FHA Guidelines Home Buyers Must Know

10 FHA Guidelines

Unlike a conventional loan, an FHA mortgage is backed by the federal government. Simply stated, mortgage lenders have some protection offered by the government in the event the homeowners stop making payments. With this protection, approved lenders can offer mortgages with enticing rates for people who might not qualify for a Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac home loan.

With that in mind, some specific FHA guidelines must be followed. Prospective buyers need to keep these in mind when shopping for a home.

FHA Maximum Loan Amount

There is a cap on the highest loan allowed in each city and county across America. The majority of places have the same maximum loan amount of $498,257 for a single-family home.

However, there are some areas considered to be high-cost locations. These areas will have a higher limit. For example, Pierce County in Wisconsin allows a maximum loan amount of $515,200 and Collier County in Florida has a maximum loan amount of $730,250. View current Loan Limits.

Down Payment Requirements

All FHA loans require that the borrower make a down payment that can be as little as 3.5%* of the home’s agreed price. So, using the numbers from the previous example, if a person chooses to buy a home that is priced at $271,050 then the down payment would need to be at least

.035 x 271050 = $9,486.75

The buyer can pay more if they choose.

FHA Guidelines to Follow

Rules to Follow

However, FHA is quite different from other types of mortgages in regards to the down payment. If the borrower can document that they have received part or all of the money as a gift from a relative or HUD-approved down payment assistance, they will not be required to use their funds for the transaction.

This means that, in our example, if a young married couple had $2,500 of their own money saved for a home purchase and the father of the bride gave a gift of $7,500 to the couple as a wedding present, that money could be used as the down payment.

Not Just For Single-Family Homes

Besides an owner-occupied single-unit home FHA will also approve loans for multi-unit properties so long as you owner-occupy at least one unit. Currently, FHA can approve a mortgage for the following types of properties

  • Single-family home
  • 2-unit home (also called a duplex)
  • 3-unit home
  • 4-unit home
  • A condo in an approved complex (specific rules are in place for a condo. Please consult with an experienced FHA lender before putting a contract on a condo) Additional Condo Approval Requirements.

Some people have used the FHA loan to buy a multi-unit property to start on their path to real estate investment. These people would live in one unit and rent out the remaining units to cover the mortgage.


Some mortgages require that the borrower prove they have money for a rainy day. This money can come from checking & savings accounts, retirement accounts, stock and bond investments as well as a certificate of deposits. As long as the money is relatively easily accessible, it is considered a reserve.

Proof of reserves is not required for people who wish to buy a single-family home with FHA.

Private Mortgage Insurance

For the government to protect lenders for potential losses, FHA charges Private Mortgage Insurance to the borrower. This is a fee that is paid in two manners.

First, there is an upfront charge applied to the mortgage at the beginning of the loan. This charge is calculated as 1.75% of the amount of the mortgage. In almost every case, the upfront charge will be added to the loan so that the borrower does not have to pay the charge out of pocket.

Secondly, there is a yearly premium paid based on the loan-to-value ratio, also called LTV. The following chart explains the two different mortgage insurance premiums.

Loan to Value Annual Premium
Less than 95% 0.50%
Above 95% 0.55%

Going back to our earlier example, if the outstanding loan balance was $268,000 then the annual mortgage insurance premium would be

.0055 x 268,000 = $1,474

This amount is divided by 12 to allow the borrower to pay the premium over time. In this example, the monthly amount would be $122.83.

View current Mortgage Insurance Premiums

No Prepayment Penalty

Some lenders, specifically those that offer high-interest-rate loans to individuals with less than perfect credit, will charge a penalty if the loan is paid off early. In essence, the lender is trying to ensure that they make a significant profit on the loan.

FHA does not charge any such penalty. If you are in the position to pay off your mortgage early you will simply pay the outstanding balance and the interest accrued for the month in which you pay the loan off.

No More than One Mortgage

Earlier we mentioned that a person could buy a multi-unit property as a start to a real estate investment career. It is important to point out that FHA generally does not allow the same borrower to have more than one FHA loan. There are exceptions to this rule, including moving because of work or a new job, however, you will need to prove that the current home is listed for sale.

Debt-to-Income Ratio Calculations

FHA Guidelines to Know

Rules to Follow

To protect the homeowner from getting into a financial mess, the FHA has rules concerning how much money can be used for the home payment as well as all of their debt. Keep in mind that FHA is no longer excluding deferred student loan payments from your debt-to-income ratios and a non-occupying co-borrower can be used to help with debt-to-income issues.

  • House Payment cannot exceed 31%
    The lender will look at the proposed mortgage payment, including amounts for the mortgage insurance premium, homeowner’s insurance, property taxes, and any annual dues for the homeowner’s association. All of this added together will be the total mortgage payment. The following is an example explaining the calculation
Total mortgage payment $1,035
Gross monthly income for borrower and spouse $3,834
Divide mortgage payment by gross income 1035/3834
Housing payment-to-income ratio 27%
  • The total debt ratio cannot exceed 43%
    After calculating the housing payment-to-income ratio, the lender will also consider the homeowner’s total debt in relation to their income. This ratio cannot be higher than 43% for a manually underwritten loan. For loans run through the automated system, we have seen “approve/eligible” recommendations for total debt ratios exceeding 50%. Here is another example to explain the calculation
Total mortgage payment $1,035
Other monthly debt (car payment, credit cards, student loans) $509
Total of all monthly payments $1,544
Gross monthly income for borrower and spouse $3,834
Divide the total of payments by gross income 1544/3834
Total debt-to-income ratio 40%

Closing Costs

FHA will allow the lender and other third parties to charge certain fees. These fees will need to be paid by the buyer at the time of the loan closing. The following are allowed fees:

  • Origination fee charged by the lender
  • Appraisal fee to determine the home’s value
  • A maximum of $200 for inspection of the home by an independent inspector
  • Fees charged by an attorney to close the loan
  • Survey of the property
  • Cost to examine title to the home and provide title insurance policy
  • The true cost of the credit report
  • Preparation of the loan documents by an independent third party
  • Recording fees as well as necessary taxes and stamps to record the deed

There is some good news about the closing costs. If the seller agrees, the seller can pay a maximum of 6% of the asking price towards the closing costs. Often this 6% is enough to cover the majority of the costs.

Wide Range of FHA Loans

While most of this article has been devoted to loans used to purchase a home, that is not the only type of mortgage offered by FHA.

People who currently have an FHA loan can apply for a streamlined refinance. This allows borrowers to get a lower interest rate without going through the full loan approval process.

Senior citizens who have substantial amounts of equity in their homes can apply for a reverse mortgage. This money can be used to pay medical bills, other debts, or in any other way that the homeowner sees fit.

For people who have equity in their home and need to liquidate it, FHA offers a cash-out refinance loan. This loan will allow borrowers to get cashback and use the funds at their discretion.

There is also the 203K program. This program allows people to either (a) refinance their home and get extra money to make repairs or improvements to the home or (b) a person can buy a home and get money above the asking price to make repairs or improvements. The 203K loan is a great way for people to avoid getting a construction loan and take advantage of the FHA approval process for buying a home and customizing it to their taste.

Summing Up FHA Loans

As you can see, there are extensive FHA guidelines overseeing its lending process. Being familiar with these rules will make you more informed and aid you with your home-buying or refinancing decision.

Additional Helpful Real Estate Resources:
What is the Difference Between FHA and Conventional Loans? by Karen Highland
5 Things Agents MUST Do Before Every Appraisal by Tom Horn
What is Homeowners Insurance and Why Do I Need It? by Anita Clark

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Filed under: FHA Loans

Luke Skar

Luke Skar is the web developer and content strategist for MadisonMortgageGuys.com. Currently working for NRL Mortgage which serves 47 states including Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, and Florida. Guided by his 20-plus years of various mortgage marketing experience, Luke provides top-quality SEO services, effective social media management, and web development and maintenance. Luke’s career in the mortgage industry began back in 2001, as a loan processor. After becoming a loan officer for a number of years, Luke now runs madisonmortgageguys.com. To ensure that all the information he posts is fresh, accurate, and up-to-date, Luke relies on the knowledge which his years of dedication to keeping up with the constant change that the mortgage industry provides.



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