In other words, a USDA loan is the right product for you if you want to buy a property in Madison County but do not have any money saved up for a down payment.
These loans are designed for borrowers who do not qualify for FHA and conventional mortgages. Keep reading to learn how to obtain this loan to purchase your dream home in Madison County, Florida.
Are you a Hometown Hero? Find out your eligibility for the Hometown Heroes Loan Program in Madison County, Florida.
What are USDA Loans - A Quick Overview
USDA loans are mortgage programs sponsored by the government through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA-approved lenders fund these loans, but the government pays a portion of it if the borrower defaults. These loans target low to medium-income borrowers who earn less than 115% of their Area Medium Income (AMI).
The loans can only be used to finance specific properties in rural and suburban areas and homes that pass USDA appraisal. USDA loans attract lower interest rates, and the mortgage insurance costs are also subsidized. We have covered the loan qualification requirements and more in the sections below.
USDA Loans Qualification Requirements
Before your USDA loan is approved, you must meet the following set of conditions:
Income Limit Requirements
USDA loans target individuals with low to middle income. Therefore, only applicants whose income falls at or below the USDA income limit will be considered. The USDA determines the eligibility of a loan borrower using three different income calculations. These are:
USDA Qualifying Income - used to determine the borrower's ability to repay the loan.
Annual Household Income - this represents the combined projected income of each adult household member. Every adult occupant's income will count toward the household limit regardless of whether they are included in the loan.
- Adjusted Annual Household Income - This is calculated by deducting allowable expenses from your yearly income, and it is used to determine whether you fall within the program's income limits.
The general USDA income limits are $103,500 for 1-4 member households and $136,600 for 5-8 member households.
Credit Score Requirements
Even though most lenders demand a credit score of at least 640, those with lower scores can still qualify. This is because the USDA has not established a hard minimum. Some lenders may approve your application with a slightly lower credit score, provided you have confidence in your ability to repay.
Try submitting applications to different lenders if your credit score is lower than 640. This allows you to compare quotes from various businesses to ensure you're getting the most competitive interest rate and the best deal.
USDA loans are intended to assist people in rural areas purchase a primary residence. According to USDA, a rural area is an open region or an upcountry with a low population and no advanced infrastructure or buildings. Rural or suburban areas fall in either of these categories:
Places not designated as Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) and with a population of 20,000 or less.
Regions that lack mortgage options for borrowers with low and moderate incomes.
- Places with a population of 10,000 or less that are in rural or open-country settings or have a rural character.
USDA establishes fundamental property standards that safeguard homebuyers and lenders. Here are some of the property requirements:
The property must be the homebuyer's primary residence.
Be a modest residential building with a minimum square footage of 400 and a maximum of 2,000.
The building must have enough utilities, including water and wastewater disposal.
The location must have direct access to a road, street, or driveway.
- The property must not possess an area of land big enough to be divided or developed into a commercial property.
Additionally, USDA loans cannot be used to buy a property that generates income. The property might still be eligible, though it may contain barns, silos, commercial greenhouses, or livestock facilities that are no longer used for profit-making purposes.
Your debt-to-income ratio (DTI) compares your monthly debt payments to your monthly income. It refers to the portion of your gross monthly income (pre-tax) used to pay off debts like rent, mortgage, credit cards, and other obligations.
USDA loans have a maximum DTI limit of 41%. However, if other aspects of your application are vital, such as an excellent credit score or sizable savings, lenders may still approve you for USDA loans. That is, despite having higher DTIs (usually below 50%). Before applying for a USDA loan, work on paying down your debt. Or by increasing your income to lower the DTI to 41% and below.
USDA Loan Application Procedure
A USDA loan follows a step-by-step application process like any other mortgage product. We have covered the basic loan application procedure below:
Pre-qualification for a USDA loan is a less formal process in which you give the lender general information regarding your income, assets, debts, and expenses. This information calculates the loan amount you can afford and your potential approval eligibility. This crucial step can help you save time and effort by narrowing the types of homes you are likely to afford.
Similarly, most lenders will also want your consent to conduct a thorough credit review at this time. Pre-qualifying for a USDA loan will make it easier to spot income, debt, or credit concerns that may make the USDA loan application challenging.
USDA Loan Pre-approval
USDA loan approval is a more formal and thorough process in which the lender evaluates your income and credit requirements to check your eligibility. The lender will ask to verify your personal and financial documents such as bank statements, photo ID, W-2s, and paystubs from the last two years. If you pass the pre-approval process, you will be awarded a certificate of pre-approval, and you can proceed to look for a USDA-eligible home.
USDA loans encourage home ownership in rural and suburban areas. Luckily, nearly 97% of the country's land area is categorized as rural or suburban, so you can expect that most residential homes in Madison, Florida, will qualify for financing. To make your work easier, you can navigate the property market and discover homes that qualify for USDA funding by working with an agent who has experience with USDA loans. Your pre-approval letter demonstrates to sellers that you are a qualified USDA buyer who's likely to close.
Signing a Purchase Agreement
Once you've found the ideal house, you'll put up an offer with the help of your realtor. If the seller is willing to cover a portion or all of your closing fees, this is the time to discuss it with them. After you and the seller sign the purchase agreement, your lender will request a USDA loan appraisal. The USDA mandates appraisals as a legal cover for homebuyers, distinct from house inspections.
After the home passes the appraisal, your lender will start the process of underwriting your new mortgage. The USDA will also review your file during this time to make sure you meet all eligibility requirements. Due to the two-party approval approach used with the USDA loan program, the underwriting procedure can take longer than it would for conventional mortgages. Once the loan application passes the underwriting stage, it proceeds to the final step.
Final Approval & Closing
Once your loan file has been thoroughly reviewed, and both the lender and the USDA are satisfied, you'll be informed that you're "clean to close." Typically, you should expect loan closing to be complete within a few days. You can then arrange your legal closing and finally claim ownership of your new house.
USDA Loan Mortgage Insurance Premium
Every mortgage product attracts mortgage insurance if the down payment is less than 20% of the loan amount. USDA loans have a zero down payment requirement; hence borrowers must pay an insurance fee called a mortgage insurance premium (MIP). The latter protects the lender if the borrower passes away, defaults, or isn't in a position to meet the contractual loan payment obligations.
Unlike private mortgage insurance (PMI), common with conventional mortgages, MIP is slightly cheaper. A mortgage insurance premium is charged as a fixed 1% of the loan amount and an annual 0.35% of the loan amount payable monthly installments throughout the loan period. On the other hand, PMI is charged at a higher rate, but the borrower stops contributing once they have built a 20% equity in their home.
Benefits of USDA Loans
USDA loans offer several benefits to U.S. citizens looking to purchase primary residential properties in various regions across the United States. Compared to conventional loans or even other government-sponsored mortgage products, USDA loans come with the following advantages:
Zero Down Payment
Not having to pay any cash down is a huge benefit that borrowers get from USDA loans. The minimum down payment for FHA and conventional mortgages often ranges between 3% and 3.5% of the loan amount. A mortgage of $350,000 would translate to $10,500 to $12,250 needed upfront. Most borrowers with low to medium income may not save up such an amount, so USDA loans are a perfect solution to the down payment burden.
Lower Interest Rates
USDA loans attract a lower-than-market interest rate making monthly payments relatively lower than what you would pay for FHA or conventional mortgages. With the latter, the interest rates often depend on your credit score and the amount of down payment. This isn't the case for USDA loans, as the rates are usually fixed for every approved lender.
Flexible Credit Requirements
Since USDA doesn't set the base credit score requirements, lenders can choose their base credit score. Most lenders set a FICO score of 640 as the minimum requirement, but others may be a bit lenient. For this reason, borrowers with lower credit scores can qualify for home financing.
Closing Cost Assistance
Like any other mortgage, borrowers must pay closing fees after the lender processes the USDA loans. The price ranges from 2% to 5% of the loan amount, which can be expensive. Luckily, USDA allows borrowers to use some closing cost assistance programs to settle this amount. These assistance programs include grants, forgiveness loans, gift money, and seller concessions.
You Can Purchase Different Property Types
With a USDA loan, you can only purchase a primary residential property that's single-unit. However, you can choose from different property types such as condos, townhouses, manufactured homes, and upper-fixers. You can also use the USDA loan to purchase land to build a new construction home. This level of flexibility allows borrowers to choose what works the best for their unique circumstances.
The Outdoor Activities You Can Enjoy in Madison County, Florida
In the north-central region of Florida, Madison County has a rich history evidenced by the exclusive landmarks, quiet country roads, well-nurtured culture, and seasoned festivals. Residents of Madison enjoy several social amenities, from adequate infrastructural facilities to recreational centers, playgrounds, and state parks.
If you consider buying a Madison County home, you'll love it here. Below are a few outdoor activities you can enjoy in this Florida County.
Explore the Ragan Family Campground & Waterpark
Formerly the Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park, Ragan Family Campground & waterpark is the perfect place to take your family out on a weekend, vacation, or holiday. This family-friendly environment offers several fun activities with spacious RV campsites, barbecue grills, picnic tables, fire rings, laundry facilities, and comfort stations, to mention a few.
You and your little ones will enjoy Ragan's water zone, equipped with a 60-foot water slide and a zero-entry swimming pool. There's also a 1/4 mile long Lazy River where your kids will enjoy sliding and splashing into or relaxing on the lounge chairs beside the river. You can also rent a cabin to accommodate you and your family and enjoy quality family time away from the everyday home environment.
Visit the Treasurers of Madison Museum
If you would love to learn more about the cultural heritage and history of Madison County, the Treasurers of Madison Museum is the place to be. The structure was built in 1892 and is one of the only remaining structures in Florida covered with galvanized sheet metal façade. Sheet metals were used in the late 1800s for architectural ornamentation, replacing iron as the metal of choice.
Visit this building and learn more about the history of William Turner's son, Charles Edgar, and grandson, William Turner Davis — the only father and son. They served as the President of the Florida State Senate in 1915 and 1955, respectively.
Enjoy Family Fun Time in Nearby Parks
Madison County, Florida, is home to several state parks, from the famous Madison Blue Springs to the historic Haffye Hays Park. The Madison Blue Springs, in particular, features a first-magnitude spring popular among scuba divers and expert swimmers. At about 25 feet deep and 82 feet wide, the spring turns into a limestone basin along the west bank of Madison's Withlacoochee River. The scenic views of mixed pines and hardwoods create the perfect setting for paddling, picnicking, and wildlife viewing.
Haffye Park features a small lake, a picnic pavilion, playground equipment, and a gazebo. You'll also spot a memorial of Ray Charles, the musical genius known for his significant influence on blues, rock, jazz, gospel, and country music.
Go Biking or Hiking the Four Freedoms Trails
If you want to explore Madison County on foot or bike, the Four Freedoms trails offer an ideal opportunity for you & your family. The 12-mile trail runs from Madison to the Withlacoochee River on the Georgia border. Picnic facilities and covered rest areas are also found along this paved, grade-separated trail. Similarly, the Four Freedoms trails are great for horseback riding and trail running.
If you are a long-distance cyclist, you can also try the 97-mile loop route that starts and stops in downtown Madison. The loop is popular among seasoned cyclists and has hosted several biking competitions over the last 25 years.
Paddle Through the Withlacoochee River
The Withlacoochee River runs northward, forming the boundary between Madison and Hamilton counties. Due to the river's scenic qualities with perfect meandering, crystal-clear springs, and beautiful hardwood forests on the sides, the Withlacoochee River has been officially listed as a state-designated Florida paddling trail. Pick your kayak or canoe and paddle along this wild and gorgeous river, and your family will enjoy an incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Now that you understand the USDA loan qualification requirements and how to apply for the loans, choose a credible lender to work with and proceed to find a home that suits your needs. Madison County is a great residential area with great amenities and exclusive outdoor activities, which you and your family will enjoy. Get pre-approved today and secure home financing to become a homeowner.