The high down payment, high-interest rates, and closing fees are some of the main obstacles to homeownership.
Luckily, some loans have been rolled out to solve these challenges. One is the USDA loan program that offers zero-down payments and low-interest rates to eligible borrowers. We have covered more about USDA loans in the sections below.
Are you a Hometown Hero? Find out your eligibility for the Hometown Heroes Loan Program in Brevard County, Florida.
What are USDA Loans?
USDA loans are government-backed loans guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The loans are processed and funded by USDA-approved lenders, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture only guarantee them in case of default. USDA loans are available to qualifying first-time and repeat homebuyers who want to purchase primary residential properties.
Unlike FHA and conventional loans, USDA loans don't attract an upfront down payment making them quite attractive. However, these loans are meant for low to medium-income borrowers and can only be used to purchase houses in rural and suburban areas.
That said, there are two types of USDA loans: USDA guaranteed and USDA direct loan programs. The main differences between the two are the targeted borrowers and the source of funds. With USDA-guaranteed loan programs, the lenders fund the total loan amount, and only the USDA guarantees them. These loans also target low to medium-income borrowers, i.e., whose income doesn't exceed 115% of the area median income (AMI).
The "USDA loan" we'll constantly be referring to in this article is the USDA guaranteed loan. Unlike its counterpart, these loans are funded directly by the USDA, so borrowers submit their applications to the USDA, not the mortgage lenders. The USDA direct loan, however, targets borrowers with very low income, i.e., whose income falls below 50-80% of the AMI.
USDA Loan Qualification Requirements
To qualify for the USDA loan program, you must meet a set of requirements, most of which could vary from one lender to another. We have highlighted the main qualification requirements below.
Your income limit is one of the main factors determining whether you qualify for USDA loans. Lenders will often use three income types to assess the borrower's eligibility. These are:
Qualifying income – refers to the borrower's or co-borrower's income, including base income and any bonus, overtime, or commission earnings. It helps determine whether you can afford monthly mortgage payments based on the loan amount requested.
Eligibility income is the total income for the members of your household, including those who aren't borrowers. Lenders need to know the total household income to ensure it doesn't exceed 115% of the area income limits.
- Adjusted eligibility income – refers to the net household income after subtracting deductions such as childcare expenses and medical expenses.
The 2022 USDA adjustable eligibility income loan limits are $103,350 for households of one to four members and $136,600 for families with 5 to 8 members. In homes with more than eight members, an 8% increase is applied to the 1-4 member household limit for each additional household member. The actual income limit for your unique case will depend on the specific neighborhood your home is located in, Brevard County. So you may want to consult your lender.
Most USDA-approved lenders require borrowers to have a minimum FICO credit score of 640. The higher the borrower's credit score, the lesser the perceived risk the lender will incur in approving your loan. This will also mean lower interest rates on your loans. If you have a credit score below 640, you should apply for your loan with different lenders. This increases the chances of landing a more flexible lender who will approve your application and still offer competitive rates.
Debt-to-income (DTI) ratio determines the borrower's ability to make monthly mortgage payments while still meeting the day-to-day financial obligation. A higher DTI ratio means the borrower has more expenses than income and may not stick with the loan payment terms.
Most lenders want a DTI of no more than 41%, but this isn't fixed, and every borrower's situation varies. For instance, a lender may approve a lender with a 50% DTI ratio provided they have an excellent credit score, significant savings, and a consistent income.
If your debt to income ratio is higher than 41% and you have minimal chances of qualifying for the USDA loan, you should take some time to plan your finances and repay more of your debts. You can also clear high-interest credit card loans and consolidate the remaining loan for easy management. Another way is to get a part-time job that will increase your income and help lower the DTI.
USDA-approved lenders look for specific factors to determine whether a property qualifies for funding. Some of the main conditions that a home must satisfy are:
Property type – the home must be a single-family unit that serves as a primary residence. Multifamily properties or homes purchased for investment purposes do not qualify.
Property size – the property should be modest and be at least 400 square feet. However, it must not exceed 2,000 square feet.
Available amenities and structure – the home should have adequate access to water, heat, and wastewater systems. It should also feature a functioning plumbing system and meet all the building regulations.
- USDA appraisal guidelines – the property must also pass the USDA appraisal process by a government-approved appraiser.
USDA loans promote homeownership and boost growth in rural and suburban areas. That means not all residential locations or homes within Brevard County, FL, will qualify for funding. Here are some benchmarking criteria to help you find a home in an area that will qualify for USDA loans. Ideally, these areas should:
Have a population that doesn't exceed 10,000, i.e., for rural areas/open country.
Have a population that doesn't exceed 20,000 for areas not designated as Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs).
- Severely lack of mortgage opportunities for low to moderate-income borrowers.
To be sure that the home you are about to buy is eligible, consult your real estate agent or lender.
USDA Mortgage Insurance Premium
All USDA loans attract a mortgage insurance premium for an upfront fee of 1%. An additional 0.35% is added to monthly payments for the loan duration. However, this mortgage insurance premium (MIP) shouldn't be confused with the premium mortgage insurance (PMI) common with FHA and conventional loans.
Unlike USDA mortgage insurance premium, PMI differs for every loan product and is higher than the USDA's MIP. For instance, FHA loans attract a 1.75% upfront fee and an additional 0.85% monthly payment until the borrower has built 20% equity in their home. You can pay the 1% fee upfront using gift funds or seller contributions and further lower the cost of the loan.
USDA Loan Application Process
The USDA loan process is similar to other loans, except that it goes through two approval stages, one by the lender and another by the USDA. Below is a detailed USDA loan application process.
Prequalification means finding a USDA-approved lender and checking with them if you are eligible for the loan. The lender will often ask for a few details, such as your gross monthly income, other assets (if any), total monthly debts, and how much you want to borrow. And since prequalification is critical to determining your overall eligibility, most lenders will request your permission to make a hard credit inquiry. This will tell you more about your credit score, debt-to-income ratio, and how you can improve them.
Unlike the prequalification stage, preapproval is more thorough and will consider your actual income and financial data. During preapproval, the lender will pay attention to your personal and payment documents such as pay stubs, W-2s & tax returns, photo ID, bank statements, etc.
The lender will refer to your credit score and calculate your debt-to-income ratio. Once they have all these ready, including your adjustable eligible income, they will determine your eligibility and the loan amount you can receive. Getting preapproved by the lender is critical, but it's not a guarantee of getting a USDA home loan.
Find a USDA-Approved Home
The house-hunting process can be easy or challenging, depending on the market dynamics and your unique housing needs. After your lender has preapproved your loan application, you'll have a preapproval letter showing that you are indeed eligible for USDA funding. If the demand for homes is low, more sellers will be glad to have a USDA-preapproved buyer.
However, if the demand is high with more buyers than sellers, some sellers may prefer buyers with cash deals and faster closing. Choosing your real estate agent can be quite beneficial, especially when negotiating home prices and choosing the best homes in the approved locations.
Underwriting and Loan Processing
Suppose you have found a USDA-approved loan; you'll proceed to make an offer and sign a purchase agreement with the seller. The lender will then order a USDA appraisal to ensure the property meets all the standards. Afterward, the application proceeds to underwriting for further verification of all the data and documents submitted.
This is a two-step process and will take longer than conventional mortgages. The USDA underwriting can be done manually or automatically. If your application goes through this step, the final stage is loan closing.
After the underwriting process, the lender and the USDA will sign off your loan file, and you'll be cleared to close. During closing, you and the seller must sign all the paperwork before assuming ownership of the new home. If it's your very first time buying a home, always work with a trustworthy real estate agent who will guide you from start to finish.
Why USDA Loans?
USDA loans offer several benefits to qualifying borrowers, which include but are not limited to:
100% financing, thanks to the 0% down payment requirement.
Relatively lower mortgage insurance premiums.
Competitive interest rates. This will largely depend on the lender you choose to work with.
You can use gift funds and down payment assistance programs to settle any upfront fees.
- Allows multiple property types provided they are one-unit homes. These include condos, manufactured homes, fixer-uppers, and even land for constructing a new residential home.
Top Outdoor Fun Activities in Brevard County, Florida
Brevard County is well-known for its historic allure, artistic culture, and exceptional on-water activities. It also offers excellent educational options, and the job market is thriving. The all-year warm weather and proximity to the ocean are the other benefits. For these and more reasons, Florida's Brevard County is rapidly becoming a sought-after residential place for retirees, millennials, and young families. Here are the outdoor activities you can do in Brevard County, FL.
Visit the Brevard Zoo
Brevard Zoo is a top-notch zoo that is an excellent family destination. Besides having over 900 different animals on show worldwide, they also host various fun activities for visitors of all ages. Visit the petting zoo, where kids can feed the animals or take them on a train ride around the zoo. You can also get on the zip line or take the world's only kayak trip inside a zoo, and you'll enjoy it.
Additionally, the Brevard zoo hosts several community events and environmental initiatives in the region. They take pride in their efforts to safeguard different wild animals and the larger ecosystem they live in.
Enjoy Dolphin & Manatee Sightseeing Tours
Few experiences are as exciting or unforgettable as viewing marine creatures in the wild. Manatees are some of Florida's most well-known indigenous celebrities, and they are often seen in the ocean and rivers along Brevard's space coast. Because of their friendly nature, these tropical creatures are a well-liked attraction.
You can take pictures of the "manatee footprint" visible when searching for these chubby mermaids. Manatees can be seen from the shore, observation platform, or up-close from a rented kayak, depending on the time of year. The payoff for keeping an eye on the footprint is that you create unique memories, thanks to the views of a flat, paddle-shaped tail or a pair of beautiful nostrils encircled by whiskers.
Visit the Kennedy Space Center
Of all Brevard's attractions, The Kennedy Space Center is among the most inspirational. This facility offers tours and entertaining activities like watching a shuttle launch, standing underneath enormous rockets, and meeting veteran astronauts. Most of NASA's explorations involving human space flight began here.
You can even try a docking simulator or the Shuttle Launch Experience if you have the necessary gear. Other features include the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, the Space Shop, the Astronaut Memorial, and the Rocket Garden.
Take a Day Trip to Historic Cocoa Village
Take a break from the beach and spend some time in Cocoa Village, a little neighborhood with a lot of history and unique experiences. You'll find numerous stores, eateries, attraction sites, live concerts, and a farmer's market. Seasonal events are also held in the Historic Cocoa Village, including Mardi Gras, Art and Craft Fairs, and Music at the Gazebo.
If you plan to spend time with your family, there are many family-friendly places to explore in Cocoa Village. One of the renowned restaurants with exceptional views of the area is Ryan's Pizza & Pub. Additionally, Cocoa Village features boutiques and other specialized stores where you can buy unique art, antiques, and souvenirs. The Cocoa Village is perfect for individuals with a flair for style and discovering treasures.
Brevard County, Florida, is arguably a surfing paradise in Florida. This area offers a variety of surf spots from Cocoa Beach to Sebastian Inlet. Cocoa Beach has long been regarded as the East Coast Surfing Capital and is home to Kelly Slater, an 11-time World Surfing Champion. This famous beach offers the best surfing from October to March. Because there are no rocks or reefs, making it easier for beginners to walk their boards out without risk. Sebastian Inlet and RC's Satellite Beach are the other surfing spots popular among the locals.
If you are relocating to or buying your first home in Brevard County, FL, several opportunities await you. USDA loans offer an easy route to homeownership, thanks to the low-interest rates and zero down payment. Ensure you meet the loan qualification requirements before applying and, where possible, seek professional help when selecting USDA-approved homes in Brevard County. Get approved for a USDA down payment loan today and be one of the proud homeowners living in the county.