Skip to Content

Knowledge Center



Jumbo vs Conventional loans

Jumbo vs Conventional Loans: Which Should You Choose?

Throughout your homeownership journey, you'll need to make lots of decisions - none bigger than the property you ultimately wind up selecting, of course. But another major choice is the loan you take out.

Much like houses themselves, there are lots of loan products to pick from. Two of the more common options are conventional loans and jumbo loans. While they have a number of similarities, there are even more differences between them. And while you have probably heard of each, you may not know exactly how they work or what they are. And in the debate over jumbo vs conventional loan products, you may also be wondering which one is right for you.

This explainer should help you find the answer:

Should I use a jumbo loan or conventional loan?

Before you can decide which one is the better fit for you, it pays to know what they're all about. For starters, as the name implies, conventional loans are the most popular mortgage product of them all, largely because they offer the greatest variety of options to borrowers. This includes selecting the length of time you choose to pay off the loan - 30 years being the most common - the down payment amount, and the interest type. A fixed-rate loan means the interest rate stays the same for the life of the loan while an adjustable-rate changes over time, influenced by market dynamics and the terms of the mortgage provider. Interest rates on ARMs may be slightly higher or lower than market value, which makes them ideal for those who are comfortable with variability.

Conventional loans are also conforming loans, yet another term you've probably heard mentioned before. It essentially means that they conform to - or abide by - the terms and conditions established by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which are government-sponsored entities that ultimately buy loans, and then package and sell them as mortgage-backed securities to investors.

That's a thumbnail sketch of what conventional loans are, but they have a number of advantages addressed further a bit later. 

As for jumbo loans, as the term "jumbo" suggests, they're for houses that typically sell for significantly more than the national median. Similar to conventional loans, jumbo loans come with options, as borrowers get to decide the term length - usually in five-year increments - and whether they'll pay interest on a fixed- or adjustable-rate basis. However, unlike conventional loans, these are non-conforming, meaning they don't abide by Fannie and Freddie guidelines and therefore are not backed by the GSEs.

One of those guidelines established by GSEs is how much money would-be buyers can borrow to pay for a home purchase, which is also known as the conforming limit. The maximum can vary depending on the state and county you live in, but generally speaking, the maximum is $484,350. In other words, if you're looking to buy a residence, but the selling price is $500,000 or more, a conventional loan wouldn't be your best option.

That's where a jumbo loan may be a better alternative because it allows you to borrow money above the limits established by Fannie and Freddie. Of course, there's a little bit more to it than price point when choosing between jumbo vs conventional loan products, and these aspects can also help you decide which is the better option.

What are the advantages of jumbo vs conventional loan options?

As noted by The Mortgage Reports, perhaps the biggest upside of conventional loans is that they're among the least restrictive in terms of qualification standards. The down payment is a classic example. Many people rightly assume 20% is a common amount put forward as a lump sum down payment. But that can be a difficult ask for first-time buyers who may be just graduating from college or are raising a family. Fortunately, the down payment can be for much less than this, as low as 3% in some cases.

Requirements for credit scores - which help lenders assess your ability to pay off bills - also tend to be looser. The minimum for conventional loans is a FICO® score of around 620, which is below the overall applicant average of roughly 720, according to estimates compiled by The Mortgage Reports.

Jumbo loans also have their highlights. None is more prominent than the high loan amount you may be eligible to borrow, above $1 million depending on your qualifications, which is determined in the application process. However, because these products involve more money - thus more risk for the lender - the approval standards aren't as lenient compared to conventional loans. For example, while jumbo loans allow you to select how much you want to
spend as a down payment, the minimum is usually 20%, which means you may not need to purchase private mortgage insurance as a result. Your FICO® score will also need to be slightly higher than with a conventional loan.

 

The same goes for your debt to income ratio, or DTI. This calculation is something lenders use to determine how much of your earnings go toward regularly occurring expenses, and is calculated by adding up your monthly debt payments and dividing that sum by how much you make over the same period before taxes are applied. The ideal is a low debt to income ratio - 43% or less, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. A DTI of 43% is usually the maximum to still be considered eligible for a jumbo loan.

Is a jumbo loan better than a conventional loan?

There's a common saying in the housing industry: All real estate is local.

In other words, what's considered the norm or the rule all depends on where you are, both in geographic location and financial circumstances. With this in mind, there's no such thing a jumbo vs conventional loan being better than the other. If you're in a comfortable situation financially and live in a city where the cost of living is high, a jumbo loan may be ideal. However, if you're just starting out, a conventional loan may be up your alley.

By talking it out with your mortgage loan officer, you'll discover together which mortgage is the best fit for you.