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Difference Between Government Loans And Conventional Loans

Embarking on the journey to buy a house is an exciting yet complex endeavor, and at the heart of this adventure lies a pivotal decision – choosing the right mortgage. It’s not merely a financial transaction; it’s a commitment that will shape your homeownership experience. Before diving into the sea of mortgages, taking the time to thoroughly compare various options and assessing which one is most suitable for your situation is paramount.

There are two main options when it comes to mortgages: government-backed and conventional loans. Each mortgage type brings its own set of characteristics to the table, differentiating them in terms of requirements, costs, borrowing amounts, and more. Let’s explore the nuances that distinguish these two paths to homeownership.

Government-Backed Loans

These loans are backed by federal agencies and are designed to make homeownership more accessible. They often come with lower down payment requirements and more lenient credit score standards, making these loans an attractive option for families with limited financial resources or lower credit scores. 

Conventional Loans

On the other side of the spectrum, conventional loans are not government-backed and are instead offered by private lenders. They usually require a higher credit score and a more substantial down payment than government-backed alternatives. However, conventional loans offer greater flexibility regarding loan amounts and terms.

The Primary Difference

The main distinction between a government-backed loan and a conventional loan lies in the source of guarantee and approval. A government loan receives backing from a U.S. government agency, assuring that the government will intervene and partially repay the lender if the borrower defaults. This support facilitates lending to higher-risk individuals and allows lenders to extend more favorable terms and interest rates.

Examples of government loans, such as FHA, USDA, and V.A. mortgages, are specifically tailored for veterans, military members, and their spouses, providing them with unique benefits.

Conversely, conventional loans are issued by private mortgage lenders without the backing of the U.S. government. Lenders in this category have more discretion in determining approval criteria and the types of loans they offer.

Distinction Between Government Loans and Conventional Loans

While both government-backed and conventional loans play crucial roles in the homebuying landscape, choosing the right option depends on various factors, including your credit score, the type of home you’re purchasing, the amount you have saved, and other individual considerations. Let’s explore a few additional key distinctions between these loan types.

1. Credit Score Requirements

Government loans usually have easier eligibility requirements than conventional ones. For example, if your credit score is between 500 and 579, you are qualified for an FHA loan, while conventional loans usually require a higher score, often in the upper 600s. V.A. and USDA loans don’t have a minimum credit score, offering more flexibility.

2. Mortgage Insurance Requirements

Mortgage insurance is a common feature with government-backed loans, protecting the lender in case of borrower default. For instance, FHA loans involve an upfront and annual mortgage insurance premium, while V.A. and USDA loans have funding fees and guarantee fees, respectively.

Necessary for conventional loans with a down payment of less than 20%, this fee is usually included in your monthly payment. The expense of Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) can fluctuate based on various factors. On an annual basis, the average cost spans from 0.46% to 1.5% of the loan amount. For example, on a $400,000 loan, this averages out to approximately $153 to $500 per month.

3. Types of Property Investment

Government loans are designed exclusively for primary residences, indicating the home where you plan to live on a full-time basis. Therefore, if you’re looking to purchase a vacation home, a second residence, or an investment property, government loans are not a viable option.

On the other hand, conventional loans provide more flexibility regarding property types. Whether you aim to own a vacation home that can be rented on platforms like Airbnb while you’re away or invest in rental properties, investment homes, or even multifamily properties, a conventional loan typically accommodates these diverse property scenarios.

4. Down Payment Criteria

Down payment requirements can vary widely among different loan types, whether they are government-backed or not. Some government loans, specifically V.A. and USDA loans, may not require a down payment, but eligibility is restricted, such as being a military member or purchasing in a rural area.

For other government loans like FHA, down payments typically range from 3.5% to 10%. The actual percentage depends on your credit score; a lower credit score may necessitate a higher down payment to mitigate perceived risks.

While a 20% down payment is considered standard if you want to forgo mortgage insurance, conventional loans for primary residences often offer flexibility, allowing down payments as minimum as 3% or 5%. However, opting for a higher down payment can result in a lower interest rate and an overall more affordable loan.

5. Loan Limits

This year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has increased FHA loan limits for most U.S. counties. For one-unit properties, the limits range from $498,257 in most areas to $1,724,725 in high-cost regions and certain territories. FHA borrowers can now have a larger budget for their home purchases. 

V.A. loans, tailored for veterans and active-duty service members, no longer have specific loan limits for those with full entitlement, allowing them to forgo a down payment. However, limits still apply to borrowers with remaining entitlement, varying based on county home values, with a conforming loan limit of $766,550 for most areas in 2024 and a potential high of $1,149,825 in high-cost housing markets. 

USDA loans are meant for low to moderate-income families who have set income limits to ensure accessibility. This requires the household income to be within local USDA limits to qualify for this zero-downpayment option across all 50 states.

Most conventional mortgages are subject to caps known as “conventional loan limits” or “conforming loan limits.” These limits, set at a county level and tied to local home prices, dictate the maximum loan amount you can qualify for. The baseline loan limit for 2024 is $766,550, meaning you can typically borrow up to this amount if your credit and financial situation align with the lender’s criteria.

However, in areas where real estate prices surpass the average, these limits may be higher to accommodate the cost of living. If you require a loan exceeding these conventional limits, you might explore “jumbo loans,” which are specialized for larger amounts and often available from lenders willing to extend substantial loans to highly creditworthy applicants.


Navigating the realm of mortgages involves crucial decisions that can significantly impact your homeownership journey. Understanding the distinctions between government-backed and conventional loans is essential for making an informed choice.

At BondStreet, our experts understand your current financial status and budgetary limits to select appropriate mortgage options for you that meet your preferences and needs. We help you understand the differences between the terms and conditions of each government and conventional loan options.

Take the next step towards your homeownership dreams with the right mortgage options from BondStreet.

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