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Refinancing an FHA Loan: Requirements and Considerations

By Jamie Cattanach · January 02, 2024 · 13 minute read

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Refinancing an FHA Loan: Requirements and Considerations

For first-time buyers — or anyone facing financial hurdles — getting an FHA loan can help make homeownership a reality. With insurance from the Federal Housing Administration, lenders can afford to offer loans with a lower down payment, lower closing costs, and less restrictive qualifying credit requirements.

But can you refinance an FHA loan? Yes, FHA loans are available for those looking to refinance an existing mortgage rather than take out a new one — whether or not that existing mortgage is itself an FHA loan. However, there are a variety of different ways to go about refinancing an FHA loan, and which is right for you will depend on your circumstances. Here’s what you need to know.

Understanding FHA Refinancing

Like any FHA loan, FHA refinancing loans are insured by the FHA — and therefore available with easier qualifying requirements and lower costs than other types of conventional loans may be. Refinancing your mortgage with an FHA refinance loan could help you save money on interest over time by scoring a lower rate, lowering your monthly payments, or even accessing cash by leveraging your home’s equity. And yes, you can refinance an FHA loan, or another type of existing home loan with an FHA refinancing loan. However, the specific FHA refinance requirements vary depending on your circumstances.

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Types of FHA Loan Refinancing

There are four main options when it comes to FHA loan refinancing: Simple refinancing, Streamline refinancing, cash-out refinancing, and 203(k) refinancing. Which is right for you will depend on what kind of loan you have — and why you’re refinancing in the first place.

FHA Simple Refinance

FHA Simple refinancing is for those whose original home loan is an FHA loan. With an FHA Simple refinance, you’ll simply — as the name implies — refinance your home, using a new FHA loan to pay off the existing one, ideally with a lower monthly payment or interest rate to make it worth your while. You may also be able to switch between fixed and adjustable interest rates.

Unlike some other types of FHA refinancing, you won’t be able to access any cash using this type of refinance, so it’s not a viable option for homeowners attempting to leverage home equity to pay for other expenses. In addition, it has slightly stricter qualification requirements than FHA Streamline refinancing, which requires less credit documentation and underwriting. Although credit score requirements vary by lender, most FHA Simple refinance programs require a minimum credit score of 580.

FHA Streamline Refinance

The FHA Streamline refinancing option also follows the logic of its name: The underwriting and qualification process is less intense than other types of FHA refinancing. In addition, unlike the FHA Simple refinance option, a home appraisal is not required. You can also take out up to $500 in cash against your home equity with an FHA Streamline refinance loan.

To qualify for FHA Streamline refinancing, your original home loan will also need to be FHA insured, and payments must not be delinquent. The FHA also requires that the new loan result in a financial benefit for the borrower. Of course, you wouldn’t be going through the process and expense of refinancing if you had nothing to gain in the bargain.

FHA Cash-Out Refinance

FHA cash-out refinancing allows borrowers to leverage their home equity to take out cash that can be used for any purpose. To make this work, a new, larger loan is taken out, which is used to refinance the existing home loan — which need not be FHA insured — as well as to provide cash value.

Using an FHA cash-out refinance loan, homeowners may be able to lower their payments or interest rates while also accessing lump-sum cash that can be used for just about any purpose under the sun. Again, however, the underwriting and qualification process for FHA cash-out refinance loans may be more intense than Streamline loans — though a cash-out refi is still accessible to most borrowers with a credit score of 580 or higher and a debt-to-income ratio (DTI) of 43% or less.

FHA 203(k) Refinance

Finally, the FHA 203(k) loan, also known as rehabilitation loan, allows homeowners to take out money for the purpose of restoring, rehabilitating, or repairing their home along with purchasing it. FHA 203(k) loans can be used for an original purchase or a refinance, and homeowners with a non-FHA loan can apply for 203(k) refinancing, and may find FHA-insured rates are lower than those of other home improvement loans.


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Comparing FHA Refinance vs. Conventional Loan Refinance

Why choose to refinance with an FHA loan rather than a conventional one? Or vice versa? There are pros and cons to consider either way you go. For instance, although FHA refinance loans tend to come with more accessible qualification requirements, some types are only available for those with existing FHA loans — and all of them require a mortgage insurance premium (MIP). The important thing is to consider all your options so you can make an informed decision. Let’s take a closer look.

Pros and Cons of Refinancing with an FHA Loan

While there are many benefits to refinancing with an FHA loan, there are some drawbacks to consider, too.

Pros of refinancing with an FHA loan:

•   Lower interest rates and down payments than some conventional refinancing options

•   Easier qualification process

•   Different options available, including cash-out options

Cons of refinancing with an FHA loan:

•   MIP (mortgage insurance premium) required on all FHA loans; conventional refinance loans will not require mortgage insurance if you’ve paid off at least 20% of your home’s value.

•   Some types of FHA refinance loans are only available to those with existing FHA home loans.

Differences in Requirements and Benefits

In addition to the pros and cons of FHA loan refinancing, there are also differences in the requirements and benefits for FHA versus conventional home refinancing loans. For instance, in most cases, FHA loans require a minimum credit score of just 580, whereas conventional loans might have a minimum credit score starting at 620 or higher.

And while FHA loans often come with lower interest rates, they always come with a mortgage insurance requirement — whereas conventional loans may not require private mortgage insurance (PMI), if you already own at least 20% of your home’s equity.

Finally, FHA refinancing loan options may be somewhat limited, depending on your existing home loan and your motivations for refinancing. Some types of FHA refinancing loans are only available to homeowners who already have an FHA-insured mortgage, which may make them inaccessible to other borrowers.

Eligibility and FHA Refinance Requirements

So, what does it take to secure an FHA home loan? While requirements vary by lender, here are some basic rules of thumb:

Qualifying Factors for Refinancing an FHA Loan

As mentioned above, certain types of FHA refinance loans are only available to those who already have an FHA-insured mortgage loan. In addition, only FHA loans that are not delinquent — i.e., you’re up to date on your payments — may qualify for refinancing.

Credit Score Guidelines

While FHA-insured loans tend to have lower minimum credit scores than conventional refinance loans, lenders do still have a minimum. In most cases, it’s 580—though specifics may vary by lender.

Loan-to-Value Ratio (LTV)

A home’s loan-to-value (LTV) ratio refers to what percentage of the home’s current market value you’re taking out a loan for. Ideally, those who are refinancing their homes have a lower loan-to-value ratio — meaning they owe less of their home’s total value than they did when it was first purchased. Still, the LTV is one factor lenders look at when qualifying borrowers for an FHA refinance loan; the lower your LTV, the better.

Employment and Income Verification

Lenders have a vested interest in making sure you’ll be able to repay your loan, so a lender will verify your employment situation and income before qualifying you for a new loan, whether you’re taking out an original mortgage or refinancing.

Debt-to-Income Ratio (DTI)

Your debt-to-income, or DTI, ratio refers to the proportion of your available income each month that goes toward existing debts. While FHA loans have a higher maximum DTI than other types — borrowers with DTIs as high as 57% may still qualify — some lenders may choose not to qualify borrowers with a DTI of 43% or more.


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Specific Requirements for Streamline Refinance

For the FHA’s Streamline refinance program, certain specific requirements apply, including:

•   The existing mortgage must also be FHA-insured.

•   The refinance must result in a “net tangible benefit” to the borrower.

•   Only up to $500 may be taken out of the loan in cash.

•   In most cases, investment properties are ineligible.

Criteria for Cash-Out Refinance

In order to qualify for an FHA cash-out refinance, you’ll need:

•   To have lived in your home for at least 12 months

•   To own at least 20% of your home’s equity

•   A minimum credit score of 580

•   A debt-to-income (DTI) ratio of 43% or lower

Benefits of Refinancing an FHA Loan

What are the specific benefits of refinancing with an FHA loan? Here are just a few of the reasons people choose to take this route when refinancing a mortgage.

Lower Interest Rate and Monthly Payment

For most homeowners, the primary motivator for refinancing is to save money — either over the long term, by scoring a lower interest rate, or on a monthly basis by choosing a loan with a lower minimum monthly payment. In some instances, you may be able to achieve both goals with the same refinancing loan, particularly if your credit history has appreciably improved since you originally took out your mortgage.

New Loan Terms

Some borrowers refinance to give themselves more time to pay off their home loan with a longer term — or to accelerate their repayment process with a shorter term.

Equity Access with a Cash-Out Refinance

For most consumers, a home is the single most valuable asset they’ll ever purchase. Being able to access the value of that equity with a cash-out refinance option is another important motivator for those seeking to refinance, and FHA refinance loans can make that goal a reality whether or not your original loan is FHA-insured.

Avoid Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)

For borrowers looking to avoid private mortgage insurance (PMI), take heed: Although FHA loans don’t require PMI, they do require mortgage insurance. The FHA-loan version is called MIP (mortgage insurance premium), and is required on all FHA loans.

Improve Financial Stability

For some borrowers, refinancing can improve overall financial stability by achieving any of the goals listed above — for example, freeing up more discretionary income each month with a lower monthly payment.

Steps to Refinance an FHA Loan

Seriously considering an FHA refinance loan? Here are the steps it takes to turn your ideation into reality.

1. Review Your Current FHA Loan

The first step in shopping for a new loan should always be to review your existing mortgage. After all, that’s the best way to understand what factors would make a new mortgage more favorable for your finances. If your original loan is not FHA-insured, note that you may not qualify for certain types of FHA refinancing loans.

2. Shop for Lenders and Offers

Next up: The actual shopping part. In order to ensure you get the best deal available, it’s worth asking several lenders for refinancing quotes, including a full amortization schedule. That way, you’ll understand exactly how much money you stand to save — or not — by choosing a specific lender.

3. Submit an Application and Required Documentation

Once you’ve settled on a lender, you’ll submit your application, including any required documentation (such as ID and income verification, including bank statements and tax forms). In most cases, this process can be done entirely online.

4. Go Through the Appraisal and Underwriting Process

As part of most refinancing processes, you’ll need to have your home appraised so the lender understands its current market value — and can use that value to calculate important aspects of your application, like the LTV. An underwriter will assess your holistic financial profile to determine whether or not you qualify for the refinance loan.

5. Close the Refinance

Finally, if the terms are favorable and you are approved, you’ll close the refinance loan. The new lender will repay your existing loan, and your new payments will be directed toward this new lender, using the new terms you’ve agreed to.

Tips and Considerations for FHA Loan Refinancing

Want to get the very best out of your FHA loan refinancing process? Here are some tips to help you get the most bang for your buck.

Evaluate Your Financial Situation

Refinancing isn’t right for everyone. In fact, in most cases, the FHA won’t even allow you to refinance with one of its loans unless it results in a net financial benefit for you, the borrower. You can take a few first steps to determine whether or not it will help before you ever get a lender involved.

Using a mortgage calculator, you can determine how much a lower interest rate would save you over time or how much a longer loan term would reduce your monthly payment. Keep in mind that refinancing isn’t free, so unless the savings are substantial enough to eclipse your closing costs, it may make more financial sense to keep your original loan.

Understand Closing Costs and Fees

Loans come with a variety of closing costs and fees, such as application fees, the cost of the appraisal, attorney fees, and more. These costs can add up to about 6% of your overall loan value, and though some of them may be able to be financed as part of your loan, they still have the potential to eat into any savings your refinancing loan might offer.

Time Your Refinance Strategically

When it comes to refinancing your mortgage, timing matters. For example, if interest rates are higher than when you took out your original loan, the timing might not be right. The same could be said if you’re planning on moving out of your home in the near future, in which case, you may not have enough time in the home left to break even on your closing costs.

Common Mistakes in FHA Loan Refinancing

Here are some common errors borrowers make when undergoing the FHA loan refinancing process.

Misunderstanding the Eligibility Criteria

Although FHA loans come with more accessible eligibility criteria than many conventional loans, they do still have standards. If your credit score is less than 580 or your payments are delinquent, you’re unlikely to qualify for an FHA refinancing loan.

Ignoring Closing Costs and Fees

As mentioned, closing costs and fees can really add up — so if you don’t take them into account when you’re considering a refinance, you may wind up with an unpleasant case of sticker shock.

Not Considering Long-Term Financial Goals

Refinancing your home, when done best, is all about saving money over time, which means having enough time for those savings to accrue. If you’re planning on selling your house and moving in three to five years, refinancing may actually end up being more expensive than staying with a higher-rate original loan. Additionally, if you’re refinancing primarily to lower your monthly payment and make ends easier to meet, don’t forget to keep your long-term finances in mind. It may not be worth the extra monthly money to pay thousands more in interest overall.

The Takeaway

FHA refinance loans are available for homeowners whose original loans are FHA-insured—as well as for those who have a conventional original mortgage. FHA loan requirements vary depending on which type of loan you’re considering, and may not be right for everyone. But if you can meet the qualifications and derive a solid financial benefit from an FHA refinance, it may be worthwhile to embark on the process.

Looking for an affordable option for a home mortgage loan? SoFi can help: We offer low down payments (as little as 3% - 5%*) with our competitive and flexible home mortgage loans. Plus, applying is extra convenient: It's online, with access to one-on-one help.


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FAQ

Can you refinance an FHA loan without an appraisal?

Yes — but only if you qualify for an FHA Streamline loan, which requires your original loan also be an FHA-insured loan.

What happens if your home’s value has decreased?

Even if your home’s value has decreased, you may still be eligible for a refinance loan through the FHA Streamline program. It all depends on how much you owe on your home and your other qualifying factors. (Keep in mind, too, that this program requires that your original home loan also be an FHA one.)

Can you refinance an FHA loan if you’re behind on payments?

No. All FHA loan refinance programs require borrowers to be up-to-date on their loan payments, with most including provisions that there must not have been any payments more than 30 days late within the last six months.


Photo credit: iStock/gremlin

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*SoFi requires Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) for conforming home loans with a loan-to-value (LTV) ratio greater than 80%. As little as 3% down payments are for qualifying first-time homebuyers only. 5% minimum applies to other borrowers. Other loan types may require different fees or insurance (e.g., VA funding fee, FHA Mortgage Insurance Premiums, etc.). Loan requirements may vary depending on your down payment amount, and minimum down payment varies by loan type.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

¹FHA loans are subject to unique terms and conditions established by FHA and SoFi. Ask your SoFi loan officer for details about eligibility, documentation, and other requirements. FHA loans require an Upfront Mortgage Insurance Premium (UFMIP), which may be financed or paid at closing, in addition to monthly Mortgage Insurance Premiums (MIP). Maximum loan amounts vary by county. The minimum FHA mortgage down payment is 3.5% for those who qualify financially for a primary purchase. SoFi is not affiliated with any government agency.
Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

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