What is a Conventional 97 Loan Program?
The 97% loan-to-value (LTV) purchase program allows homebuyers to purchase a single-family home, condo, co-op, or PUD with just a 3% down payment. The program is named for the 97% remaining mortgage balance.
Now that conventional 3% down loans are a reality, buyers have a real alternative to FHA loans (the low down payment federal mortgage loan backed by the Federal Housing Administration). While the FHA loan has its benefits, it comes with high upfront fees and permanent mortgage insurance. The new conventional 97% LTV program is a safer bet for the future. It’s a low down payment loan — with no upfront mortgage insurance fees and cancellable private mortgage insurance (PMI).Check today’s rates on a 3% down payment conventional mortgage.
In this article:
- Conventional 97% LTV loan guidelines
- Credit score requirements
- Conventional 97% LTV mortgage rates
- Conventional 97% LTV FAQ
- Our recommended LTV lenders
The new 3% down loan is similar to existing conventional loan programs. Rates are low and lenders who offer the program are widely available.
Many of today’s home buyers will meet the guidelines for this new loan option. Three percent down loans with the following characteristics will be considered for approval:
- The mortgage is a fixed-rate loan.
- The property is a one-unit single-family home, co-op, PUD, or condo.
- At least one buyer has not owned a home in the last three years.
- The property will be the owner’s primary residence.
- The loan amount is at or below $548,250
These features align well with the typical first-time homebuyer’s profile. For instance, most buyers today are looking for a one-unit home (as opposed to a duplex or triplex), or a condo that they plan to live in as their primary residence, and they’re likely to be seeking something with a lower purchase price.Click here to check your eligibility for the conventional 97% LTV program.
Today’s average home price is around $250,000 according to the National Association of Realtors, putting most homes nationwide in reach with just a 3% down payment.
Many homebuyers assume they need impeccable credit scores to qualify for a loan that requires just 3% down. That’s not the case.
According to Fannie Mae’s Loan Level Price Adjustment (LLPA) chart, a borrower can have a score as low as 620 and still qualify.
What’s even more impressive when reviewing the LLPAs is that some borrowers will receive the same or lower rate for a 3% down loan compared to those with 20% down.
For instance, a borrower putting 20% down (80% LTV) and a 660 score will receive a rate increase of about three-eighths of one percent because of their credit score and LTV combination. The same borrower who puts 3% down will receive approximately the same rate.
That might not make sense until you realize that mortgage insurance takes risk off of Fannie Mae and the lender. If the borrower defaults, the mortgage insurance company reimburses the owners of the mortgage. The 20% down loan does not require PMI, but the 3% down loan does.Check today's 97% LTV rates here.
The mortgage insurance would make the 3% down option more expensive on a monthly basis. However, the borrower’s down payment requirement is substantially lower, allowing them to buy a home much sooner, or buy at all.
And remember that non-FHA mortgage insurance is cancellable. When the loan balance reaches 78% of the property’s value, PMI automatically drops off.
Homeowners who choose the conventional 97% LTV loan option will end up with a great fixed interest rate, and after paying down the loan balance, no more PMI.
Mortgage rates for the 3% down payment program are based on standard Fannie Mae rates, plus a slight rate increase.
But these loans will come with rates only about a one-eighth to one-quarter of one percent higher than rates available to borrowers putting 5-10% down.
The fee or rate increase is minimal compared to the value added from earlier home buying.
Someone buying a $250,000 home would pay about $60 more per month by choosing the 97% loan option compared to a 5% down loan.
Yet, the buyer reduces their total upfront home buying costs by over $5,000.
The time it takes to save an extra 2% down payment could mean higher home prices and tougher qualifying down the road. For many buyers, it could prove much cheaper and quicker to opt for the 3% down mortgage immediately.Click here to check today’s 97% LTV loan rates.
Is there a minimum credit score for the 3% down payment program?
Borrowers need a credit score of 620 or higher to receive any Fannie Mae-backed loan. The exception would be those with non-traditional credit who have no credit score. Check with your lender, however, since they could require a higher score than do will require traditional credit with a 640 or 660 minimum score for this program.
Can I use down payment gift funds?
Yes. Fannie Mae states gift funds may be used for the down payment and closing costs. There is no minimum amount the borrower has to put toward the purchase from their own funds.
Can I buy a condo or townhome?
Yes. Buyers can purchase a condo, townhome, house, or co-op as long as it is only one unit.Click here to see if you qualify for the 97% LTV program.
Can I buy a manufactured home with 3% down?
No. Manufactured homes are not allowed with this program.
Can I buy a second home or investment property?
No. The 97% loan program may only be used for the purchase of a primary residence.
I owned a home two years ago but have been renting since. Will I qualify?
Not yet. You must wait until three years have passed since you had any ownership in a residence. At that point, you are considered a first-time home buyer and will be eligible.
Will mortgage insurance companies provide PMI for the 97% LTV home loan?
Yes. Mortgage insurers are on board with the program. You do not have to find a PMI company since your lender will order mortgage insurance for you.
How much is mortgage insurance?
Mortgage insurance varies widely based on credit score, from $75 to $125 per $100,000 borrowed, per month.
Can I get a conforming jumbo loan with 3% down?
No. There are loan limits for this program. At this time, high balance, also known as conforming jumbo loans – those that are over $548,250 – are not eligible.
I’m already approved putting 5% down, but I’d like to make a 3% down payment instead. Can I do that?
Yes. Your lender can re-underwrite your loan if they offer the program. Keep in mind your debt-to-income ratio will rise with the higher loan amount and potentially higher rate.Shop around for 3% down home mortgage rates. Click here for a free quote even if you're already approved at another lender.
What’s the maximum debt-to-income (DTI) ratio for the 97% LTV program?
Your overall profile including credit score determines your DTI maximum. While there’s no hard-and-fast number, most lenders set a maximum DTI at 43%. This means that your future principal, interest, tax, insurance, and HOA dues plus all other monthly debt payments (student loans, credit card minimum payments) can be no more than about 43% of your gross income.
Can I use the 3% down program to refinance?
Yes. If you have an existing Fannie Mae loan, you may be able to refinance up to 97% of the current value. It might allow borrowers to lower their monthly payments or eliminate mortgage insurance premiums. This could be useful to homeowners who are not HARP eligible because their loan was opened after May 31, 2009.
Why is the program only for first-time home buyers?
Fannie Mae’s recent research uncovered that the biggest barrier to homeownership for first-time homebuyers was the down payment requirement. To spur more people to buy their first home, the minimum down payment was lowered.
Are there income limits?
The standard 3% down program does not set limits on your income. However, the HomeReady 97% loan does require the borrower to be at or below 80% of the area’s median income.
What is a HomeReady mortgage?
This is a program that requires 3% down. It has flexibilities built in, such as using income from non-borrowing household members to qualify.
|97% LTV Standard||HomeReady|
|First-time home buyer||Not required||Required|
|MI coverage||25% MI coverage for LTV ratios of 90.01-97%; standard MI coverage for LTV ratios of 90% of less||Standard MI coverage|
|Homeownership education and housing||If all occupying borrowers are first-time homebuyers then at least one borrower must complete homebuyer education.||For purchase transactions with LTV, CLTV, or HCLTV > 95%, if all occupying borrowers are first-time homebuyers, then at least one borrower must complete homeownership education|
|Pricing||Standard risk-based LLPAs waived for LTV ratios >80% with a credit score of 680 or greater.||Standard risk-based LLPAs (based on loan risk characteristics)|
What is the Home Possible Advantage program?
This is Freddie Mac’s 3% down home buying program. It is a lot like Fannie Mae’s HomeReady. Borrowers must not make more than set income limits and must be buying a primary residence.
How to get a conventional 97 loan?
Those interested in the new 3% down programs can apply today. This mortgage program is available immediately from lenders across the country. Talk with your lenders about the loan requirements today.
A seemingly small rule change means that borrowers can take advantage of historically low-interest rates and achieve their homeownership goals sooner, with less money upfront.Click here to apply for the 97% LTV home buying program.