Well, I hesitate to mention it, at all, but in the end I figured it was alright to say something.

The other day, someone on the Globe’s real estate blog a real estate agent wrote the following:

The opposite of “subprime mortgage” is not “prime mortgage”; it’s a “conforming” mortgage. To get a conforming (or conventional) loan, borrowers must conform to rigid standards developed by mortgage lenders. These standards are not exact; there is some judgment involved. An applicant is judged on these factors: income to support the requested mortgage plus all other debt the borrowers have outstanding, credit history, job stability, and assets.

Not really.

First off, a “conventional” loan is not the same as a “conforming” loan.

A conventional loan is one that is not backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) or Veteran’s Administration (VA).

Conventional loans are secured by government-sponsored entities or GSEs such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Conventional loans can be made to purchase or refinance homes with first and second mortgages on single-family to four-family homes.

Conventional loans may be conforming or non-conforming.

Second off, while there are other criteria that make a loan “conforming” (as the writer says), the most important one (and the one she didn’t mention) is that a loan is only conforming if it is within Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loan limits.

In general, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s single-family, first mortgage loan limit is $417,000 … This limit is reviewed annually and, if needed, changed to reflect changes in the national average price for single-family homes. The current loan limit applies to all conventional mortgages delivered after January 1, 2006.

(The limit wasn’t raised in 2007.)

Nonconforming loans — instruments which don’t meet Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac qualifications — are also considered conventional.

Another category of loans, jumbo loans, falls outside of Fannie Mae eligibility but is also considered conventional. A jumbo loan is a loan that’s too large to be eligible to be traded by the two main loan purchasers.

So, a jumbo loan may be considered “conventional”, but it won’t be “conforming” because it won’t be sold on the secondary market by Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae. (I’m under the impression that these jumbo loans are actually sold, but not sure how the process differs from conforming loans.)

I hesitated to mention it, first because I thought it bad behavior, second because I am never sure I get my facts right!

( ** Loans made in downtown Boston, therefore, are often “jumbo loans”, since the amount borrowed is higher than the set limit of $417,000. Jumbo loans often have higher interest rates than traditional mortgage loans – because of the added exposure to the lender, and because of the added risk to the buyers on loans on the secondary market. Or, either. Or, both.)

Bottom line: Ask your mortgage broker.

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Updated: 2018

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