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USDA Loan Benefits: Advantages & Disadvantages of USDA Loans

By Neighbors Bank Team January 26, 2024

When it comes to purchasing a home, navigating the complex world of mortgages can be overwhelming. For those seeking a path to homeownership with unique advantages, a USDA loan might be the solution.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers a loan program specifically designed to assist individuals and families in rural areas in achieving homeownership. Exploring the benefits of this program is the first step in making an informed decision about whether a USDA loan is the right choice for you.

The Pros and Cons of USDA Loans

To better understand the benefits of USDA loans, it’s important to consider both the advantages and disadvantages of a USDA mortgage. See the chart below for an overview of the pros and cons of a USDA loan:

Pros Cons
No down payment Income limits
Competitive interest rates Property restrictions
Relaxed credit requirements Occupancy requirements
No PMI requirement USDA program fees
Penalty-free repayment Longer underwriting timeline

USDA Loan Advantages: What are the benefits of a USDA loan?

No Down Payment

One of the most significant benefits of USDA loans is that they do not require a down payment. This aspect is especially helpful for first-time homebuyers who may not have substantial savings for a traditional down payment. By eliminating this upfront cost, USDA loans open the door to homeownership for a broader range of individuals.

It's important to note that borrowers still have the option to make a down payment if they wish, which could potentially lead to lower monthly payments. However, the absence of a down payment requirement offers borrowers flexibility in how they allocate their funds.

Competitive Interest Rates

USDA loans come with a unique perk: the U.S. Department of Agriculture backs them. This partial government backing lowers the risk for lenders, letting them provide better interest rates for USDA loans than they can for other loan types. Over time, this can save you a lot of money and make owning a home more affordable.

Relaxed Credit Requirements

Unlike some other loan programs, USDA loans do not have a strict credit score requirement. While many USDA lenders may look for a minimum FICO credit score of around 640, borrowers falling below this threshold might still qualify for home financing. A borrower’s eligibility depends on a combination of other financial factors and if the lender perceives them as a risk.

At Neighbors Bank, we look for a minimum FICO credit score of 620.

No PMI Required

One of the exceptional benefits of USDA loans is that they do not require Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI). PMI is typically required on conventional loans when a borrower makes a down payment of less than 20%.

The reduced risk associated with these loans makes PMI unnecessary from a lender’s perspective. Eliminating the cost of PMI further reduces the monthly financial burden for USDA borrowers.

Penalty-Free Prepayment

Unlike many other loan options, USDA loans do not penalize borrowers for paying off their loans early. Paying off a mortgage early may be a smart financial move for some borrowers, as it reduces the amount you accumulate in interest over time. While other mortgage types come with prepayment penalties, USDA loans allow borrowers to pay down their mortgage faster with no negative financial consequences.

USDA Loan Disadvantages: What are the downsides of a USDA loan?

Income Limits

To qualify for a USDA loan, your household income must fall within 115% of the local median household income. While this restriction ensures that the USDA loan program targets those in need, it may limit eligibility for borrowers with higher incomes.

Property Restrictions

Properties must be located in a designated rural area to be eligible for USDA financing. Additionally, the home must meet USDA's minimum property requirements. These restrictions help direct the program's benefits to those seeking homes in less densely populated areas, but they can limit options for borrowers looking in more urban environments.

Occupancy Requirements

USDA loans come with specific occupancy requirements. For example, a home financed by a USDA loan must serve as the borrower's primary residence. Properties financed through this program cannot be second homes, vacation homes or income-generating properties. Borrowers are also required to move into the home within 60 days of closing, and only immediate family members may occupy the residence.

USDA Program Fees

While USDA loans do not require PMI, they do have their own program-related fees: the upfront guarantee fee and the annual fee.

The guarantee fee is typically around 1% of the total loan amount, while the annual fee is 0.35% of the loan balance, which is rolled into the monthly payment. Despite these fees, USDA program costs are often lower than the expenses associated with private mortgage insurance or fees from other loan programs.

Longer Underwriting Timeline

USDA loans require a more comprehensive underwriting process, which can lead to a longer underwriting timeline compared to other loan types.

During underwriting, lenders must verify additional factors such as property location and income eligibility, and the property must complete the USDA appraisal process. While this extended timeline may be a drawback for those seeking quicker approval, the benefits of the loan program outweigh this inconvenience for many USDA borrowers.

Are USDA loans a good idea?

USDA loans offer a range of benefits, from a $0 down payment to relaxed credit requirements, that can make homeownership more accessible and affordable for individuals and families in designated rural areas. However, there are certain disadvantages to consider, such as income limits, property restrictions, occupancy requirements, USDA program fees and a potentially longer underwriting timeline.

Whether USDA loans are a good idea for you depends on a variety of factors, such as your individual financial situation, desired property location and willingness to meet the program's requirements. If you're considering a USDA loan, reach out to a Neighbors Bank specialist today to explore your loan options.

Written by:
Neighbors Bank Team
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