If you’re in the market for a mortgage, you may be overwhelmed by all the different options — conventional vs. government-backed, fixed vs. adjustable rate, 15-year vs 30-year. Which one is best?
The answer will depend on how much you have to put down on a home, the price of the home you want to buy, your income and credit history, and how long you plan to live in the home. Below, we break down some of the most common types of home mortgages, including how each one works and their pros and cons.
Fixed-Rate vs. Adjustable-Rate Loans
When choosing the best type of mortgage for your needs, it helps to understand the difference between adjustable-rate mortgages and fixed-rate mortgages. Each option has advantages and disadvantages. Here’s a closer look.
|Your monthly payment is fixed, and therefore predictable.
|If rates drop, you have to refinance to get the lower rate.
|The initial interest rate is usually lower than a fixed-rate mortgage.
|Once the intro period is over, ARM rates adjust, potentially raising your mortgage payment.
First-time homebuyers can
prequalify for a SoFi Mortgage Loan,
with as little as 3% down.
With a fixed-rate mortgage loan, the interest is exactly that — fixed. No matter what happens to benchmark interest rates or the overall economy, the interest rate will remain the same for the life of the loan. Fixed loans typically come in terms of 15 years or 30 years, though some lenders allow more options.
This type of mortgage can be a good choice if you think rates are going to go up, or if you plan on staying in your home for at least five to seven years and want to avoid any potential for changes to your monthly payments.
Pro: The monthly payment is fixed, and therefore predictable.
Con: If interest rates drop after you take out your loan, you won’t get the lower rate unless you’re able to refinance.
💡 Quick Tip: SoFi Home Loans are available with flexible term options and down payments as low as 3%.*
30-Year Fixed-Rate Mortgage
A 30-year fixed-rate home loan is the most common type of mortgage and the longest term length available for mortgages.
Monthly payments are generally lower than shorter-term mortgages because the loan is stretched out over a longer term. However, the overall amount of interest you’ll pay is typically higher, since you’re paying interest for a longer period of time. Also, interest rates tend to be higher for 30-year home loans than shorter-term mortgages, since the longer term poses more risk to the lender.
15-Year Fixed-Rate Mortgage
A 15-year loan allows you to build equity more quickly and pay less total interest. Loans with shorter terms also tend to come with lower interest rates, since they pose less risk to the lender.
On the flipside, the shorter term means monthly payments may be much higher than a 30-year mortgage. This type of loan can be a good choice for borrowers who can handle an aggressive repayment schedule and want to save on interest.
An adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) has an interest rate that fluctuates according to market conditions.
Many ARMs have a fixed-rate period to start and are expressed in two numbers, such as 7/1, 5/1, or 7/6. A 7/1 ARM loan has a fixed rate for seven years; after that, the fixed rate converts to a variable rate. It stays variable for the remaining life of the loan, adjusting every year in line with an index rate. A 7/6 ARM, on the other hand, means that your rate will remain the same for the first seven years and will adjust every six months after that initial period. A 5/1 ARM has a rate that’s fixed for five years and then adjusts every year.
Many ARMs have rate caps, meaning the rate will never exceed a certain number over the life of the loan. If you consider an ARM, you’ll want to be sure you understand exactly how much your rate can increase and how much you could wind up paying after the introductory period expires.
Pro: The initial interest rate of an ARM is usually lower than the rate on a fixed-rate loan. This can make it a good deal for borrowers who expect to sell the property before the rate adjusts.
Con: Even if the loan starts out with a low rate, subsequent rate increases could make this loan more expensive than a fixed-rate loan.
Recommended: First-Time Home Buyer’s Guide
Conventional vs. Government-Insured Loans
Mortgages can also be broken down into two other categories: conventional loans, which are offered by banks or other private lenders, and government-backed loans, which are guaranteed by a government agency. Here’s a breakdown of conventional vs. government-insured loans, including how each works, and their pros and cons.
This is the most common type of home loan. Conventional mortgages must meet standards that allow lenders to resell them to the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. This is advantageous to lenders (who can make money by selling their loans to GSEs) but means stiffer qualifications for borrowers.
Pro: Down payments can be as low as 3%, though borrowers with down payments under 20% have to pay for private mortgage insurance (PMI).
Con: Conventional loans tend to have stricter requirements for qualification than government-backed loans. You typically need a credit score of at least 620 and a debt-to-income ratio under 36%.
If you have trouble qualifying for a conventional loan, you may want to look into a government-insured loan. This type of mortgage is insured by a government agency, such as the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
FHA loans are not directly issued from the government but, rather, insured by the FHA. This protects mortgage lenders, since if the borrower becomes unable to repay the loan, the agency has to handle the default. Having that guarantee significantly lowers risk for the lender.
As a result, qualifying for an FHA loan is often less difficult than qualifying for a conventional mortgage. This makes an FHA mortgage a good choice if you have less-than-stellar credit scores or a high debt-to-income (DTI) ratio.
Pro: With a FICO® credit score of 500 to 579, you may be able to put just 10% down on a home; with a score of 580 or higher, you may qualify to put just 3.5% payment.
Con: FHA mortgages require you to purchase FHA mortgage insurance, which is called a mortgage insurance premium (MIP). Depending on the size of your down payment, the insurance lasts for 11 years or the life of the loan.
💡 Quick Tip: Check out our Mortgage Calculator to get a basic estimate of your monthly payment.
The U.S. Department of Veterans 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 VA loans require no down payment. However, you’ll need to pay a VA funding fee unless you are exempt. Although there’s no minimum credit score requirement on the VA side, private lenders may have a minimum in the low to mid 600s.
Pro: You don’t have to put any money down or purchase mortgage insurance.
Con: Only available to veterans, current service members, and eligible spouses.
Got your eye on a fixer-upper? An FHA 203(k) loan allows you to roll the cost of the home as well as the rehab into one loan. Current homeowners can also qualify for an FHA 203(k) loan to refinance their property and fund the costs of an upcoming renovation through a single mortgage.
The generous credit score and down payment rules that make FHA loans appealing for borrowers often apply here, too, though some lenders might require a minimum credit score of 500.
With a standard 203(k), typically used for renovations exceeding $35,000, a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) consultant must be hired to oversee the project. A streamlined 203(k) loan, on the other hand, allows you to fund a less costly renovation with anyone overseeing the project.
Pro: If you have a credit score of 580 or above, you only need to put down 3.5% on an FHA 203(k) loan.
Con: These loans require you to qualify for the value of the property, plus the costs of planned renovations.
A USDA loan is a type of mortgage designed to help borrowers who meet certain income limits buy homes in rural areas. The loans are issued through the USDA loan program by the United States Department of Agriculture as part of its rural development program.
Pro: There’s no down payment required, and interest rates tend to be low due to the USDA guarantee.
Con: These loans are limited to areas designated as rural, and borrowers who meet certain income requirements.
Conforming vs. Nonconforming Loans
Conventional loans, which are not backed by the federal government, come in two forms: conforming and non-conforming.
Mortgages that conform to the guidelines set by government-backed agencies (such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) are called conforming loans. There are a number of criteria that borrowers must meet to qualify for a conforming loan, including the loan amount.
For 2023, the ceiling for a single-family, conforming home loan is $726,200 in most parts of the U.S. However, there is a higher limit — $1,089,300 — for areas that are considered “high-cost,” a designation based on an area’s median home values.
Typically, conforming loans also require a minimum credit score of 630 to 650, a DTI ratio no higher than 41%, and a minimum down payment of 3%.
Pro: Conforming loans tend to have lower interest rates and fees than nonconforming loans.
Con: You must meet the qualification criteria, and borrowing amounts may not be sufficient in high-priced areas.
Nonconforming mortgage loans are loans that don’t meet the requirements for a conforming loan. For example, jumbo loans are nonconforming loans that exceed the maximum loan limit for a conforming loan.
Nonconforming loans aren’t as standardized as conforming loans, so there is more variety of loan types and features to choose from. They also tend to have a faster, more streamlined application process.
Pro: Nonconforming loans are available in higher amounts and can widen your housing options by allowing you to buy in a more expensive area, or a type of home that isn’t eligible for a conforming loan.
Con: These loans tend to have higher interest rates than nonconforming loans.
A reverse mortgage allows homeowners 62 or older (typically those who have paid off their mortgage) to borrow part of their home equity as income. Unlike a regular mortgage, the homeowner doesn’t make payments to the lender — the lender makes payments to the homeowner. Homeowners who take out a reverse mortgage can still live in their homes. However, the loan must be repaid when the borrower dies, moves out, or sells the home.
Pro: A reverse mortgage can provide additional income during your retirement years and/or help cover the cost of medical expenses or improvements.
Con: If the loan balance exceeds the home’s value at the time of your death or departure from the home, your heirs may need to hand ownership of the home back to the lender.
A jumbo loan is a mortgage used to finance a property that is too expensive for a conventional conforming loan. If you need a loan that exceeds the conforming loan limit (typically $726,200), you’ll likely need a jumbo loan.
Jumbo loans are considered riskier for lenders because of their larger amounts and the fact that these loans aren’t guaranteed by any government agency. As a result, qualification criteria tends to be stricter than other types of mortgages. Also, in some cases, rates may be higher.
You can typically find jumbo loans with either a fixed or adjustable rate and with a range of terms.
Pro: Jumbo loans make it possible for buyers to purchase a more expensive property.
Con: You generally need excellent credit to qualify for a jumbo loan.
💡 Quick Tip: A major home purchase may mean a jumbo loan, but it doesn’t have to mean a jumbo down payment. Apply for a jumbo mortgage with SoFi, and you could put as little as 10% down.
With an interest-only mortgage, you only make interest payments for a set period, which may be five or seven years. Your principal stays the same during this time. After that initial period ends, you can end the loan by selling or refinancing, or begin to make monthly payments that cover principal and interest.
Pro: The initial monthly payments are usually lower than other mortgages, which may allow you to afford a pricier home.
Con: You won’t build equity as quickly with this loan, since you’re initially only paying back interest.
There are many different types of mortgages, including fixed-rate, variable rate, conforming, nonconforming, conventional, government-backed, jumbo, and reverse mortgages. It’s a good idea to research and compare different loan programs, consult with lenders, and, if needed, seek advice from a mortgage professional to determine the best type of home loan for your specific circumstances.
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.
What are the different types of mortgages?
There are several types of mortgages available to homebuyers, each with its own characteristics and requirements. Some of the most common types include:
• Conventional mortgage This type of mortgage is not insured or guaranteed by a government agency.
• FHA loan Insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), FHA loans are popular among first-time homebuyers. They offer more lenient credit requirements and allow for a lower down payment (as low as 3.5%).
• VA loan These loans are available to eligible veterans, active-duty service members, and eligible surviving spouses, and come with favorable rates and terms.
• USDA Loan Issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, these loans are designed for low- and moderate-income homebuyers in rural areas. They offer low interest rates and may require no down payment.
• Jumbo mortgage A jumbo mortgage is a loan that exceeds the loan limits set by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
• Fixed-rate mortgage The rate stays the same for the entire life of the mortgage.
• Adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) The interest rate is initially fixed for a specific period, then typically adjusts annually based on market conditions.
What are the 4 types of qualified mortgages?
Qualified mortgages are mortgages that meet certain criteria set by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to ensure borrowers can afford the loans they obtain. The four main types of qualified mortgages are:
• General qualified mortgages These mortgages adhere to basic criteria set by the CFPB.
• Small creditor qualified mortgages These loans have more flexible requirements for small lenders.
• Balloon payment qualified mortgages These mortgages allow for a balloon payment at the end of the term.
• Temporary qualified mortgages This type of qualified mortgage provides a transition period for loans that were eligible for purchase or guarantee by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac but no longer meet those standards.
Which type of home loan is best?
The best type of home loan depends on your financial situation, goals, and preferences.
If you have a significant down payment and strong credit, you might consider a conventional mortgage. If, on the other hand, you have limited funds for a down payment and lower credit scores, you might consider a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) home loan.
VA loans benefit eligible veterans and service members, while USDA loans are for homebuyers in rural areas.
Whether to choose a fixed-rate or adjustable-rate mortgage will depend on your long-term plans and tolerance for risk.
Terms, conditions, and state restrictions apply. Not all products are available in all states. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information.
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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.