Have you been thinking about buying your first home in Berks County, but don't have the best credit or can't come up with enough down payment? Well there's a program from the Federal Housing Administration that can help. You may have already heard about FHA loans. What exactly are they and how can they help you get into your first home?

FHA loans provide opportunities for buyers with less-than-perfect credit or limited down payments to purchase homes, but they aren’t without potential pitfalls.

You will need to have a credit score of at least 580 and a minimum 3.5% down payment to qualify for an FHA loan.

The actual loan itself is issued by a bank, and they are insured by the FHA, which protects them if you default on the loan. That is why the terms are more favorable than a traditional mortgage.

What Can an FHA Loan be Used For?

You can use an FHA loan to refinance single-family houses, to buy a single-family home, to buy some multifamily homes and condos and certain mobile and manufactured homes. There are particular types of FHA loans that can be used to renovate an existing property or for new construction.

How is an FHA Loan Different from a Conventional Mortgage Loan?

The big difference between an FHA and a conventional loan is that it's much easier to qualify for an FHA loan. Your credit doesn't need to be as perfect and you don't need as much cash up front.

There are also fewer restrictions as far as using gifts from family or donations for your down payment.

If you have a FICO score of at least 580, you have to make a 3.5% down payment. With a FICO score between 500 and 579, you’re required to make a 10% down payment, and mortgage insurance is required. Your debt-to-income ratio needs to be less than 43% whereas with a conventional loan it’s usually 36%. You do need to have proof of income and steady employment, as you would need with a conventional loan.

Are There FHA Loan Limits?

There are limits on the mortgage amount you can get with an FHA-guaranteed loan. The limits vary based on your county, and in 2020 these ranged from $331,760 to $765,600. The limit amounts are updated by the FHA each year based on fluctuations in home prices.

The Benefits of the FHA Loan

The benefits of an FHA loan for people with lower credit scores is clear. An FHA may even help cover closing costs. If you have problems making payments on an FHA loan you may be eligible for a forbearance period if you qualify.

What Are the Downsides of an FHA Loan?

One downside of an FHA loan is mortgage insurance costs. You will need to pay an upfront mortgage insurance premium when you close, which will be 1.75% of your loan. You will also have to pay an annual mortgage insurance premium for the life of your loan. The amount can range between 0.45% and 1.05%.

The home you buy also has to meet strict standards.

Also, while there are set standards from the FHA, approved lenders can create their own requirements.

Applying for an FHA Loan

You’ll have to first find an FHA-approved lender to get one of these home loans. You’ll need some documents, including proof of U.S. citizenship, legal permanent residency, or eligibility to work in America. You’ll need bank statements for at least the past 30 days, and you’ll probably need to show pay stubs.

Some of the information your lender may be able to obtain on your behalf, such as your credit reports, tax returns and employment records.

There are advantages to an FHA loan because it expands homeownership to more people than conventional loans. It’s just important that if you’re considering this loan you understand the costs and that you’re not taking on more than you’re financially prepared for because of the less stringent approval requirements.

If you're looking to buy your first home in Berks County, we can help. Contact us today to see if you can qualify for an FHA loan.

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