USDA Rural Development Guaranteed loans provide lucrative financing for families that fall into the low-income bracket for their area. It is a great way to get a low rate and flexible qualification guidelines. The one caveat to the USDA RD loan program is that you must purchase or live in (for a refinance) a home in an eligible rural area. The USDA determines the areas considered rural for their loan program and the data changes periodically. If you want to know the exact boundaries at any given time, their website provides up-to-date information to help get you started. The loan application for the USDA program goes through the USDA-approved lender of your choosing as well as the USDA as the lender has their own overlays they require for loan funding and the USDA has theirs as well. The funding comes directly from the USDA mortgage lender rather than any government agency – the USDA simply guarantees the loan should you default on your payments in the future. These loans are also referred to as “Section 502 USDA Guaranteed Loans“.

Benefits of Financing a Rural Home with a USDA Loan

100% Financing – Zero Down payment allowed

USDA Single Family Housing Guaranteed Loan Program provides a guarantee to USDA lenders. This enables lenders to extend home loans to borrowers up to 100% on eligible properties. Basically, USDA is the best source for home buyers to purchase a rural home with zero down payment.
The credit qualifications for USDA home loans are quite flexible. Due to the security offered by the USDA RD guarantee, mortgage lenders can confidently make financing available even to borrowers with checkered credit history. If they fulfill the other lending guidelines and loan requirements, they can apply for a USDA loan and expect to be qualified. Unlike conventional loans, there is no minimum credit score needed for USDA eligibility, but the lender underwriting your rural home loan may still have certain credit score cutoff limits for approval.
While major credit events such as bankruptcy, foreclosure, or a short sale are enough to stop any prospect of securing funding under conventional lending guidelines, USDA allows borrowers to qualify for financing after a few years have passed from the event. About two to three years is all that is needed to become eligible for a USDA mortgage after bankruptcy, foreclosure, or short sale.
Currently, the required upfront mortgage insurance that needs to be paid is 2.75%. This amount needs to be paid right at the closing. This amount doesn’t repeat and is just a one-time payment. In addition to this, an annual amount of 0.5% needs to be paid based on the annual loan balance. These payments are lower than comparative government-insured home loan programs such as FHA, VA, and Fannie Mae HomeReady loans.
The primary requirement to qualify for a USDA home loan is property eligibility. Basically, the single-family rural home that you purchase needs to be in a designated rural area. The USDA rural loan map clearly marks all the areas that come under the rural designation. While the term ‘rural’ may be somewhat misleading, the actual reality is that most of the country, up 75% of the nation’s land mass is USDA eligible. So you can actually find a home quite close to towns and cities and still meet USDA property eligibility requirements.

How to Apply for a USDA Loan through an Approved Lender

In order to apply for a USDA loan, you have to approach a USDA-approved lender. Don’t assume that every lender in your area is approved for this loan type – you should ask around before you start applying. If you are unable to find a lender through your contacts or referrals, use our comprehensive directory on this site to do so quickly and easily. Once you find a lender or two you wish to apply with, you will need to fill out a loan application form. On this form, you will disclose all of your personal information that is necessary to determine if you qualify for the loan. Some of the information you will need to provide includes:

  • Name and address
  • Length of residency at that address
  • If you lived at your current address for less than 2 years you will need to provide your previous address
  • Employer information
  • Income information
  • Current debts

Once you sign and turn in the USDA application, the lender will pull your credit to make sure your credit score is not below 580 because if it is you are immediately ineligible for the USDA guaranteed loan program. In addition, the lender will determine if your income falls within the income guidelines for the USDA program. If you make too much, you will not be eligible for the program, but the lender can help you find a different rural home program if possible.

USDA Mortgage Loan Underwriting Process

The underwriting process for USDA loans is somewhat similar to any other loan type. The approved USDA lender needs to determine your debt-to-income ratio to see if they line up with the USDA guidelines. The front-end ratio should be around 29 percent or lower, which means your total mortgage payment including taxes and insurance needs to be less than 29 percent of your eligibility income, otherwise known as your gross monthly income. In addition, your back-end ratio, or the total monthly debts cannot exceed 41 percent of your gross income unless you have a debt ratio waiver, which some lenders allow if you have a high credit score; stable income; or plenty of reserves on hand. While the lender evaluates your credit report for your current debts, they will look for any bankruptcies or foreclosures reporting. If this is the case, at least 3 years must elapse before you can apply for this program. In addition, if you have any unpaid collections, you must put a plan in place to either pay them off before you close on the loan or make a payment arrangement with the debtor. The only exception to this rule is any federal debts – they must be paid in full before you can get the loan.

In addition to your gross monthly income or eligibility income, the lender needs to determine your adjusted income. This is the number used to determine if you are eligible for the USDA program. Unlike other programs, if your income is too high, you will not qualify for the program as it is meant for low-income families. The adjusted income is your gross monthly income minus any allowances which are as follows:

  • $480 off of your gross income if you have a child or children under the age of 18 living with you
  • $480 off of your gross income for children over 18 that are full-time students and living with you
  • $480 off of your gross income for any disabled relatives living with you
  • $400 off of your gross income for any elderly relatives living with you

Once the lender determines that your income qualifies you for the program, they need to ensure that the property you purchase or refinance falls within the USDA rural boundaries. Because these boundaries change from time to time, even if you already have a USDA loan and wish to refinance, the lender must check the boundaries to ensure that you do not fall outside of them now.

Last, but not least, your home loan financing lender needs to look closely at your housing history. If your credit score is below 620, the last 12 months are the most important as if you have even one late housing payment during that time, you will not be eligible. If your score is over 620, however, the maximum amount of late housing payments allowed is 2 within the last 3 years. In addition, if you have more than one late payment on any other debts during the last 12 months, you are no longer eligible for the USDA RD loan program.

Closing the USDA Guaranteed Loan

Closing on a loan with USDA lenders is the same as any other loan type. If you chose to pay your USDA closing costs upfront, you will have to bring cash to the closing table. This includes your funding fee of 2.75 percent of the loan amount. If you choose to wrap your funding fee and closing costs that include processing, underwriting, title, recording, and tax fees into the loan, you just bring yourself to the closing to sign the paperwork to fund and start your loan for your USDA purchase or refinance.