Understanding the Different Types of Mortgage Loans

What Are the Different Types of Home Mortgage

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.

Pros

Cons

Fixed-Rate Mortgage Your monthly payment is fixed, and therefore predictable. If rates drop, you have to refinance to get the lower rate.
Adjustable-Rate Mortgage 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.


Fixed-Rate Mortgage

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.

Adjustable-Rate Mortgage

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.

Conventional Loan

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%.

Government-Insured Loan

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 Loan

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.

VA Loan

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.

FHA 203(k)

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.

USDA Loan

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.

Conforming Loans

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 Loans

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.

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

Reverse Mortgage

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.

Jumbo Mortgage

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.

Interest-Only Mortgage

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.

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

The Takeaway

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.


SoFi Mortgages: simple, smart, and so affordable.

FAQ

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.


SoFi Mortgages
Terms, conditions, and state restrictions apply. Not all products are available in all states. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information.


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.


*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.

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Do You Qualify as a First-Time Homebuyer?

A first-time homebuyer isn’t just someone purchasing a first home. It can be anyone who has not owned a principal residence in the past three years, some single parents, a spouse who has not owned a home, and more.

If the thought of a down payment and closing costs put a chill down your spine, realize that first-time homebuyers often have access to special grants, loans, and programs.

‘First-Time Homebuyer’ Under the Microscope

To get a sense of who qualifies for a mortgage as a first-time homebuyer, let’s take a look at the government’s definition.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) says first-time buyers meet any of these criteria:

•   An individual who has not held ownership in a principal residence during the three-year period ending on the date of the purchase.

•   A single parent who has only owned a home with a former spouse.

•   An individual who is a displaced homemaker (has worked only in the home for a substantial number of years providing unpaid household services for family members) and has only owned a home with a spouse.

•   Both spouses if one spouse is or was a homeowner but the other has not owned a home.

•   A person who has only owned a principal residence that was not permanently attached to a foundation (such as a mobile home when the wheels are in place).

•   An individual who has owned a property that is not in compliance with state, local, or model building codes and that cannot be brought into compliance for less than the cost of constructing a permanent structure.

For conventional (nongovernment) financing through private lenders, Fannie Mae’s criteria are similar.

💡 Recommended: The Complete First-Time Home Buyer Guide

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


Options for First-Time Homebuyers

First-time homebuyers may not realize that they, like other buyers, may qualify to buy a home with much less than 20% down.

They also have access to first-time homebuyer programs that may ease the credit requirements of homeownership.

Federal Government-Backed Mortgages

When the federal government insures mortgages, the loans pose less of a risk to lenders. This means lenders may offer you a lower interest rate.

There are three government-backed home loan options: FHA loans, USDA loans, and VA loans. In exchange for a low down payment, you’ll pay an upfront and annual mortgage insurance premium for FHA loans, an upfront guarantee fee and annual fee for USDA loans, or a one-time funding fee for VA loans.

FHA Loans

The Federal Housing Administration, part of HUD, insures fixed-rate mortgages issued by approved lenders. On average, more than 80% of FHA-insured mortgages are for first-time homebuyers each year.

If you have a FICO® credit score of 580 or higher, you could get an FHA loan with just 3.5% down. If you have a score between 500 and 579, you may still qualify for a loan with 10% down.

USDA Loans

The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers assistance to buy (or, in some cases, even build) a home in certain rural areas. Your income has to be within a certain percentage of the average median income for the area.

If you qualify, the loan requires no down payment and offers a fixed interest rate.

VA Loans

A mortgage guaranteed in part by the Department of Veterans Affairs requires no down payment and is available for military members, veterans, and certain surviving military spouses.

Although a VA loan does not state a minimum credit score, lenders who make the loan will set their minimum score for the product based on their risk tolerance.

💡 Quick Tip: When house hunting, don’t forget to lock in your home mortgage loan rate so there are no surprises if your offer is accepted.

Government-Backed Conventional Mortgages

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, government-backed mortgage companies, do not originate home loans. Instead, they buy and guarantee mortgages issued through lenders in the secondary mortgage market.

They make mortgages available that are geared toward lower-income, lower-credit score borrowers.

Freddie Mac’s Home Possible program offers down payment options as low as 3%. There are also sweat equity down payment options and flexible terms.

Fannie Mae’s 97% LTV (loan-to-value) program also offers 3% down payment loans.

A Mortgage for Certain Civil Servants

If you’re a law enforcement officer, firefighter, or EMT working for a federal, state, local, or Indian tribal government agency, or a teacher at a public or private school, the HUD-backed Good Neighbor Next Door Program could be a good fit. It provides 50% off the listing price of a foreclosed home in specific revitalization areas. In turn, you have to commit to living there for 36 months.

Homes are listed on the HUD website each week, and you have to put an offer in within seven days. Only a registered HUD broker can submit a bid for you on a property.

If using an FHA loan to buy a home in the Good Neighbor Next Door Program, the down payment will be $100. If using a VA loan to purchase a house through the program, buyers will receive 100% financing. If using a conventional home loan, the usual down payment requirements stay the same.

State, County, and City Assistance

It isn’t just the federal government that helps to get first-time buyers into homes. State, county, and city governments and nonprofit organizations run many down payment assistance programs.

HUD is the gatekeeper, steering buyers to state and local programs and offering advice from HUD home assistance counselors.

The National Council of State Housing Agencies has a state-by-state list of housing finance agencies, which cater to low- and middle-income households. Contact the agency to learn about the programs it offers and to get answers to housing finance questions.


💡 Quick Tip: Jumbo mortgage loans are the answer for borrowers who need to borrow more than the conforming loan limit values set by the Federal Housing Finance Agency ($766,550 in most places, or $1,149,825 in many high-cost areas). If you have your eye on a pricier property, a jumbo loan could be a good solution.

Using Gift Money

First-time homebuyers might also want to think about seeking down payment and closing cost help from family members.

If you’re using a cash gift, your lender will want a formal gift letter, and the gift cannot be a loan. Home loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac only allow down payment gifts from someone related to the borrower. Government-backed loans have looser requirements.

Want to use your 401(k) to make a down payment? You could, but financial advisors frown on the idea. Borrowing from your 401(k) can do damage to your retirement savings.

The Takeaway

First-time homebuyers are in the catbird seat if they don’t have much of a down payment or their credit isn’t stellar. Lots of programs, from local to federal, give first-time homeowners a break.

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.


SoFi Mortgages: simple, smart, and so affordable.


SoFi Mortgages
Terms, conditions, and state restrictions apply. Not all products are available in all states. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information.


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.


*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.

Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.

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.

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20 Renter Friendly House Updates

20 Renter-Friendly House Updates

When you’re a renter, it can feel like all the transformative DIY projects are reserved for homeowners. But just because you rent doesn’t mean you can’t spruce up your space.

That’s right: Rental-friendly upgrades exist. And the best part? Many improvements can have a major impact on your space without blowing your budget.

1. Create an Accent Wall

Spicing up your walls doesn’t have to cost a fortune, nor must it require gallons of paint. For just a few bucks a roll, you can buy washi tape and create a custom accent wall that won’t ruin the paint job. Or, if you’re able to spend a few extra dollars, you could also invest in removable wallpaper.

2. Update Light Fixtures

Light fixtures in rentals are notoriously drab and tend to provide uneven lighting. Fortunately, there is no shortage of lighting options to help you brighten up your space. A recessed lighting conversion kit, for instance, is fairly inexpensive, easy to install, and allows you to hang a pendant or other light fixture. Not sure your landlord would approve? You can always buy some decorative lamps or even string lights to help amp up the brightness and style of any room.

3. Install Radiator Shelving

In older units, rusty radiators can be a renter’s nightmare. But luckily, there are some rental upgrades — like installing radiator shelving — that can disguise even the most unattractive units. You can DIY a custom shelving unit to work around your radiator, upgrade some shelving from a local thrift store, or even order one online.

4. Buy Matching Bookshelves

Bookshelves are a simple way to upgrade the decor and add much-needed storage space. Placing tall, matching shelves on either side of a TV, couch, or even a bed could bring some serious style (and space) to a small room, plus allow you to display photos or art without putting holes in the wall.

5. Apply Contact Paper

Do you have older appliances you’d like to freshen up? For just a couple bucks, you can invest in some stainless steel contact paper to make them at least look shiny and new again! Contact paper also comes in a wide variety of colors and styles that you can use to liven up your cabinets and refresh your countertops.

6. Replace Pulls & Knobs

This is another budget-savvy, rental-friendly upgrade that can add some flair to your home. Replace your door handles, kitchen cabinet knobs, and any other pulls with something more your style. Affordable, stylish knobs can be found on sites like Etsy and Amazon, and in stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot. Be sure to hang on to the original knobs so you can swap them back in before you move out.

7. Install a Bike Mount

If you own a bike but are short on storage, install a bike mount or other bike storage solution. Just make sure your landlord is okay with the installation since it may require some drilling.

8. Try Large Floor Mirrors

Sometimes more is more. Exhibit A: an oversized leaning mirror, which can serve double-duty as a luxe decoration and a functional mirror.

9. Invest in Houseplants

Want to add some life to your rental — literally? Look no further than a houseplant. If you don’t have a green thumb, explore hardy varieties, like air plants or even artificial plants.

10. Upgrade Your Showerhead

Installing a new showerhead is a quick, effective way to upgrade your bathroom. You could start reaping the rewards the very first time you turn on the faucet. Make sure to hang on to that original showerhead so you can reinstall it when you move out.

Recommended: How Much Does a Shower Remodel Cost?

11. Set up Room Dividers

Need to carve out space for a home office? Or maybe even make room for a closet? Buying or creating stylish room dividers can provide an instant rental update. And when you need a larger space, simply close the dividers.

12. Use a Pantry Organization System

Help bring order to the busiest spot in your home: the kitchen. Pantry organization systems come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and varieties, so you should be able to find one that works for your home and budget.

13. Update Your Blinds

It can be easy to forget about window coverings. But freshening up your blinds or curtains can add a new visual element to the room, frame a window, or help brighten the space.

14. Install Sticker Flooring

When you’re considering places to upgrade, don’t forget to look down. Changing up the flooring — even temporarily — can make a room feel brand-new. One option to consider if you have a tile floor is removable tile stickers, which come in a variety of styles, sizes, and price points.

15. Create a Kitchen Backsplash

You can also use removable stickers to freshen up a kitchen backsplash, which is a much easier and cheaper option than replacing the tiles. New to this type of project? There are online video tutorials you can watch that will show you how to get the job done.

Recommended: Renovation vs. Remodel: What’s the Difference?

16. Replace Light Switch Covers

Don’t sleep on the small details — sometimes, they can have a major impact. One example of this is swapping out basic light switch covers with ones that match the decor of your rental. Plus, new covers are generally affordable and easy to install.

17. Buy a New Kitchen Faucet

There’s something to be said for upgrading the items in your rental that you use every day, such as the kitchen faucet. Installing a new faucet is a fairly simple DIY project, provided you know how to shut off the water to your sink and use a wrench. If you’re unsure how to do either, though, you can enlist the help of a plumber. Just be sure to put the old faucet in storage so you can swap it back before moving.

18. Find a Stylish Toilet Seat

Let’s be honest: Most rentals come with a basic toilet seat. When yours just won’t do anymore, it may be time to upgrade to something more modern and comfy. You can find a wide variety of options online or in stores.

19. Paint the Molding and Trim

Before selecting color swatches, you may want to double-check with your landlord that painting is allowed. Many landlords welcome you painting your molding and trim, since it’s an easy, affordable way to update a rental.

20. Invest in Good Rugs

Quality rugs can run well into the thousands of dollars. But there are less-expensive options that are also durable and stylish. Besides protecting your flooring, a good rug can also visually anchor a room and help absorb sound.

No matter the price of your rug, you may want to consider purchasing renters insurance to protect it and your other valuables against losses.

The Takeaway

When you’re a renter, you may not be able to rip out walls or change out kitchen cabinets. But there are still simple, effective ways to transform your space without breaking the terms of your lease. While these sorts of jobs tend to be affordable, you can easily rack up quite the bill if you plan on tackling several home improvement projects at once.

That said, if you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and get some renter-friendly updates done, see what SoFi can offer. With a SoFi Home Improvement Loan, you can borrow between $5K to $100K as an unsecured personal loan, meaning you don’t use your home as collateral and no appraisal is required. Our rates are competitive, and the whole process is easy and speedy.

Turn your home into your dream house with a SoFi Home Improvement Loan.


Photo credit: iStock/CreativaStudio

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.


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.

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.

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How to Write a Letter of Explanation for a Mortgage

How to Write a Letter of Explanation for a Mortgage

Buying a house can be a fraught process, but when the market is hot, the days between offer and closing can feel endless, especially if the mortgage underwriter asks you to write a letter of explanation.

But there’s no need to panic or assume that your mortgage application will fail. The lender is simply seeking clarification about any potential red flags in your financial documents or credit history.

What’s a Letter of Explanation?

A letter of explanation for a mortgage explains details of your financial situation that may need further clarification. Because a mortgage is a large loan, lenders need to know that the borrower is capable of shouldering the mortgage.

Lenders also know that life can’t be boiled down to a spreadsheet, and that it’s not unusual for a mortgage application to include things like a late credit payment or a period of job loss.

To do due diligence, the mortgage underwriter will ask you to explain the situation in a brief letter, which will be added to your mortgage application. Additional documentation and paperwork may be required.


💡 Quick Tip: With SoFi, it takes just minutes to view your rate for a home loan online.

Why Do I Need to Provide a Letter of Explanation?

Common issues that could trigger a request for a letter of explanation include:

• Questions about your income if you don’t have W-2s or are self-employed

• Negative items on your credit report

• Employment gaps

• Your living situation if you don’t pay any rent or mortgage

• A property income or loss you claim

• Credit lines opened after you’ve put in your mortgage application

• Large deposits to, and sometimes withdrawals from, your bank account

Must I Explain a Large Deposit?

If there’s a big or unexplained deposit to your bank account, your lender may want to know where the money came from — and whether that money needs to be paid back.

A lender may also question any uneven income streams, or if deposits don’t line up with your W-2s or your tax returns.

If you received cash from, say, a parent to help with a down payment or closing costs, you may also need a gift letter signed by the giver and recipient stating that the money was a gift, not a loan. Your lender may have a template for a gift letter.

Keep in mind that your lender may be more likely to scrutinize any large deposits or withdrawals within the last 60 days.

Letter of Explanation Template

A letter of explanation is not an autobiography or an admission that you did anything wrong. It’s simply a statement of the reason for any discrepancy or issue, along with any documentation, to back up your current financial picture.

You can keep a letter of explanation brief. It should include:

• Your name and address

• Your lender’s name and address

• A subject line that includes your application number and name

• A brief paragraph explaining the situation

• A polite closing

• Your signed full name

It might look like this:

Date

Lender
Lender’s Address
Lender’s Phone Number

Subject Line (RE: John Doe’s Mortgage Application)

Letter of explanation, naming the specific item being asked about and explaining it to the best of your abilities.

Sincerely,

Applicant’s Name
Applicant’s Address
Applicant’s Phone Number

Enc.: (Relevant documentation).

The tone of the letter should be polite and factual. Remember: Your goal is not to pull on the lender’s heartstrings; it’s to reassure them that your application is solid and you would responsibly pay back your mortgage on time.


💡 Quick Tip: Jumbo mortgage loans are the answer for borrowers who need to borrow more than the conforming loan limit values set by the Federal Housing Finance Agency ($766,550 in most places, or $1,149,825 in many high-cost areas). If you have your eye on a pricier property, a jumbo loan could be a good solution.

4 Tips for an Effective Letter of Explanation

Although being asked to write a letter of explanation may sound like being assigned homework, it’s actually a great opportunity: It means you might be able to qualify for the mortgage you want, even with an imperfect application. Here are some tips to help ensure you get an A+ on this particularly important homework assignment.

1. Keep It Simple

When you’re asked to explain yourself, it can be easy to jump into a broad-reaching narrative starting from childhood, but the best letters of recommendation tend to be short and simple: They clarify the situation being asked about and reassure the lender that the “red flag” situation won’t affect the borrower’s ability to repay the loan.

2. Provide Clear Details

Generally speaking, you’ll want to specifically name whatever item you’re being asked about (late payments on a credit card account ending in 0101; an employment gap between 2/20/2020 and 9/07/2020; etc.).

Then explain. For instance, if you’re being asked about an employment gap, you might let the lender know that you were let go as a result of corporate downsizing and that you freelanced while searching for a new job.

If you’re being asked about late credit card payments, you might let the lender know that you were in the hospital at that time and thus unable to make your credit card payments, or whatever the case may be.

The key is to take responsibility for the issue and provide clear, pertinent details without being too wordy.

3. Be Honest

This may go without saying, but you definitely don’t want to lie in your letter of explanation. For one thing, doing so is likely to keep you from being approved for the mortgage — and for another, it can be considered mortgage fraud, a serious crime that can come with prison time and fines.

4. Acknowledge Responsibility, but Don’t Get Emotional

When writing a letter of explanation, you may be justifying negative items in your credit history that resulted from poor decisions — or just poor circumstances. Nobody’s perfect, but a lender simply wants to make sure you won’t default on your loan.

It can be helpful to acknowledge the ways you’ve adjusted your financial habits in response to a negative item. This helps to reassure the lender that it won’t have an impact on your ability to pay your mortgage.

For example, if you’re writing a letter of explanation to address late rent payments after a layoff, you might add that you’ve since saved up an emergency fund of three months of living expenses in order to avoid being financially blindsided in the future.

However, writing an emotional sob story won’t help. Remember: It’s a good idea to keep it simple, clear, honest, and as short as possible while still covering all those bases.

Getting Your Mortgage Application in Shape

Knowing what documents you need and what a mortgage lender will look at can help get your application in strong shape before you file it. Your lender will scrutinize your credit history and any late payments, especially ones within the last 12 months. But there are ways to proactively tackle any issues on your credit reports.

Check your credit reports. Knowing what your mortgage lender may see can help you assess where any weak points may be, and what information they may ask for.

Call the creditor if you have a recent late payment. Creditors know that accidents happen and bills may be misplaced. If your account is otherwise in good standing, it’s possible that a creditor may erase the late payment.

Focus on additional aspects of your credit. Making sure to pay bills on time and keeping your credit utilization below 30% can help build credit.

Think twice about opening accounts. Before and after applying for a mortgage, it can be a good idea to be mindful of opening new lines of credit or charging an extensive amount on current cards. Suddenly taking on more debt on credit cards can raise a red flag to lenders, which may result in being asked to write a letter of explanation.

Understanding how a lender will see your mortgage application can give you confidence and may help you head off any potential problems.

Recommended: Preapproved vs. Prequalified: What’s the Difference?

The Takeaway

A letter of explanation is when a mortgage lender needs clarity about a red flag or discrepancy that arises on your application. Knowing what to expect, having documentation ready, and answering any questions the lender may have can all be helpful in getting your home loan approved.

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.

SoFi Mortgages: simple, smart, and so affordable.

Photo credit: iStock/scyther5


SoFi Mortgages
Terms, conditions, and state restrictions apply. Not all products are available in all states. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information.


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.


*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.

Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.

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.

Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.

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What Is a Jumbo Loan & When Should You Get One?

A jumbo loan is a home mortgage loan that exceeds maximum dollar limits set by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). Loans that fall within the limit are called conforming loans. Loans that exceed them are jumbo loans.

Jumbo mortgages may be needed by buyers in areas where housing is expensive, and they’re also popular among lovers of high-end homes, investors, and vacation home seekers.

What Is a Jumbo Loan?

To understand jumbo home loans, it first helps to understand the function of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Neither government-sponsored enterprise actually creates mortgages; they purchase them from lenders and repackage them into mortgage-backed securities for investors, giving lenders needed liquidity.

Each year the FHFA sets a maximum value for loans that Freddie and Fannie will buy from lenders — the so-called conforming loans.

Jumbo Loans vs Conforming Loans

Because jumbo home loans don’t meet Freddie and Fannie’s criteria for acquisition, they are referred to as nonconforming loans. Nonconforming, or jumbo, loans usually have stricter requirements because they carry a higher risk for the lender.

Jumbo Loan Limits

So how large does a loan have to be to be considered jumbo? In most counties, the conforming loan limits for 2023 are:

•  $726,200 for a single-family home

•  $929,850 for a two-unit property

•  $1,123,900 for a three-unit property

•  $1,396,800 for a four-unit property

The limit is higher in pricey areas. For 2023, the conforming loan limits in those areas are:

•  $1,089,300 for one unit

•  $1,394,775 for two units

•  $1,685,850 for three units

•  $2,095,200 for four units

Given rising home values in many cities, a jumbo loan may be necessary to buy a home. Teton County, Wyoming, for instance, has an average home value of $1,624,087 and a conforming loan limit of $1,089,300.

Recommended: The Cost of Living By State

Qualifying for a Jumbo Loan

Approval for a jumbo mortgage loan depends on factors such as your income, debt, savings, credit history, employment status, and the property you intend to buy. The standards can be tougher for jumbo loans than conforming loans.

The lender may be underwriting the loan manually, meaning it’s likely to require much more detailed financial documentation — especially since standards grew more stringent after the 2007 housing market implosion and during the pandemic.

Lenders generally set their own terms for a jumbo mortgage, and the landscape for loan requirements is always changing, but here are a few examples of potential heightened requirements for jumbo loans.

•  Your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio. This ratio compares your total monthly debt payments and your gross monthly income. The figure helps lenders understand how much disposable income you have and whether they can feel confident you’ll be able to afford adding a new loan to the mix.

To qualify for most mortgages, you need a DTI ratio no higher than 43%. In certain loan scenarios, lenders sometimes want to see an even lower DTI ratio for a jumbo loan, or they may counter with less favorable loan terms for a higher DTI.

•  Your credit score. This number, which ranges from 300 to 850, helps lenders get a snapshot of your credit history. The score is based on your payment history, the percentage of available credit you’re using, how often you open and close accounts such as credit cards, and the average age of your accounts.

To qualify for a jumbo loan, some lenders require a minimum score of 700 to 740 for a primary home, or up to 760 for other property types. Keep in mind that a lower score doesn’t mean you won’t be able to get a jumbo loan. The decision depends on the lender and other factors, such as the loan program requirements, your debt, down payment amount, and reserves.

•  Down payment. Conforming mortgages generally require a 20% down payment if you want to avoid paying private mortgage insurance (PMI), which helps protect the lender from the risk of default.

Historically, some lenders required even higher down payments for jumbo mortgages, but that’s not necessarily the case anymore. Typically, you’ll need to put at least 20% down, although there are exceptions.

A VA loan can be used for jumbo loans. The Department of Veterans Affairs will insure the part of the loan that falls under conforming loan limits. The down payment requirement is based on the portion of the jumbo loan that’s above the conforming loan limit. The loan is available from some lenders with nothing down and no PMI. VA loans have a one-time “funding fee,” though, a percentage of the amount being borrowed.

•  Your savings. Jumbo loan programs often require mortgage reserves, housing costs borrowers can cover with their savings. The number of months of PITI house payments (principal, interest, taxes, insurance), plus any PMI or homeowner association fees, needed in reserves after loan closing depends on many factors. For a jumbo loan, some lenders may require reserves of three to 24 months of housing payments.

You don’t necessarily need to have all the money in cash. Part of mortgage reserves can take the form of a 401(k), stock portfolios, mutual funds, money market accounts, and simplified employee pension accounts.

Also, depending on the loan program, a lender may be comfortable with lower cash reserves if you have a high credit score, low DTI ratio, a high down payment, or some combination of these things.

•  Documentation. Lenders want a complete financial picture for any potential borrower, and jumbo loan seekers are no exception. Most lenders operate under the “ability to repay” rule, which means they must make a reasonable, good-faith determination of the consumer’s ability to repay the loan according to their terms. Applicants should expect lenders to vet their creditworthiness, income, and assets.

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


Jumbo Loan Rates

You might assume that interest rates for jumbo loans are higher than for conforming loans since the lender is putting more money on the line.

But jumbo mortgage rates fluctuate with market conditions. Jumbo mortgage rates can be similar to those of other mortgages, but sometimes they are lower.

Because the absolute dollar figure of the loan is higher than a conforming loan, it is reasonable to expect closing costs to be higher. Some closing costs are fixed, such as a loan processing fee, but others, such as title insurance, are tiered based on the purchase price or loan amount.

Pros and Cons of Jumbo Loans

Benefits

Because a jumbo loan is for an amount greater than a conforming loan, it gives you more options for ownership of homes that are otherwise cost-prohibitive. You can use a jumbo loan to purchase all kinds of residences, from your main home to a vacation getaway to an investment property.

Drawbacks

Due to their more stringent requirements, jumbo loans may be more accessible for borrowers with higher incomes, strong credit scores, modest DTI ratios, and plentiful reserves.

However, don’t assume that jumbo loans are just for the rich. Lenders offer these loans to borrowers with a wide variety of income levels and credit scores.

Lender requirements vary, so if you’re seeking a jumbo loan, you may want to shop around to see what terms and interest rates are available.

The most important factor, as with any loan, is that you are confident in your ability to make the mortgage payments in full and on time in the long term.

How to Qualify for a Jumbo Loan

To qualify for a jumbo loan, borrowers need to meet certain jumbo loan requirements. You’ll likely need to show a prospective lender two years of tax returns, pay stubs, and statements for bank and possibly investment accounts. The lender may require an appraisal of the property to ensure they are only lending what the home is worth.

Is a Jumbo Loan Right for You?

You’ll need to come up with a large down payment on a property that merits a jumbo loan, and some of your closing costs will be higher than for a conventional loan. But depending on where you wish to buy, the cost of the property, and the amount you wish to borrow, a jumbo loan may be your only choice for a home mortgage loan. It’s a particularly attractive option if you have good credit, a low DTI, and a robust savings account. And sometimes jumbo home loans actually have lower interest rates than other loans.

What About Refinancing a Jumbo Loan?

After you’ve gone through the mortgage and homebuying process, it could be helpful to have information about refinancing. Some borrowers choose to refinance in order to secure a lower interest rate or more preferable loan terms.

This could be worth considering if your personal situation or mortgage interest rates have improved.

Refinancing a jumbo mortgage to a lower rate could result in substantial savings. Since the initial sum is so large, even a change of just 1 percentage point could be impactful.

Refinancing could also result in improved loan terms. For example, if you have an adjustable-rate mortgage and worry about fluctuating rates, you could refinance the loan to a fixed-rate home loan.

Recommended: Guide to Buying, Selling, and Updating Your Home

Jumbo Loan Limits by State

The conforming loan limits set by the Federal Housing Finance Agency can vary based on the county where you are buying a home.

In most areas of the country, the conforming loan limit for a one-unit property increased to $726,200 in 2023 (the amount rises for multiunit properties). The chart below shows exceptions to the $726,200 limit by state and county.

State

County

2023 limit for a single unit

Alaska All $1,089,300
California Los Angeles County, San Benito, Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Orange, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Cruz $1,089,300
California Napa $1,017,750
California Monterey $915,400
California San Diego $977,500
California Santa Barbara $805,000
California San Luis Obisbo $911,950
California Sonoma $861,350
California Ventura $948,750
California Yolo $763,600
Colorado Eagle $1,075,250
Colorado Garfield $948,750
Colorado Pitkin $948,750
Colorado San Miguel $862,500
Colorado Boulder $856,750
Florida Monroe $874,000
Guam All $1,089,300
Hawaii All $1,089,300
Idaho Teton $1,089,300
Maryland Calvert, Charles, Frederick, Montgomery, Prince George’s County $1,089,300
Massachusetts Dukes, Nantucket $1,089,300
Massachusetts Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth, Suffolk $828,000
New Hampshire Rockingham, Strafford $828,000
New Jersey Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Hunterdon, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, Union $1,089,300
New York Bronx, Kings, Nassau, New York, Putnam, Queens, Richmond, Rockland, Suffolk, Westchester $1,089,300
New York Dutchess, Orange $726,525
Pennsylvania Pike $1,089,300
Utah Summit, Wasatch $1,089,300
Utah Box Elder, Davis, Morgan, Weber $744,050
Virgin Islands All $1,089,300
Virginia Arlington, Clarke, Culpeper, Fairfax, Fauguier, Loudon, Madison, Prince William, Rappahannock, Spotsylvania, Stafford, Warren, Alexandria, Fairfax City, Falls Church City, Fredericksburg City, Manassas City, Manassas Park City $1,089,300
Washington King, Pierce, Snohomish $977,500
Washington D.C. District of Columbia $1,089,300
West Virginia Jefferson County $1,089,300
Wyoming Teton $1,089,300

Source: Federal Housing Finance Agency

The Takeaway

What’s the skinny on jumbo loans? They’re essential for buyers of more costly properties because they exceed government limits for conforming loans. Luxury-home buyers and house hunters in expensive counties may turn to these loans, but they’ll have to clear the higher hurdles involved.

If you’re interested in refinancing a jumbo mortgage at competitive rates, consider SoFi. You can prequalify online and put as little as 10% down.

With SoFi, you can see your new rate in just minutes.

FAQ

What are jumbo loan requirements?

Jumbo loans typically require a credit score of at least 700, a low DTI, and a down payment of at least 20%, although there are always exceptions.

What is the difference between a jumbo loan and a regular loan?

A jumbo loan is a home mortgage loan that exceeds maximum dollar limits set by the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Jumbo loans are typically used by buyers in regions with higher-priced housing but are also popular among luxury homebuyers and investors.



SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.


SoFi Mortgages
Terms, conditions, and state restrictions apply. Not all products are available in all states. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information.


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.

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.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

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