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Conventional vs. VA loans

See which option could get you the best terms and rates.

If you qualify for a Veterans Association (VA) home loan, it’s worth considering some of the benefits and drawbacks of a VA loan vs. a conventional loan. Surveys show that many veterans either don’t realize that VA loans exist or are misinformed about how they work. Before deciding which is right for you, find out how to get the best possible rates and options for your new home.

How do conventional loans differ from VA loans?

While VA loans are backed by the government, protecting lenders in case you can’t pay back your loan, conventional loans require borrowers to purchase private mortgage insurance (PMI) if the down payment is less than 20%. This can cost hundreds per month and offers you no protection. Rather, it protects the lender if you default on your loan.

Some other differences include:

Interest RatesGenerally higher than for VA loansGenerally lower than for conventional loans
Maximum loan amounts$510,400Can vary by region, but for 2020, the limit is $510,400 in most counties
Mortgage insurancePrivate mortgage insurance (PMI) required if down payment is less than 20%Not required
FeesNo loan origination fee, but lender fees may applyRequires upfront loan origination fee
Down paymentSome programs offer 3% or lower down payment, but you’ll need PMI if less than 20%None required
Credit scoreMost lenders look for a FICO score of at least 620FICO score of 620 or higher usually required
Restricted usesCan be used for primary and secondary residences, as well as investment propertiesMust meet VA loan eligibility requirements and can only be used for a primary residence

Learn more about conventional loans

Learn more about VA loans

Interest Rates

The rates for both types of loans are subject to market conditions and can be negotiated, but the guarantee on VA loans tends to make the interest rates lower.

Maximum loan amounts

A VA loan’s maximum amount is based on the maximum guarantee authorized by the VA. For 2020, that maximum guarantee is 25% of the loan up to $127,600, which makes the maximum loan amount $510,400.

That same limit is applied to conventional loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which have a maximum loan limit of $510,400 for a one-unit property in most areas.

Mortgage insurance

Most lenders require private mortgage insurance (PMI) on conventional mortgages with less than 20% down.

But you don’t have to pay PMI on a VA loan, even with no down payment, because 25% of your loan is guaranteed by the VA.


There are standard fees that are charged for all conventional and VA loans. The VA, however, charges a one-time funding fee. This can range anywhere from 1.25% to 3.3% of the loan amount depending on the loan you get, your loan history and whether you choose to pay a down payment.

Down payment

Down payment requirements for conventional loans vary from lender to lender, but typically start at 3% of the loan amount.

The VA doesn’t require a down payment as long as the loan amount doesn’t exceed the loan limit for the county and the sales price doesn’t exceed the appraised value of the home.

Credit score

Your credit score is used to determine your level of risk in paying back the loan. The higher your score, the better your loan terms are likely to be. And while lenders tend to not set a consistent minimum, most banks look for a score of 620.

Restricted uses

Conventional loans can be used for both primary and secondary residences as well as investment properties, but VA loans come with more restrictions.

The VA requires you to occupy the property as your primary residence and must approve condos using a list of restrictions that include how many units are owner-occupied. The VA loans on properties under construction on a select basis with VA-approved builders.

Compare mortgage lenders and brokers

Compare these lenders and lender marketplaces by the type of home loan you're searching for, state availability and minimum credit score (for a conventional loan). Select See rates to provide the company with basic property and financial details for personalized rates.
Name Product Loan products offered State availability Min. credit score
(NMLS #1429243)
Conventional, Jumbo, Refinance
Preapproval in minutes and closing in as little as 3 weeks with no origination fees.
(NMLS #1121636)
Conventional, Home equity, Refinance
Not available in: HI, MO, NM, NY, WV
No hidden fees, multiple loan terms, and member discounts available.
Rocket Mortgage
(NMLS #3030)
Rocket Mortgage
Conventional, Jumbo, FHA, VA, Refinance
Available in all states
Streamline your mortgage from quote to final payment — all from your computer or phone.
(NMLS #330511)
Conventional, Jumbo, FHA, Refinance
Not available in: HI, MA, MN, NV, NH, VT, VA
Online preapproval in minutes and no origination fees with this direct lender.
(NMLS #1136)
Conventional, Jumbo, FHA, VA, USDA, Home Equity, HELOC, Reverse, Refinance
Available in all states
Connect with vetted home loan lenders quickly through this online marketplace.

Compare up to 4 providers

Bottom line

Understanding your loan options is an important first step when buying a home or investment property. In most cases, if your home and property are eligible for a VA loan, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

If you don’t qualify for a VA loan, there are a number of conventional loan options and programs that can help make your new home as affordable as possible. Before making a decision, check out a few different lenders and compare all of your options.

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