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FHA vs. VA loans

Which of these two government-backed loans is right for you?

Buying a home is among the biggest and most exciting commitments you’ll ever make. But how do you choose the right financing? Like every mortgage, FHA and VA loans have their advantages and disadvantages.

FHA and VA loans differ in many ways

Both are government-backed mortgage programs, but they come with different eligibility requirements, terms and loan limits. An FHA loan may appeal to buyers with low credit scores or small down payments. But for military members, a VA loan requires no down payment or private mortgage insurance (PMI).

FHA loansVA loans
EligibilityAnyone who meets the income and credit score requirementsEligible veterans and surviving spouses who have not remarried
Institutional supportFederal Housing AdministrationVeterans Administration
Credit score requirement500+None set by the VA, but lenders working with the VA typically look for scores of 620 or higher
Maximum loan amountsCan vary by region, but for 2020, the limit is $765,600 for a single-unit property in most areasCan vary by region, but for 2020, the limit is $510,400 in most counties
Mortgage insuranceMortgage insurance premiums (MIP) requiredNot required
Down paymentStarting at 3.5%None
FeesApplication, origination, points, appraisal, prepaid interest, PMI upfront and ongoing costsApplication, origination, points, appraisal, prepaid interest and funding fees
Lender optionsAny FHA-approved lenderAny VA-approved lender — the VA can lend directly, but it’s rare
Interest ratesSubject to market conditions and negotiable between the lender and borrowerSubject to market conditions and negotiable between the lender and borrower
Restricted uses
  • Must be owner-occupied primary residence
  • Single-family homes and 2- to 4-unit properties
  • Select manufactured and mobile homes
  • FHA-approved condos and townhomes
  • Must be owner-occupied primary residence
  • Single-family homes and 2- to 4-unit properties
  • Select manufactured, mobile and modular homes
  • Condos must be VA-approved
  • Select construction sites

Learn more about FHA loans

Learn more about VA loans

Eligibility

Depending on which type of loan you’re interested in, you’ll have to meet certain requirements.ç

VA eligibility

You must meet at least one of the following conditions set out by the Department of Veterans Affairs to be eligible for a VA loan:

  • Served 90 consecutive days of active service during wartime.
  • Served 181 days of active service during peacetime.
  • Clocked more than six years of service in the National Guard or Reserves.
  • Surviving spouse of a service member who died in the line of duty or as a result of a service-related disability and you haven’t remarried.

FHA eligibility

In 2020, you must meet six requirements to qualify for an FHA loan:

  1. At least 18 years old.
  2. FICO score is 500 to 579 with a 10% down payment or 580 or higher with a 3.5% down payment.
  3. Debt-to-income ratio is 43% to 50% with student loans factored in.
  4. Steadily employed and able to prove your income with recent tax returns, W2s and pay stubs.
  5. Have two years of employment history.
  6. Plan to occupy the home as a primary residence.

In addition, you must be assessed by an FHA-approved appraiser and able to purchase mortgage insurance.

Both FHA and VA loans are government-backed

FHA loans are administered by the Federal Housing Administration, which is part of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). VA loans are administered by the veterans administration.

VA loans have no minimum credit score requirements, but lenders might

Qualify for an FHA loan with a FICO score of 580 or higher and a down payment of at least 3.5% of your loan. Apply with a credit score of 500 to 579, but you’ll need to put down 10%. Generally, the lower your credit score, the higher your interest rate.

The VA has no credit score requirements, but lenders can impose their own rules. Typically, VA lenders are looking for a credit score of 620 or higher.

FHA loans have higher limits on loan amounts

The VA’s maximum loan limit 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.

The FHA has imposed the following limits for 2020:

  • One-unit homes: $331,760 floor and $765,600 ceiling
  • Two-unit homes: $424,800 floor and $980,325 ceiling
  • Three-unit homes: $513,450 floor and $1,184,925 ceiling
  • Four-unit homes: $638,100 floor and $1,472,550 ceiling

FHA loans require PMI, whereas VA loans do not

Because the VA guarantees the loan up to a certain point, you don’t have to pay for private mortgage insurance, even if your down payment doesn’t meet the 20% threshold most lenders require. But an FHA loan still requires PMI with less than 20% down.

No down payment required for most VA loans

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 home’s appraised value.

The FHA allows a down payment as low as 3.5% for those with FICO scores of 580 or higher. But if your score is between 500 and 579, you’ll be required to put 10% down to get your loan.

FHA and VA loans have similar fees

VA and FHA loans both come with the standard fees associated with getting a mortgage as well as additional funding fees. For example, the FHA funding fees include 2.25% of the mortgage paid up front and an ongoing PMI of 0.85% of the loan amount.

The VA charges a one-time funding fee equal to 1.25% to 3.3% of the loan amount based on the loan you get, your loan history and whether you choose to pay a down payment. But if you’re a veteran who receives VA disability compensation, the VA funding fee is waived entirely.

Both FHA and VA loans are provided by private lenders

Both agencies provide a list of agency-approved lenders to choose from. The VA issues loans itself but only in very rare cases.

FHA and VA loan interest rates are set by the lender

The lender determines your interest rate, and it’s subject to market interest rates and your negotiation with the lender.

Restricted property uses are similar

Both VA and FHA loans have similar restrictions. For example, they both require you to occupy the property as your primary residence and offer loans on similar property types. The only real difference is that while the FHA doesn’t offer loans on properties under construction, the VA does on a select basis with VA-approved builders.

Compare mortgage lenders

Compare top brands by home loan type, state availability and credit score. Select See rates to provide the lender with basic property and financial details for personalized rates.

Name Product Loan products offered State availability Min. credit score
Rocket Mortgage
(NMLS #3030)
Rocket Mortgage
Conventional, Jumbo, FHA, VA, Refinance
Available in all states
620
Streamline your mortgage from quote to final payment — all from your computer or phone.
AmeriSave
(NMLS #1168)
AmeriSave
Conventional, Jumbo, FHA, VA, USDA, Refinance
Not available in: NY
620
Great customer reviews and customized rate quotes in three minutes with no SSN needed.
Veterans United
(NMLS #1907)
Veterans United
Conventional, FHA, VA, USDA, Jumbo, Refinance
Available in all states
620
Veterans United stands out from other lenders for its focus on serving the military community.
Better
(NMLS #330511)
Better
Conventional, Jumbo, FHA, Refinance
Not available in: HI, MA, MN, NV, NH, VT, VA
620
Online preapproval in minutes and no origination fees with this direct lender.
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Compare up to 4 providers

Bottom line

While FHA loans are flexible and easier to apply for, borrowers are hit with monthly insurance payments that last the life of the mortgage. But VA loans are exclusive — they’ve opened the homeownership doors to many military members with no down payment requirement. Compare your home financing options before making a final decision.

Frequently asked questions

How can I get a second VA loan?
It’s possible to have two or more VA loans at the same time. You’ll need to meet standard income and credit requirements. Your lender can tell you if you’re eligible.

What is the acceptable debt-to-income ratio for VA loans?
The maximum debt-to-income ratio is 41%. This refers to the percentage of your gross monthly income that goes toward paying off debts.

Say your annual income is $48,000. When you divide that by 12, your monthly income is $4,000. Multiply that by 0.41 — the highest debt-to-income ratio allowed — and you get $1,640.

If your monthly debt obligations add up to $1,640 or less, you may qualify for a VA loan. Higher than $1,640, and you likely won’t.

How can I get additional money for renovations?
It’s possible to increase your renovation budget with a FHA 203(k) loan. This renovation loan allows you to purchase a property and get up to $35,000 in cash for renovations or repairs.

Because 203(k)s offer cash beyond the purchase price, they’re riskier for lenders. To help compensate for that risk, you’ll need a minimum credit score of 640 to apply.

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