Understanding the Different Types of Mortgage Loans

By Becca Stanek · October 25, 2021 · 11 minute read

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Understanding the Different Types of Mortgage Loans

An important first step for aspiring homebuyers is to decide which type of home loan will best serve their needs. The interest rate, length, down payment, borrower qualifications, and extra fees associated with different types of mortgage loans will all play a role in the decision.

To help make the choice a bit easier, let’s talk about mortgage basics and compare the advantages and disadvantages of mortgage types.

Recommended: First-Time Home Buyer’s Guide

Fixed-Rate vs. Adjustable-Rate Loans

When it comes to understanding types of mortgage loans, the difference between an adjustable-rate mortgage and fixed-rate mortgage is the first thing to consider.



Fixed-Rate Mortgage Your monthly payment is fixed, and therefore predictable. If you take out a loan when rates are high, you’re locked in unless you can refinance.
Adjustable-Rate Mortgage The initial interest rate is usually lower, making this a good option for someone who can sell before the rate adjusts. Rate increases could be dramatic, leading to potentially much higher monthly payments.

Fixed-Rate Mortgage

Fixed-rate mortgage loans are exactly what they sound like: The interest rate is fixed for the entire life of the loan. The term can vary.

These loans offer a steady monthly payment and relatively low-interest rate. Borrowers can usually make extra payments toward the principal if they want to pay off the mortgage faster, as prepayment penalties are rare.

Quick Tip: Check out our Mortgage Calculator to get a basic estimate of your monthly payment.

Pro: The monthly payment is fixed, and therefore predictable.

Con: If you take out a fixed-rate loan when interest rates are high, you’re locked into that rate for the entire term — unless you’re able to refinance later and get a lower rate.

30-Year Fixed-Rate Mortgage

A 30-year fixed-rate home loan is by far the most common type of mortgage, according to Freddie Mac. However, because payments are made over a relatively long period, lenders tend to see them as riskier than shorter home loans, and thus ask for higher interest rates.

15-Year Fixed-Rate Mortgage

A 15-year loan may have a lower interest rate, and you will pay less in total interest than you would on a 30-year loan. On the flipside, the shorter term means monthly payments may be much higher.

Adjustable-Rate Mortgage

An adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) has an interest rate that fluctuates after an initial fixed-rate period of months to years. The variable rate is typically tied to a benchmark index rate that changes with market conditions.

ARMs are often expressed in two numbers, like 7/1 or 5/1. A 5/1 ARM typically has a rate that’s fixed for five years and then adjusts every year, up to a cap, if there is one.

Pro: The initial interest rate of an ARM is usually lower than the rate on a traditional fixed-rate loan, so it’s easy to be drawn to the teaser rate, but it could end up costing more in interest than a fixed-rate loan over the life of your mortgage. An ARM might work best for someone who expects to sell the property before the rate adjusts.

Con: Rate increases in the future could be dramatic — though there are limits to the annual and life-of-loan adjustments — typically leaving many adjustable-rate mortgage holders with much higher monthly payments than if they had committed to a fixed-rate mortgage.

First-time homebuyers can
prequalify for a SoFi mortgage loan,
with as little as 3% down.

Conventional vs. Government-Insured Loans

The most popular type of mortgage, a conventional loan, is originated by a bank or other private lender, and it is not backed or insured by the government. Then there are several types of government-insured loans, some requiring little or nothing down.



Conventional Loan A variety of property types can qualify, and there’s the option to put down less than 20% with PMI. There are stricter qualification requirements, and a higher down payment is required.
FHA Loan There are lower down payment and credit score requirements, plus the option to get a non-occupant co-signer. The MIP lasts for the life of the loan if the down payment is less than 10%.
VA Loan You don’t need to put money down or make monthly PMI payments. You’ll owe a one-time VA funding fee on purchase loans.
FHA 203(k) Loan You can use it to buy and rehab a property that doesn’t qualify for an FHA loan, and it requires as little as 3% down. You must qualify for the value of the property and the cost of planned renovations. Rates can be higher, and you’ll owe MIP.
Fannie Mae HomeStyle Loan No MIP is required, and you can cancel mortgage insurance once you meet certain requirements; rates are often lower than with the FHA 203(k). You must meet credit score thresholds.

Conventional Loan

Conventional loans usually have stricter requirements than government-backed home loans. Lenders typically look at credit scores and debt-to-income ratio, among other factors, in evaluating conventional loan applications.

Your down payment may be less than 20%, but if so, you’ll need to purchase private mortgage insurance (PMI) that insures the lender. PMI can be paid monthly or as an upfront premium that can be paid by you or the lender. PMI needs to stay in place until your loan-to-value ratio reaches 78%.

Pro: A variety of property types qualify for a conventional mortgage, and PMI can make it possible for borrowers to qualify for a conventional loan if they put down less than 20%.

Con: Conventional loans tend to have stricter requirements for qualification and may require a higher down payment than government loans.

FHA Loan

Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans are not directly issued from the government. Certain lenders can issue FHA loans on behalf of the government, and the FHA insures the loans.

Qualifying for an FHA loan is often less difficult than qualifying for a conventional mortgage, so FHA mortgages can be a good choice for people with less-than-stellar credit scores or a high debt-to-income ratio.

With at least a 580 FICO® credit score, you might qualify to put just 3.5% down ; with a score of 500 to 579, you could put just 10% down.

FHA mortgages come with an additional insurance charge called a mortgage insurance premium (MIP) — upfront and annual.

Pros: FHA loans have lower down payment and credit score requirements. Additionally, FHA loans may allow a non-occupant co-signer to help borrowers qualify.

Cons: The MIP stays in place for the life of the loan if the down payment is less than 10%.

VA Loan

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs backs home loans for members and veterans of the U.S. military and eligible surviving spouses. Similar to FHA loans, the government doesn’t directly issue these loans; instead, they are processed by private lenders and guaranteed by the VA.

Most require no down payment. Although there’s no minimum credit score requirement on the VA side, private lenders may have a minimum of 580 to 660.

Pros: You don’t have to put any money down or deal with monthly PMI payments.

Cons: There’s a one-time VA “funding fee” on purchase loans, which ranges from 1.4% to 3.6% .

FHA 203(k) Loan

Got your eye on a fixer-upper? A 203(k) loan helps buyers finance both the purchase of a house and repairs. Current homeowners can also qualify for an FHA 203(k) loan to finance the rehabilitation of their existing home.

The generous credit score and down payment rules that make FHA loans appealing for borrowers often apply here, although some lenders might require a credit score above 580.

With a full 203(k), the lender will assign a loan consultant to ensure that the right contractor gets hired and the work gets done as promised. A limited 203(k) loan allows you to do cosmetic upgrades worth about $35,000 and is offered by more lenders.

Pros: An FHA 203(k) loan can be used to buy and rehab a property that wouldn’t qualify for a regular FHA loan. And it requires as little as 3.5% down.

Cons: These loans require you to qualify for the value of the property, plus the costs of planned renovations. The rate can be higher than that of a standard FHA loan. Additionally, you’ll pay an upfront and monthly mortgage insurance premium.

Fannie Mae HomeStyle Loan

For fixer-upper fans, an alternative is the Fannie Mae HomeStyle Loan, which requires only 3% to 5% down but a minimum credit score of 620.

Pros: No upfront MIP is required, and you may cancel mortgage insurance after 12 years or once you reach 20% home equity. The rate is often lower than that of an FHA 203(k).

Con: You must meet credit score thresholds.

USDA Mortgage

A USDA mortgage loan is a type of mortgage loan offered to eligible rural homebuyers. The loans are issued through the USDA loan program by the United States Department of Agriculture as part of its rural development program.

Pros: There’s zero down payment required, and interest rates tend to be low due to the USDA guarantee.

Cons: Buyers are restricted to rural areas for this loan type, and there are income limits. Plus, you have to pay a guarantee fee, though it’s typically less expensive than mortgage insurance.

Conforming vs. Nonconforming Loans

Whether a loan is conforming or nonconforming boils down to whether it meets Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac guidelines and can be sold to one of those government-sponsored enterprises.



Conforming Loans Interest rates and fees tend to be lower than for nonconforming loans. The amount you can borrow is limited.
Nonconforming Loans There may be no limit on loan size, and they may offer people with poor credit an opportunity to get a loan. They can have higher interest rates and requirements due to the added risk for lenders.

Conforming Loans

Mortgages that conform to the dollar limits set by the Federal Housing Finance Agency are called conforming loans. The limit changes annually, based on federal guidelines.

As of 2021, the conforming loan limit is $548,250 for a single-family home in most of the U.S. and goes up to $822,375 in certain higher-cost areas.

Pros: Conforming loans may have lower interest rates and fees than nonconforming loans.

Cons: The amount that can be borrowed is limited.

Nonconforming Loans

The two main types of nonconforming loans are jumbo loans and government-backed loans. Non-conforming loans aren’t as standardized as conforming loans, meaning rules can vary more from lender to lender. This can include features like eligibility, rates and others.

Pros: There may be no limit on loan size, allowing you to purchase a more expensive home. They also can offer people with poor credit who may not qualify for a conforming loan access to a home loan.

Cons: Because non-conforming loans tend to be a bit riskier for lenders, they generally come with higher interest rates and can have higher requirements.

Common Types of Mortgages: Conventional, Fixed-Rate, Government Backed, Adjustable-Rate

Reverse Mortgage



Reverse Mortgage No monthly payment is needed, and there’s choice for how payments are made. Interest rates can be higher than with traditional mortgages, and there are fees involved.

A reverse mortgage allows homeowners 62 and older to turn part of their home equity into cash. There are several factors to weigh, including the youngest homeowner’s age, the loan rate and costs, the desires of heirs and payout type.

Pros: The homeowner doesn’t have to make any monthly payments, and they can choose a lump sum, a monthly disbursement or a line of credit — or some combination of the three.

Cons: The interest rate can be higher than traditional mortgage rates. The homeowner will also typically pay mortgage insurance, an upfront fee, an origination fee and third-party fees.

Jumbo Mortgage



Jumbo Mortgage Allow buyers to purchase a more expensive property, and there’s no mortgage insurance requirement. The application requirements can be steep, and interest rates and closing costs may be higher.

Another type of mortgage loan is a jumbo mortgage, which is a home loan above the amounts set by the conforming loan limits, mentioned above. As such, it is a type of non-conforming loan. Also known as a jumbo loan, a jumbo mortgage can be obtained through private lenders.

Pros: Jumbo loans make it possible for buyers to purchase a more expensive property. Plus, there’s no mortgage insurance requirement.

Cons: The application requirements for a jumbo loan can be steep, including a larger down payment, and interest rates and closing costs can run higher.

Interest-Only Mortgage



Interest-Only Mortgage Payments will be much lower during the introductory period, freeing up funds for other purposes. The homeowner won’t be building equity without principal payments, and payments will increase significantly after the introductory period.

As its name suggests, an interest-only mortgage is a mortgage type where you only make interest payments for a certain number of years at the start of the loan term. Your principal stays the same during this time. Once the initial time frame — usually 5 or 10 years — is over, your loan becomes fully amortized, meaning you start paying interest and principal each month from there on out. These loans don’t tend to be widely available.

Pros: Interest-only loans can make monthly payments lower during the introductory period, allowing you to use the money that would have gone to principal payment for other purposes.

Cons: Because the homeowner is not making payments toward the principal, they aren’t building any equity. Additionally, their payments will increase significantly once the introductory period ends.

Recommended: What’s Mortgage Amortization and How Do You Calculate It?

The Takeaway

Among the smorgasbord of different mortgage types, which is best for you? With so many types of home loans, it’s a good idea to do your homework and shop around.

As you weigh all the types of mortgage loans out there, consider getting prequalified for a mortgage with SoFi. SoFi Mortgages come with competitive fixed rates and can call for as little as 3% down for qualifying first-time homebuyers and 5% down for others.

Check your rate in two minutes.

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