FHA vs. Conventional Loans
While many people deciding on a loan product rely exclusively on their lenders recommendation, you should understand the basic difference between an FHA loan and a Conventional Loan. The term Conventional Loan includes all loans under the current FNMA and FHLMC lending limits. Some of these may be called Conforming, A paper, subprime, Alt A, A Minus, BC (bad credit) and other industry names.
Most people that have heard of FHA loans tend to associate them with purchase money transactions. While purchases are the most common use, FHA loans are also available for rate and term refinance loans as well as Cash Out refinances.
The main advantage of a fha vs conventional loan is that the credit qualifying criteria for a borrower are not as strict as conventional loan financing and the down payment or Equity requirements are less. In comparing a purchase money FHA loan against a Conforming or A paper loan, the FHA loan will generally have the least amount of money required to close and the lower payment, see fha vs Conventional loan comparison (pdf file). FHA loans will allow the borrower who has had a few "credit problems" or those without a credit history to buy a home. An FHA Underwriter will require a reasonable explanation of these derogatories, but will approach a person's credit history with common sense credit underwriting. Most notably, borrowers with extenuating circumstances surrounding a bankruptcy that was discharged 2 years ago can be approved for maximum financing. Conventional A Paper financing, on the other hand, would require 4 years to have passed to be eligible for consideration and relies heavily upon credit scoring. If your score is below the minimum standard, you will not qualify or you will be place in a higher rate Subprime, Alt A or A minus loan product.
If a borrower does have past credit issues an FHA loan may be significantly cheaper than an alternative loan such as subprime, ALT A, or A minus. These other programs generally have higher interested rate of require a larger down payment or Equity position. Many of these alternative loan products have Pre Payment penalties where as FHA loan do not have such penalties.
Below is a sample comparison of a hypothetical situation: