A conforming loan is a type of conventional mortgage that's limited to about $550,000 in most of the US

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  • A conforming loan is a type of conventional loan, or a mortgage not backed by the government.
  • The FHFA sets the borrowing limit for conventional loans, which is $548,250 in most parts of the US in 2021.
  • You'll need a nonconforming loan to borrow more than the limit set by the FHFA, and you'll probably have to meet stricter requirements than you would for a conforming loan.
  • You may prefer a government-backed loan over a conforming loan, especially if you're of low-to-moderate income or have served in the military.
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What is a conforming loan?

A conforming loan is a type of conventional loan, or a mortgage not backed by a government agency such as the FHA. 

A conforming loan meets the borrowing limits set by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). The FHFA sets the limit for conforming loans every year, and in 2021, the limit is $548,250 in most parts of the US. In areas with a higher cost of living, such as Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, and the US Virgin Islands, the limit has been bumped up to $822,375.

Conforming loans vs nonconforming loans

Both conforming and nonconforming loans are types of conventional mortgages. The differences come down to the amount you borrow and the eligibility requirements.

You'll get a conforming loan if you need to borrow an amount under the limit set by the FHFA. You'll need a nonconforming loan, otherwise known as a jumbo mortgage, if you need to borrow more.

For a conforming loan, most lenders require at least a 620 credit score and between a 36% and 50% debt-to-income ratio. You'll also need a 10% down payment, or just 3% if your conforming loan is backed by government-sponsored mortgage companies Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae.

Eligibility requirements for nonconforming loans are a bit stricter, because lenders are taking a greater risk by lending you more money. Each lender has its own requirements for nonconforming loans, but you'll likely need a higher credit score, lower DTI, and bigger down payment than you would for a conforming mortgage.

Conforming loans vs other types of mortgages

A conforming loan is a type of conventional loan, but you don't necessarily need to get a conventional mortgage. Instead, you may opt for a government-backed mortgage.

Each type of government loan has its own eligibility requirements. There are three main types of government-backed mortgages:

  • FHA loans: You can get a mortgage with a lower credit score and higher DTI than with a conforming loan, and you'll need a 3.5% down payment.
  • VA loans: Military families can get VA loans with no down payment.
  • USDA loans: You can buy a home with no down payment if you have a low-to-moderate income and are buying in a rural or suburban area.

You may find that one of these types of mortgages is a better fit than a conventional mortgage, even if you're borrowing an amount that qualifies you for a conforming loan.

The pros and cons of conforming loans

Before applying for a conforming loan, consider its advantages and disadvantages versus a nonconforming loan, and versus government-backed loans.

Pros

  • Less stringent requirements than nonconforming loans. You can qualify for a conforming loan more easily than for a nonconforming loan. A jumbo mortgage often requires a better credit score, lower debt-to-income ratio, and higher down payment.
  • Lower interest rates than for some mortgages. Lenders usually charge lower rates on conforming loans than on nonconforming loans.

Cons

  • Stricter requirements than for some loans. With government-backed mortgages, you may qualify for a loan with a lower credit score, higher DTI, and/or a lower down payment than you would with a conforming loan. The exact requirements will depend on which type of government loan and which lender you choose.
  • Borrowing limit. You can only borrow a certain amount with a conforming loan. If you need more than the FHFA allows, you'll want to go with a nonconforming loan.
  • Private mortgage insurance. If you have less than 20% for a down payment, you'll have to pay for PMI until you gain more equity in your home. PMI typically costs between 0.2% and 2% of your mortgage amount. Although you have to pay for mortgage insurance and other fees with government-backed loans, you won't have to pay for PMI. Avoiding PMI could save you money over time.
  • Higher interest rates than for some other mortgages. Most lenders charge lower mortgage rates on FHA, VA, and USDA loans than on conforming loans.

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