The USDA home loan program enables eligible applicants to buy a home located in a USDA-designated rural area with no down payment. Saving money for a down payment can be one of the biggest challenges to buying a home, especially for people with low-to-moderate incomes. By enabling borrowers to finance 100% of the purchase price of a home, the USDA program makes home ownership more affordable for people living in rural communities.
The mortgage rate on a USDA home loan is typically lower than the interest rate for most low or no down payment programs. The interest rate for a USDA mortgage is lower because the loan is insured by the USDA and borrowers are required to pay upfront and ongoing USDA mortgage insurance fees, which are also called guarantee fees. The USDA backing and insurance essentially guarantee that the lender will recover the full amount of the loan in event the borrower defaults on the mortgage. The lower mortgage rate on an USDA loan reduces your monthly mortgage payment and potentially saves you thousands of dollars in total interest expense over the life of the loan.
The USDA home loan program requires borrowers to pay upfront and ongoing monthly mortgage insurance fees but the fees are lower than for many other low or no down payment mortgage programs. As of October 1, 2016, the upfront USDA mortgage insurance fee is 1.0% of the loan amount and the monthly mortgage insurance fee is .35% of the loan amount. In comparison, for an FHA loan the upfront mortgage insurance premium is 1.75% of the loan amount and the monthly mortgage insurance premium ranges from .80% to 1.05% of the loan amount for a 30 year mortgage. Additionally, for most borrowers the monthly USDA mortgage insurance fee is usually less than what monthly private mortgage insurance (PMI) would be for a similar loan -- most conventional mortgages require borrowers to pay PMI if you make a down payment of less than 20% of the property purchase price. The one negative of USDA mortgage insurance as compared to private mortgage insurance is that you are required to pay monthly USDA mortgage insurance for the life of your loan whereas PMI is removed when your loan-to-value (LTV) ratio reaches 78%.
Unlike many no or low down payment programs, the USDA home loan program does not apply loan limits that restrict the size of mortgage borrowers can obtain. For example, both the FHA and VA mortgage programs use loan limits. The USDA home loan program does use borrower income limits but not having loan limits makes the program accessible to more people and potentially enables you to buy a nicer home.
The USDA home loan program applies several property eligibility guidelines that reduce the number of borrowers who can use the program. The property being financed with a USDA loan must be located in a USDA-designated rural area or small community. USDA-designated rural areas comprise approximately 95% of the land in the United States representing over 100 million people. Most homes, however, are located in major cities which means they not eligible for the program. You can use the USDA's property eligibility tool to determine if a property is located in USDA-designated rural area. Other USDA program eligibility requirements include that the property must be a single-family primary residence such as a home or condominium that is in good condition. Unlike some other low or no down payment programs, multi-family properties are not eligible for the USDA program. Borrowers should make sure that the property they want to buy is eligible for the USDA home loan program before moving forward with the mortgage application process.
The USDA home loan program uses somewhat more conservative borrower qualification requirements as compared to other low or no down payment mortgage programs. To qualify for a USDA home loan, borrowers are typically required to have a minimum credit score of 620 as compared to the 500 to 580 minimum credit score required for the FHA mortgage program. Additionally, the USDA program applies a borrower debt-to-income ratio of 41% to determine what size mortgage you can afford as compared to the 43% - 50% or higher debt-to-income ratios used by the FHA and other programs. The debt-to-income ratio represents the maximum percentage of a borrower's monthly gross income that can be spent on total monthly housing expense (mortgage payment plus property taxes, homeowners and mortgage insurance) plus other monthly debt such as credit card, student and auto loans. The lower the debt-to-income ratio used, the smaller the mortgage you qualify for. The USDA program does permit a higher debt-to-income ratio for borrowers with higher credit scores and stronger financial profiles.
The USDA home loan program applies a maximum gross income limit to how much money borrowers can make. Borrowers who earn more than the income limit are not eligible for the program which means many borrower cannot use the USDA program, even if they live in a USDA-designated rural area . USDA borrower income limits vary by county and by the number of people in the borrower's household with the larger the household, the higher the limit. The income limit for the USDA guaranteed home loan program is typically 115% of the median household income for the area in which the property is located. The income limit for the USDA direct loan program is typically 50% - 80% of the median household income for the area. You can review USDA home loan program income limits for your county on the USDA web site.
Review our comprehensive overview of the USDA home loan program including property eligibility guidelines as well as borrower qualification requirements and income limits.
Use our USDA Home Loan Qualification Calculator to determine what size USDA loan you can afford based on your monthly gross income and debt. The calculator also shows you the up-front and ongoing monthly USDA mortgage insurance fees (guarantee fees) based on your mortgage amount.
USDA guaranteed mortgages are provided by traditional lenders such as banks, mortgage banks, mortgage brokers and credit unions. Use our rate table to review updated mortgage rates and fees for lenders in your area. Comparing rates from multiple USDA home loan lenders is the best way to save money on your mortgage.
Review and compare multiple government-backed and conventional low or no down payment mortgage programs to understand key program benefits and borrower eligibility requirements.
"Single Family Housing Guaranteed Loan Program." USDA Rural Development. U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2020. Web.