Using an FHA Title 1 Loan for Home Improvement: What You Need to Know
If your home needs repairs to make it more livable, an FHA Title 1 loan could help. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) provides insurance to private lenders, giving them the confidence to allow homeowners to borrow money for critical home improvements, even if they don’t have any equity.
To get a Title 1 loan, homeowners apply through an approved bank, credit union or another lender.
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What are FHA Title 1 loans?
FHA Title 1 loans are the federal government’s way of helping low- to moderate-income homeowners finance critical home improvements if they don’t otherwise qualify for a traditional home equity loan. These fixed-rate loans for home improvement are backed by the FHA but are issued through private lenders with their own money. Even those with bad credit or no equity can qualify — the government insures the lender against losses of up to 90% of the loan amount.
Money from these loans can be used to fix up single-family homes, as well as manufactured homes, multifamily properties and nonresidential buildings. The program also allows borrowers to use the proceeds for site improvements and the preservation of historic residences.
Homeowners can choose to do the improvements themselves or use contractors, but all repairs must be permanent and make your home more livable and useful, according to the FHA. Eligible home improvement projects can include:
- Livability and usability improvements like:
- Installing new flooring or a new roof
- Replacing the plumbing or heating system
- Installing or replacing appliances, such as dishwashers or ovens, that are built into the house
- Accessibility improvements like:
- Adding exterior ramps
- Remodeling rooms for wheelchair access
- Green improvements like:
- Adding appliances that increase energy efficiency
- Installing solar panels
You can’t use a Title 1 loan for luxury items, such as swimming pools or outdoor fireplaces, or for cosmetic upgrades.
Title 1 funds can also be used to cover some of the extra costs that come with home renovation, like engineering or architectural, title, permit and appraisal fees.
FHA Title 1 loans: limits and terms
Loans up to $7,500 are available for all eligible properties with only your signature, meaning you won’t need to put up any property as collateral. The maximum amount you can borrow varies depending on the property type and the number of units in the home. FHA Title 1 loans don’t have a prepayment penalty.
For a single-family home, you’re limited to $25,000 with a secured Title 1 loan. The maximum loan term is 20 years. The table below shows the loan amounts and terms available for different Title 1 loans:
Single-Family and Multifamily Properties
|Number of units||Secured maximum loan amount||Loan terms|
|1||$25,000||6 months to 20 years|
|2||$24,000||6 months to 20 years|
|3||$36,000||6 months to 20 years|
|4||$48,000||6 months to 20 years|
|5||$60,000||6 months to 20 years|
You can also use a Title 1 loan for various other property types that either aren’t traditional houses or aren’t residences at all (like safety equipment). The table below shows the loan terms available for these alternative property types.
Other Property Types
|Property type / purpose||Maximum loan amount||Loan terms|
|Nonresidential buildings, like a detached garage or shed||$25,000||6 months to 20 years|
|Manufactured home that is real property||$17,500||6 months to 15 years|
|Manufactured home that isn’t real property||$7,500||6 months to 12 years|
|Historic preservation||Lesser of $15,000 per unit, or $45,000||6 months to 15 years|
|Fire safety equipment||$50,000||6 months to 20 years|
If you have more than one Title 1 loan, your total outstanding balance can’t exceed the maximum loan amount for the property or purpose type you’re using that has the highest maximum.
FHA Title 1 loan requirements
To qualify for an FHA Title 1 loan, potential borrowers must meet certain broad requirements. Unlike many mortgage programs, there are no hard credit score requirements, and homeowners with little or no equity can still qualify.
However, lenders will make sure potential borrowers meet Title 1 loan requirements. Luckily, these requirements are fairly simple:
Ownership You must own the home or have a lease on it that extends at least six months past when the Title 1 loan will be repaid.
Credit You must not be delinquent or in default on another federally backed loan program (as demonstrated by a CAIVRS check).
Income and employment You must be able to prove that you have the income to repay the loan in regular monthly installments and can maintain a debt-to-income (DTI) ratio of 45% or below.
Occupancy You need to have occupied the home for at least 90 days.
No appraisal is required. Title 1 loan borrowers also don’t need to participate in housing counseling, which is required for some other federally backed loans.
How to apply for a Title 1 loan
If you think an FHA Title 1 loan is right for you, you’ll first want to search the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) lender list for approved lenders near you. The search tool will allow you to narrow down the list to show only HUD-approved lenders in your city that offer Title 1 loans.
Once you’ve chosen a few to contact, the FHA Title 1-approved lenders will direct you to fill out an application. You’ll also need to prepare a detailed description of the proposed repairs, as Title 1 loan money can be used only on the work described in your application.
If you’re using a contractor, give your lender a copy of the proposal or work contract that describes the repairs to be done and the cost estimates. If you’re doing the work yourself, send your lender a written description of the repairs, a materials list and costs.
FHA Title 1 loans pros and cons
Loose qualification requirements. FHA Title 1 loans don’t have set credit score requirements, and many types of properties are eligible for financing.
No equity needed. While many home improvement loans are based on home equity, these loans can work for homeowners with little to no equity.
Unsecured loans available. Loans of less than $7,500 don’t require collateral, meaning your property is safe from the possibility of foreclosure.
Low, fixed interest rates. The FHA requires lenders to offer fixed interest rates and charge the market rate.
No prepayment penalties. Since you won’t be penalized for paying the loan off early, you’ll have more flexibility in how and when you can pay it off. Even just one extra payment a year can lead to big savings in the long run.
Doesn’t have to be your primary residence. Unlike other FHA loans, Title 1 loans don’t require you to live in the home as your primary residence unless the property in question is a manufactured home.
Must use an approved lender. Only FHA-approved lenders can issue Title 1 renovation loans. If your current lender isn’t on the list, you can’t use them.
Must pay an insurance premium. The FHA charges an upfront mortgage insurance premium, which is 1.75% of the loan amount, and an ongoing annual insurance premium between 0.45% to 1.05%, depending on your loan-to-value ratio (LTV) and loan term.
Must limit spending to critical repairs. While home equity loans typically have few strings attached, Title 1 loans can be used only for the repairs outlined in the loan application.
Alternatives to an FHA Title 1 loan
But what if a Title 1 loan doesn’t meet your needs? If you don’t have a high enough credit score for conventional loans or enough equity to qualify for a home equity loan or home equity line of credit (HELOC), don’t panic. You still have many options beyond a Title 1 loan.
Government home improvement loans and grants
As mentioned above, the FHA 203(k) program is a similar program that can be used to finance home improvements that cost up to 110% of the home’s value (after the repairs are completed).
But there are also many other government-backed home improvement loans and grants available, including:
- If you’re low-income:
- If your improvements are green:
- The Residential PACE clean energy program backs renovation loans to homeowners making energy efficiency or renewable energy improvements. The debt is attached to the property, rather than the homeowner, which can ease the burden for borrowers who move or sell the home within a few years.
- If you’re a veteran:
- If you’re a member of a federally recognized American Indian Tribe or an Alaska Native:
- The Native American Housing Improvement Program provides grants of up to $60,000 for the renovation and repair of substandard housing.
- Section 184 Indian Home Loans are federally guaranteed, fixed-rate mortgages issued by participating lenders for up to 30-year terms. Their low down payment requirement — only 2.5% — puts them in reach for many more potential borrowers than other loans.
- If you live in a rural area:
- The Section 504 Home Repair program provides home improvement loans and grants to very low-income homeowners, as well as to elderly (over 62) homeowners for repairs that target health and safety hazards.