U.S. markets close in 4 hours 52 minutes
  • S&P 500

    -9.27 (-0.24%)
  • Dow 30

    +99.32 (+0.32%)
  • Nasdaq

    -100.31 (-0.75%)
  • Russell 2000

    +4.20 (+0.19%)
  • Crude Oil

    +1.86 (+3.11%)
  • Gold

    -18.70 (-1.08%)
  • Silver

    -0.60 (-2.25%)

    -0.0007 (-0.06%)
  • 10-Yr Bond

    +0.0760 (+5.37%)

    +0.0021 (+0.15%)

    +0.1930 (+0.18%)

    +2,067.89 (+4.22%)
  • CMC Crypto 200

    +35.27 (+3.57%)
  • FTSE 100

    +38.33 (+0.58%)
  • Nikkei 225

    +150.93 (+0.51%)

These low-down-payment mortgages are now available for a wider range of homes

Doug Whiteman
·3 min read
These low-down-payment mortgages are now available for a wider range of homes
These low-down-payment mortgages are now available for a wider range of homes

One of the more borrower-friendly mortgage options is available for a wider range of homebuyers in 2021 — so you might qualify even if you need a loan for more than $800,000.

Now, don't get the wrong idea: FHA loans are still primarily intended for low-to-moderate income borrowers and are still considered a good choice for a first-time buyer.

But the Federal Housing Administration, which backs these low-down-payment mortgages, has raised its loan limits for this year to reflect today's incredibly low mortgage rates and the sizzling housing market they've helped cook up.

What's the deal with FHA loans?

Capitol building Washington DC sunlight day USA US congress
lunamarina / Shutterstock

Congress established the Federal Housing Administration in 1934, in the aftermath of the Great Depression, to help provide mortgages for borrowers who'd otherwise have trouble qualifying.

And that's still the mission of the FHA loan program today.

Though you might need a credit score of 620 to land the typical mortgage, you can be approved for an FHA loan with a score of just 500. And if you don't have much cash for a down payment, that's no problem because you can get an FHA loan by putting as little as 3.5% down.

The loans are issued by private lenders but are insured by the FHA, which steps in if a borrower stops making payments. That means less risk for the lenders and allows them to accept lower credit scores and down payments — and offer competitive mortgage rates.

At least one major lender, United Wholesale Mortgage, has been offering FHA loans with rates as low as 1.999%.

What are the new FHA loan limits?

Residential subdivision, aerial shot
TDKvisuals / Shutterstock

The FHA's guarantee to lenders only goes so far: There are limits on FHA loans. And, the agency says on its website that it raised its ceilings by 7.4% at the start of 2021, partly due to "robust increases in median housing prices" across the U.S.

In late December, the median list price nationwide was up a stunning 13.3% from a year earlier, says Realtor.com, with record-low mortgage rates helping to stoke demand for houses and push up prices.

Here's how the FHA loan limits have increased:

In most US counties

  • New limit (2021): $356,362

  • Old limit (2020): $331,760

In Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, and the US Virgin Islands

  • New limit (2021): $1,233,550

  • Old limit (2020): $1,148,400

In high-cost counties elsewhere

  • New limit (2021): $822,375

  • Old limit (2020): $765,600

Why are the FHA loan limits for Alaska, Hawaii, Guam and the Virgin Islands so high? Well, because of high construction costs in the remote states and territories. It's expensive to get building materials to those places.

Is an FHA loan right for you?

Happy family in front of their home
Mika Heittola / Shutterstock

Though FHA loans have lots of perks, there's a potentially expensive downside. To provide additional protection for lenders beyond the FHA's own guarantee, borrowers must pay the agency's mortgage insurance premiums, or MIPs.

There's a one-time upfront premium equal to 1.75% of the purchase price of your home, followed by annual insurance that's paid in monthly installments and ranges from 0.45% to 1.05%, though 0.85% is common.

The premiums never go away if you put down less than 10% when you take out your mortgage. If you make a down payment greater than 10%, you can shake your MIPs (yes, that does sound like a disease) after 11 years.

If you weigh the pros and cons and decide an FHA loan is the right choice for you, gather mortgage offers from at least five lenders and compare them — to find the best rate you can get.

Use those same comparison shopping skills when you buy your homeowners insurance. Review rate quotes from multiple insurance companies, to score the lowest rate on your coverage.