance to lenders that the loan will be repaid. They are intended for moderate- or low-income borrowers, and have several appealing features including small down payments, low credit score minimums, and assumability (which means a buyer can take over the loan, subject to lender approval).
What is the home loan interest rate?
The home loan interest rate is the amount of interest charged by banks and other lenders for money borrowed to purchase a home. Rates change daily according to market forces, and the rate you may be charged for a loan when you buy a home will depend on your credit score and other factors. The Balance tracks current mortgage rates for several popular loan types, updated daily, which you can follow here.
What is a USDA home loan?
This is a mortgage offered by the USDA or one issued by a private lender and insured by the USDA. Borrowers can use them to purchase, renovate, or refinance property in certain rural communities across the U.S. Direct USDA loans can be easier to qualify for than many other loans. Both types (direct and insured) have income eligibility requirements, and borrowers do not need to make a down payment.
What is a good credit score for a home loan?
Your credit score is one of the most important factors in getting a home loan—and how much it will cost you. For conventional loans, required minimum credit scores range from 620 to 640, depending on the loan and the lender. Some loans backed by the U.S. government have lower minimum credit score requirements. For example, FHA-insured loans accept credit scores as low as 500, and VA-insured loans have no minimum requirements.
How does the VA home loan work?
A VA loan is a mortgage available to veterans, military members, and their spouses. These loans are guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs and this extra protection for the lender encourages better terms and interest rates. However, the VA will only guarantee a portion of your loan (which the VA calls your “entitlement”), so individual lenders may institute their own maximum loan amounts to offset any lending risk.
How much of a home loan can I get?
Ultimately your maximum loan amount will be determined by your financial situation (income, credit score, debt-to-income ratio, savings) and the property you want to buy. However, most lenders will follow lending caps set by the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Those caps limit the size of the “conforming” loans that lenders sell to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored enterprises that purchase, aggregate, and resell mortgages. Maximum loan amounts vary by county and are recalculated annually.
Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)
Private mortgage insurance is a policy that protects your lender in the event that you default on repaying the loan. It covers all or a portion of your remaining mortgage. The borrower pays for the policy although it benefits the lender, and it's sometimes required.
Annual Percentage Rate (APR)
An annual percentage rate (APR) is the interest rate you pay each year on a loan, credit card, or other line of credit. It’s represented as a percentage of the total balance you have to pay.
A loan-to-value (LTV) ratio compares the amount of a loan you're hoping to borrow against the appraised value of the property you want to buy. Lenders use LTVs to determine how risky a loan is and whether they'll approve or deny it.
A real estate appraisal establishes a property's market value—the likely sales price it would bring if offered in an open and competitive real estate market. Lenders require appraisals when buyers use their new homes as security for their mortgages.
Mortgage brokers are professionals who are paid a fee to bring together lenders and borrowers. They usually work with dozens or even hundreds of lenders, not as employees, but as freelance agents.
Closing costs include payments to a variety of people and organizations for services during the home buying process. Standard closing costs might range from 2%-5% of your home’s purchase price. But that depends on where you live, the property you’re buying, and other factors.
A conforming loan is a home loan that falls within the loan size limits set by the FHFA and adheres to other rules established by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. A loan that meets these conditions allows Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to buy your mortgage from your lender and convert it into an investment product.
A jumbo loan (also called a "non-conforming loan") is a home loan that is larger than “conforming” loans that lenders sell to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Unlike loans that follow standard maximum limits set by government-sponsored entities (GSEs), jumbo loans can be substantially bigger.
Conventional loans are any type of mortgage loan that is not offered or insured by a government entity as part of a specific program. Private lenders can set their own loan terms, including eligibility or qualification criteria, interest rates, down payment thresholds, payment schedule, and more.
A debt-to-income ratio is a measurement of your monthly income compared to your debt payments. Lenders often use this ratio to determine your creditworthiness.
PITI is an acronym that stands for "principal, interest, taxes, and insurance." Those four things make up most homeowners’ monthly housing payments.
Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM)
Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) are home loans with a rate that varies. As interest rates rise and fall in general, rates on adjustable-rate mortgages follow. These can be useful loans for getting into a home, but they are also risky.