Purchase a fixer upper with an FHA 203(k) Purchase and improvement loan

When you think of housing in America, you might imagine upscale city lofts, sprawling hillside mansions, and quaint suburban neighborhoods. However, these picturesque places are not truly representative of the housing situation that many Americans actually face. In fact, there’s a large percentage of people who live outside these urban and suburban locales. These rural areas are mostly populated by hard working citizens, many of who fall into the low-income bracket. For this Americans, it can be a serious challenge to finding adequate housing that also fits into their limited budget.

Luckily, in recent years, major strides have been taken to tackle the housing problem in rural areas head on. When it comes to affordable housing solutions for rural and low-income areas in America, the United States Department of Agriculture has long been at the forefront. Providing mortgage solutions for low to modest income families for the purpose of getting safe, adequate, and affordable housing is something that the USDA does incredibly well.

USDA loans may at first sound like mortgage loans for farmland, but the reality is that these mortgage products are simply designed specifically for the families who inhabit the more rural portions of America. Surprisingly, this even includes areas just outside of city limits, so rest assured, you don’t need to grow crops in order to qualify. The USDA mortgage program stands out for having some of the best loan terms on the market for those who meet the qualifications.

USDA loans have an interesting set of eligibility criteria, and even maximum income limits in place, to ensure that these loans are only obtained by the people who they were designed for -- the families that really need them. For single-family home purchases in rural America, the USDA section 502 single family direct homeownership loan is definitely the mortgage to beat. It offers borrowers with low-to-moderate income a solid chance of homeownership-- and a tangible way to buy a safe, solid, clean, and reliable shelter for themselves and their families.

What is the USDA Single Family Direct Homeownership Loan?

Repeat and first time home buyers with low to modest income situated in rural areas of the country can find affordable mortgage solutions thanks to section 502 of the United States Department of Agriculture’s rural development mortgage program. In particular, section 502’s single-family direct homeownership loan is the perfect home loan for families that may not be able to qualify for a conventional mortgage given their current financial situation. The single family direct homeownership loan program provides low-interest, fixed-rate home loans for qualified individuals to purchase modest housing.

Single-family direct homeownership loans were specifically designed with low-to-moderate income families in mind. These mortgages often require no down payment and have competitive interest rates that make them one of the most affordable loans a homeowner can get. Home buyers interested in single-family direct homeownership loans must meet certain eligibility requirements set by the USDA in order to qualify for the program, including meeting a maximum household income limit. These limits are determined on an area by area basis, in order to give families a fair chance at obtaining the financing they need.

According to the USDA, single-family direct homeownership loans were meant to help low to moderate income families of designated rural communities to buy, repair, build, and own safe and affordable homes. As defined by the USDA, these rural communities must have populations of 35,000 or less. The USDA even requires borrowers to attend credit counseling, to make sure that they are better suited to avoid defaulting on the loan and prevent any possible risk of foreclosure.

While it may sound too good to be true, the aim of the USDA rural development department has always been to promote stronger rural communities. To do this, it provides affordable mortgages to these families, in the hopes of boosting the general prosperity of rural areas. Improved quality of life through the origination of low-interest home loans is a winning formula that seems to uplift entire communities and helps them tackle many of the harsh realities of rural living. 

How Does the Single-family Direct Homeownership Loan Work?

Since the single-family direct homeownership loan is so impactful to rural homeowners, many are left wondering how the USDA manages to pull it off. After all, unlike many other government-insured loans, the “direct” nature of the loan arises from the fact that borrowers must seek out their local USDA office in order to get one, rather than deal with a mortgage broker or lender, as is the case with VA loans and FHA loans. There are many other oddities surrounding the single-family direct homeownership loan as well, so just how does it work?

For starters, the most burning question many borrower have is how the loan manages to be so affordable. In truth, the USDA has mentioned that the program works by utilizing payment assistance programs to keep the costs low. The funding for the payment assistance comes from subsidies whose sole intent is to drive the monthly mortgage payments and overall loan cost down through low interest rates and no down payment requirements.

Borrowers are eligible to receive loan amounts based on the limits imposed on their area by the USDA. Loan amounts are also partly determined by a borrower’s ability to repay the loan. This is determined upfront through the Single Family Housing Direct Eligibility Assessment tool, which takes into consideration factors including a borrower’s monthly income, household composition, monthly debts, property location, estimated property taxes, and even estimated hazard insurance.

The USDA also provides a useful tool to determine the set income limits by location, so that borrowers can determine their eligibility for the program. To ensure that the loan’s costs remain affordable for each borrower, there are federal regulations in place that limit the estimated monthly house payment, insurance, real estate taxes, and other debts to 41% or less of the borrower’s gross monthly income. While there are no strict guidelines as to what credit scores are required for the program, borrowers must be able to prove that they will be able to repay the loan.

The single-family direct homeownership loan itself is only offered as a fixed rate mortgage, with varying loan term lengths, depending on what works best for the borrower. Through the available payment assistance, interest rates for the single-family direct homeownership loan can be as low as 1%. Additionally, loan terms are offered with extended terms of either 33 years, or up to 38 years for eligible borrowers who may not be able to afford the monthly payments of the 33 year term.

Rebuilding a home with an FHA 203(k) Home Loan

Uses for the USDA Single-family Direct Homeownership Loan

The funding from a USDA single-family direct homeownership loan must be used in accordance with guidelines set by the USDA rural development department. Since the loan does not come from a lender, but rather the USDA itself, the loan proceeds can be utilized for a wide variety of tasks. Borrowers can utilize the single-family direct homeownership loan to buy a new home, repair an existing home, refinance a mortgage to avoid foreclosure, or even build a new home.

The loan can even be used to cover the costs of transporting and installing a manufactured home to a different location. As if that weren't enough, the single-family direct homeownership loan can be utilized for the repair, renovation or rehabilitation of an existing property or property being purchased as well. Funding can be put towards the improvement of the site itself, like connecting the property to existing municipal water or sewage lines.

The USDA allows funding to be allocated to construction on a home that would make the home more affordable for the borrower than other alternatives. That even includes making upgrades to the home to make it more accessible for someone with disabilities.

Benefits of the USDA Single-family Direct Homeownership Loan

There isn’t much to pick at with the USDA rural development section 502 loan. These awesome mortgage products come with an absurdly low interest rate, sometimes as low as 1%. Even if that were the only benefit, it would still be more affordable than a good number of similar loans.

As if that alone weren’t impressive enough, these mortgages do not require a down payment to be made, and also do not require mortgage insurance. The upfront affordability is limited only to what a borrower must pay in closing costs, which the USDA estimates to be between $1,000 and $1,200. Still, this is a drop in the bucket when compared to other loan offerings.

Another absolutely awesome benefit of the USDA Single-family Direct Homeownership Loan is the flexibility a borrower has with how they can utilize the funds. Borrowers are able to fund a home purchase, refinance, renovation, rehabilitation, even the construction of a new dwelling. The possibilities are seemingly endless.

The USDA Single-family Direct Homeownership Loan is a one of a kind loan, designed to give families who would not be able to qualify for conventional financing a real path to home ownership. The best part is that if you are a family that needs the USDA Single-family Direct Homeownership Loan, there is a good chance that you qualify. The USDA doesn’t put a heavy focus on credit scores for eligibility, rather it sets the requirements to ensure that the people who need the loan most are able to obtain one.

Drawbacks of the USDA Single-family Direct Homeownership Loan

The Single-family Direct Homeownership Loan is absolute miracle for many prospective homeowners, and, in our opinion, has very few faults. That being said, there are a couple of things borrowers should know about this form of financing before diving in head first. Primarily, it’s important to realize that the eligibility requirements for this loan were designed to only attract a specific type of borrower.

Qualifying for the section 502 loan, believe it or not, is actually much harder for borrowers with a solid financial situation. One of the first things scrutinized is a borrower’s income, which must be between 50% and 80% of the area median income. Another requirement is that the borrower must not have access to adequate or safe housing at the time of applying.

The USDA has also placed restrictions on the areas eligible for Single-family Direct Homeownership financing. Borrowers must ensure that the property they wish to finance is within a USDA designated “rural” area. Additionally, homes purchased through the program are meant to be modest, and cannot have a swimming pool or produce any kind of income.

It might also be annoying to some borrowers that there is mandatory counseling that must be completed by applicants. The mortgage process can be a difficult time for any home buyer, and the last thing anyone wants is a class to attend in addition to their other responsibilities.

USDA Single-family Direct Homeownership Loan Guidelines

The Single-family Direct Homeownership Loan is an incredible solution for many rural Americans who want to own a home. Still, it is a loan, and borrowers must meet specific eligibility criteria in order to qualify for and obtain it. Additionally, restrictions are placed on the areas of availability as well as the property types and condition of any property that the loan is to be used for. 

FHA 203(k) Purchase and Improvement Loan

USDA Single-family Direct Homeownership Loan Borrower Eligibility Criteria

The first, most important note regarding eligibility is the specification of who the loan is intended to be used by. For starters, the loan is only available to applicants who fall within the low to very low area median income (AMI) requirements established by the USDA. As defined by the USDA, low income families are those with income levels between 50% and 80% of the area median income, and very low income families would be those with income levels below 50% of the area median income. Potential borrowers can also check their income eligibility here.

Additionally, borrowers must not qualify for home financing through any other means, be it conventional or government sponsored, at terms within their affordability. To take things a step further, applicants must also not have housing that could be considered safe or adequate at the time of applying. Still, being approved for the section 502 loan is dependent on the borrower’s ability to prove that they will be able to repay the loan.

If the previous requirements have all been met, then the program follows more general eligibility requirements. In order to qualify for the USDA single-family direct homeownership loan, borrowers must:

  • Have the ability to incur debt

  • Meet pertinent citizenship or U.S. residency requirements

  • Intend to occupy the property as a primary residence

  • Not be suspended or debarred from participation in federal programs

  • Demonstrate what can be considered as a “satisfactory” credit history

  • Demonstrate the ability to pay the USDA-set monthly mortgage payments

  • Demonstrate the desire to repay the mortgage

Borrowers are also required to attend financial counseling to better prepare them to repay the loan. Counseling is usually arranged by the rural development office in locations within or near the eligible rural communities. Typical counseling subjects include (but are not limited to) readiness for homeownership, the loan closing process and costs, credit counseling, budgeting, types of mortgages, delinquency prevention, and avoiding foreclosure.

USDA Single-family Direct Homeownership Loan Property Requirements

The USDA has scheduled Single-family Direct Homeownership Loan property requirements for all eligible rural communities. It is important to note that a rural community can be a self-contained pocket within a larger, metropolitan area, and not just an area far outside of metropolitan boundaries. Borrowers are able to check the eligibility of a property utilizing the USDA’s Property database.

The USDA requires that homes financed through their mortgage programs meet certain standards, in order to ensure that they are structurally sound, functionally adequate and in good repair. These standards include:

  • The property must be easily accessible from a paved or all-weather road surface

  • The property’s foundation, as well as the home itself, must be structurally sound

  • The roof must be able to prevent the entrance of moisture

  • The property must have functional cooling and/or heating systems, regardless of design, fuel or heat source.

  • An electrical system must be in place that is able to support typical functions and appliances for the size of the home and must be in an up-to-date, usable condition with no frayed or exposed wiring.

  • The property must have working plumbing and adequate water pressure for waste removal

The rural development office must be provided with pertinent, qualified inspection reports on individual wastewater systems and wells on the property. The property (and lot) will also be inspected by the rural development agency in order to ensure that it is safe and “adequate”.

Additionally, in order to qualify for section 502 single-family direct homeownership loans, properties must also meet the following criteria:

  • The property must be of a modest size in comparison to the surrounding area, and be no larger than 2,000 square feet.

  • The property must be an owner-occupied single-family home, condominium, planned-unit development, or manufactured home

  • The property must not have a market value above the “applicable area loan limit”

  • Cannot have an in-ground pool of any kind

  • Cannot be used for any income generating activity.

Costs of the USDA Single-family Direct Homeownership Loan

It’s no secret that the Single-family Direct Homeownership Loan is one of the most affordable loan options in existence. These USDA loans have zero down payment requirements, and interest rates as low as 1%. Even with the strict eligibility requirements in place, it’s tough to find a home loan even remotely as affordable as this one.

USDA single-family direct homeownership loans have no down payment requirements. Borrowers with assets higher than the asset limits set by the USDA, however, may be required to use a portion of their own funds. Regardless, it is highly recommended by the USDA that any applicants have at least $1,000 to $1,200 of cash available to pay for the costs associated with a USDA direct loan.

Borrowers will be required to pay for their own credit report, as well as the highly-possible costs of escrow fees, appraisal reports, reasonably priced credit counseling, and a year’s worth of homeowners insurance paid upfront. A silver lining is that USDA single-family direct homeownership loans do not require the payment of mortgage insurance, as many loans that require anything less than 20% down typically do.

Homeowners are usually able to arrange for closing costs to be rolled into the principal loan amount. Additionally, home buyers are allowed to inquire if the sellers are willing to pay a portion of the closing costs.

USDA Single-family Direct Homeownership Loan: In Review


Americans with low income, living in the more rural parts of the country may have a hard time securing funding for safe and adequate housing. Qualifying for a conventional home loan under certain financial conditions can be an impossible task, and put homeownership well out of reach for some families. In an attempt to level the playing field, the USDA’s Single-family Direct Homeownership Loan from the Rural Development Office is the best way for these families to get the funding they need.

The Rural Development Section 502 Single-family Direct Homeownership Loan comes with interest rates as low as 1%, and absolutely no down payment requirement. While the eligibility requirements are on the strict side for borrowers, this is only to ensure that the recipients of this mortgage program are the ones who truly need the assistance. The loan was specifically created for families with low to modest income, living in rural areas, for the purposes of securing safe, sanitary, and adequate housing.

The flexibility of the USDA 502 loan is also unbeatable. Loan proceeds can be used for anything from a home purchase or mortgage refinance to rehabilitating an existing property, and even constructing an entirely new home from scratch! The opportunities that this loan can provide for low-income families is beyond remarkable.

If the USDA Single-family Direct Homeownership Loan sounds like something that can help you or someone you know make the transition into homeownership, then don’t hesitate to give the experts at home.loans a call, and get a risk-free consultation.

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