If you’re shopping for an expensive home or searching in a hot real estate market, you may find that the amount you need to borrow exceeds the loan limits for traditional loans, which is $484,350 in most counties.
Your best option could be a jumbo loan, which allows you to borrow a larger sum of money for a property than with a conforming loan. A conforming loan is a mortgage that “conforms” to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac requirements regarding credit, debt and loan size.
Jumbo mortgages and conforming home loans have many similarities, but there are some key differences to be aware of, including the amount of down payment, cash reserves and credit score you’ll need to qualify.
What is a jumbo loan?
A jumbo mortgage, or jumbo loan, is a home loan that’s bigger than the conforming loan limits set by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Also called non-conforming mortgages, jumbo loans are considered riskier for lenders because these loans aren’t guaranteed by Fannie and Freddie, meaning the lender is not protected from losses if a borrower defaults.
Jumbo loans are typically available with either a fixed interest rate or an adjustable rate, and they come with a variety of terms. You may need a jumbo loan if the amount you need to borrow is over the federal conforming loan limits in your county. Use the tool below to see conforming loan limits across the U.S.
Qualifying for a jumbo loan
Underwriting criteria for jumbo loans are stricter because the loans are larger and riskier for lenders.
Lenders may require your FICO score to be higher than 700, and sometimes as high as 720, to qualify for a jumbo loan.
» MORE: Jumbo loan calculator
Lenders will also consider your debt-to-income ratio (DTI) to ensure you don’t become over-leveraged, though they may be more flexible if you have plentiful cash reserves. Some lenders have a hard cap of 45% DTI, however.
You’re more likely to be approved for a jumbo loan if you have ample cash in the bank. It’s not uncommon for lenders to ask jumbo loan borrowers to show they have enough cash reserves to cover one year of mortgage payments.
To prove your financial health, you’ll need extensive documentation, perhaps more than for a conforming loan. You should be prepared to hand over your full tax returns, W-2s and 1099s when applying, in addition to bank statements and information on any investment accounts.
Some lenders may require a second appraisal of the home you’re planning to purchase.
Jumbo loans vs. conforming loans
The key difference between a jumbo mortgage and a conforming loan is the size of the loan. For a thorough look at the two, and the pros and cons of each, read about the differences between conforming and nonconforming loans.
Among the other factors that differentiate jumbo loans from conforming loans:
Heftier down payment
While low down payments are fairly common on conforming loans, jumbo loans are more likely to require a down payment of at least 20%, though some lenders may go as low as 10%.
Potentially higher interest rates
Jumbo mortgage rates may be slightly higher than those on conforming loans, depending on the lender and your financial situation. However, many lenders can offer jumbo loan rates that are competitive with rates on conforming loans — and some may even offer slightly lower rates depending on market conditions, so make sure to shop around.
Higher closing costs and fees
Because jumbo loans are bigger and there are some extra qualifying steps, expect higher costs at the closing table.
The loan limit for conforming loans varies by county because some real estate markets are much pricier than others. For 2019, the conforming loan limit for one-unit homes in most counties nationwide is $484,350. However, in “high-cost areas,” especially in the Northeast and on the West Coast, conforming loan limits are expanded to $726,525 — and even higher in a few other places.