The FHA has its origins in the Great Depression, as a method for people down on their luck to secure a loan without much upfront cost. Given the current recession’s similar circumstances, it may be expected that FHA loans would increase in popularity around this time. That isn’t the case at all, because now there’s competition. FHFA loans — those backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac — are currently a better deal.
The normally low upfront cost of FHA loans is countered by the fact that they have mortgage insurance premiums (MIPs), part of which is an upfront cost. This means that you are spending more over the life of the loan than with a conventional loan even with an equal interest rate. This MIP can be cancelled after 11 years if the down payment was at least 10%. However, the appeal of an FHA loan was the minimum down payment of only 3.5%, so this circumstance rarely came up.
But now, 3.5% isn’t even the lowest minimum down payment. FHFA loans have adopted a 3% minimum. What’s more, their upfront costs are actually lower, with no upfront mortgage premium. The MIP cancellation criteria are also different: The down payment amount and loan length don’t matter, and it can instead be cancelled whenever the home equity reaches 80%. Given that it’s rare for a house to be owned for 11 years, especially for first-time buyers who benefit the most from low down payment minimums, this flexibility is highly attractive.