A doctor loan is a special mortgage loan for doctors and other medical professionals. Doctor loans have more flexible guidelines than conventional mortgages and allow for low to no down payments when purchasing a home. They are a great option for doctors with significant debt and those that don't have the funds to make the required down payment of a traditional mortgage loan.
Lenders in the traditional mortgage market look at more than just income potential, and some of the characteristics of the profession may hinder a doctor’s ability to obtain financing. But there are many options, and even doctors who are just starting out should be able to buy the perfect home.
The most common home loans available are conventional fixed-rate mortgages. The main advantage of conventional mortgages is that they typically offer the lowest interest rates, especially if you opt for a 15-year term. Also, the rate is fixed for the life of the loan. But conventional mortgages don’t always work well for physicians. When lenders issue conventional mortgages, most of the time they do so with the intention of selling it to a government sponsored entity like Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. These entities have somewhat tight restrictions on mortgage applicants that the issuer must adhere to if they want to sell the loans later, including:
Conventional mortgages require the borrower to have earned income, which can be a challenge for physicians just starting out after graduating medical school.
Having too much debt increases the risk of defaulting on the mortgage. Traditional loans limit the total amount of debt borrowers can have in order to be approved. This is determined by analyzing the minimum amount of your monthly income goes toward debt, and the percentage of your total income that would pay debt once you assume a mortgage payment. Traditional mortgages limit your debt-to-income ratio to between 35 and 40 percent, which might make some physicians ineligible due to the heavy amount of student loan debt.
Conventional mortgages generally require a downpayment of 20 percent of the purchase price. Anything less than that will require the addition of Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI). This is an added cost applied to conventional loans when the borrower makes a downpayment less than 20 percent of the home’s purchase price. It is designed to protect the lender from the risk of default and is added to the borrower’s monthly payment.
To conform to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac guidelines, mortgages cannot exceed a certain amount borrowed. In most areas of the country, the limit is $417,000. It can reach as high as $625,000 in markets where real estate is more expensive, such as Hawaii, New York City and San Francisco.
Many regional and national banks have departments dedicated to serving medical professionals which include access to special mortgage programs. Be aware that each program is unique and contains different guidelines and eligibility requirements for borrowers.
Some lenders establish different loan limits based on whether the applicant is a resident or a practicing physician. Others vary the amount required for a downpayment based on how much you intend to borrow.
Doctors should consider their individual situations before signing up for this special kind of mortgage. They are, after all, designed for people who have already accumulated a large amount of debt, and physicians should consider how much more they can handle. It can be risky to buy a large home with little to no money down. For starters, when fees and closing costs are added, a home purchased with no money down will create a situation where the homeowner starts with negative equity. The problem would be exacerbated if the housing market declines after you buy the home, much like it did during the 2008 housing crisis.
Also keep in mind that it will be difficult to build equity in the early years because most of a homeowner’s monthly payment in the early years of the loan is paying interest. In fact, after five years, you may have only paid down 1 to 2 percent of your original principal.
If there’s a chance you may have to move in, say, five or 10 years, or if your financial situation would improve during that timeframe, you may want to consider renting. While you won’t have the potential of seeing your investment in real estate growth in value, you also don’t have property taxes, insurance, maintenance, or the potential of owning a home that loses value. If instead you saved your money during this period, you could then take out a conventional mortgage with a larger downpayment. Waiving some of the underwriting requirements of conventional mortgages adds risk for the lender. Mortgage companies will mitigate some of that risk by charging a higher interest rate than what one can receive on conventional loans. They will also require higher credit scores than what they may approve of with a conventional loan. Lenders may also require that the borrower open an account with the bank as a stipulation of obtaining the mortgage financing so they can benefit financially from that business.
The mortgage application, approval and closing process could take one to two months.
One of the ways of expediting the process is to obtain pre-approval. This involves getting approved for the mortgage before you settle on a house to buy. In fact, potential homeowners often obtain pre-approval before they shop for a home in order to know their price range.
The pre-approval process will determine how much you can borrow based on your credit, income, and how much you can put down. It’s not a guarantee you will be granted a mortgage loan by the lender, but it makes it far more likely. A loan cannot be fully approved until you make an actual offer on a home.
In addition to the downpayment required and the interest rate charged, there are other questions you should pose to potential loan officers before applying for a doctor mortgage, including:
All mortgages have fees and costs due at the time you close on the loan. These include fees for loan origination, appraisals, attorneys, inspections, and other costs. The costs will vary among lenders. When evaluating and comparing lenders, obtain a fee sheet and confirm that the quoted closing costs represent all fees you will be charged.
Some lenders may assess a penalty if you pay the loan early, refinance it, or sell the home before a certain date. In some cases, lenders need to maintain a mortgage for a certain timeframe to recoup its costs and generate an adequate profit. Ask before signing if there is a pre-payment penalty and how much the penalty will cost.
In addition to doctor loans, there are several alternatives to conventional mortgages that you may want to investigate, including:
If you are a veteran, current member of the military or a surviving spouse of a veteran killed in the line of duty, you may want to consider a VA loan, which you can obtain with no money down.
Also known as an ARM, this type of mortgage establishes an interest rate that will adjust over time. The rate will stay fixed for the first three to 10 years, depending on the term selected. After that initial term expires, the rate will adjust regularly based on certain economic factors. The main advantage of an ARM is that the initial rate will likely be lower than what you can get on either a conventional loan or a doctor loan. However, the rate you pay will rise after that period will expire. Using an ARM may be a good way for a new doctor to pay less for a mortgage, then have the cost rise as the doctor’s income also increases.
Loans that are insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) provide a safety net to lenders, which enables them to loosen their lending requirements. FHA loans typically only require a 3.5 percent downpayment and they accommodate borrowers with lower credit scores than those of conventional mortgages. The downside is that loan amounts are capped much lower than what you can borrow from a physician mortgage and other types of loans.
The main advantage of this program is that, unlike conventional mortgages, the borrower can use a one-time gift as the source of funds for a downpayment, and that amount can be as little as 3 percent of the purchase price. It is limited to first-time homebuyers or those who have not owned a house in the previous three years.
Also known as a piggyback loan, this is another type of mortgage that can help buyers avoid paying PMI if they can’t make a 20 percent downpayment. This is accomplished by splitting the mortgage into two loans and making a 10 percent downpayment. Typically, the first loan is a traditional 30-year fixed mortgage that covers 80 percent of the purchase price. The second loan covers 10 percent of the purchase price, typically through a home equity line of credit. This type of mortgage has been more difficult to obtain since the recent housing crisis, but they are becoming more accessible.