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Fannie Mae and VA Loans: Understanding the Difference

For many Americans, owning a home is an important part of the American dream. However, the mortgage process can be confusing, with many different types of loans and programs available. Two common options are mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Veterans Affairs (VA) loans. 

While these two programs have some similarities, there are important distinctions between Fannie Mae mortgages and VA loans that borrowers need to understand.

Fannie Mae does not offer VA loans. VA loans are a separate mortgage program backed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Fannie Mae, a government-sponsored enterprise, purchases conventional, conforming mortgages from primary lenders but does not guarantee or securitize VA loans.

Getting educated on the key features and eligibility requirements for each can help you determine if a Fannie Mae mortgage or VA loan is the better fit for your situation.

 A person filing an application

What Is Fannie Mae?

Fannie Mae, or the Federal National Mortgage Association, is a government-sponsored enterprise that operates in the secondary mortgage market. This means Fannie Mae does not directly originate mortgages. Instead, Fannie Mae purchases mortgages from primary lenders, bundles them into mortgage-backed securities, and sells these securities to investors.

By providing liquidity to lenders in the form of a secondary market for mortgages, Fannie Mae enables primary lenders to offer more competitive interest rates and fees to borrowers. Lenders are willing to originate more mortgages knowing they can turn around and quickly sell those loans to Fannie Mae.

What Are VA Loans?

VA loans are mortgage loans backed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. These loans are available to eligible veterans, active duty military members, reserves/National Guard members, and certain surviving spouses. 

VA loans offer several advantages over conventional loans, including not requiring a down payment or mortgage insurance. Because the VA guarantees a portion of the loan, lenders view VA loans as less risky than conventional mortgages. This allows lenders to offer more favorable terms.

How Does Fannie Mae Work?

Fannie Mae does not lend money directly to homebuyers. Instead, it works with Fannie Mae-approved lenders who originate mortgages adhering to Fannie Mae’s underwriting standards and loan limits. 

Once a lender makes a Fannie Mae-qualified mortgage loan, the lender can sell that loan to Fannie Mae on the secondary market. Fannie Mae bundles together many of these purchased mortgages into mortgage-backed securities that are sold to investors.

Fannie Mae’s underwriting guidelines evaluate a borrower’s credit, income, debt-to-income ratio, and other factors. By establishing this standardization, Fannie Mae provides liquidity and stability to the mortgage market. Fannie Mae also offers some low down payment mortgage options.

How Do VA Loans Work?

VA loans are provided by private lenders but guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA guarantee allows veterans and military members to obtain a mortgage with no down payment and no monthly mortgage insurance. 

Borrowers still need to qualify based on credit scores, debt-to-income ratios, and VA funding fees. VA loans may have more flexible underwriting guidelines regarding income and credit scores compared to conventional loans.

VA loans can only be used to purchase or refinance a primary residence and cannot be used for investment properties. VA loans also include a funding fee that is rolled into the mortgage loan amount.

Why Doesn’t Fannie Mae Offer VA Loans?

Fannie Mae does not directly offer VA loans because VA loans are a separate mortgage program backed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Lenders originate VA loans based on VA program guidelines and approval.

Fannie Mae does not guarantee or securitize VA loans. Instead, Fannie Mae purchases conventional, conforming mortgages from primary lenders to replenish lenders’ capital so they can make more loans. This gives lenders like banks and credit unions access to liquidity.

While Fannie Mae aims to promote affordable housing, its role is to add stability and liquidity to the broader mortgage market rather than target specific demographics like veterans. The VA addresses veteran home financing needs through the separate VA loan program.

The Role of Fannie Mae in Mortgage Industry

As a major securitizer of conventional mortgages, Fannie Mae plays an important role in maintaining liquidity in the mortgage market. Fannie Mae enables primary lenders to originate more loans by giving lenders quick access to capital after selling those mortgages to Fannie Mae.

By purchasing large volumes of conforming mortgages that meet its underwriting standards, Fannie Mae injects needed liquidity. This gives lenders the capacity to issue new mortgages to creditworthy borrowers. Fannie Mae also makes mortgages more affordable by allowing for lower interest rates.

In addition, Fannie Mae’s mortgage-backed securities encourage investment in the U.S. housing market from a wide array of domestic and international investors. This brings in more capital to fund mortgages.

The Role of VA Loans in Assisting Veterans

VA loans fill a specific niche, offering veterans, active duty military, and surviving spouses access to mortgage financing without some of the barriers common with conventional loans. Qualified borrowers can get VA loans with no down payment and no monthly mortgage insurance.

Because the Department of Veterans Affairs guarantees a portion of each VA loan, lenders are willing to offer favorable rates and terms compared to conventional mortgages. This allows eligible borrowers with lower credit scores or higher debt-to-income ratios access to financing.

VA loans promote homeownership among veterans who have served the country. Offering financing with preferable terms is one way the VA says thank you for service and makes the dream of homeownership more accessible.

Differences Between Fannie Mae Mortgages and VA Loans

While both promote homeownership, there are some key differences between Fannie Mae mortgages and VA loans:

  • Eligibility – Fannie Mae mortgages are available to all qualified borrowers. VA loans are reserved for veterans, military members, and some spouses.
  • Down payments – Fannie Mae mortgages typically require a down payment between 3-20%. VA loans don’t require any down payment. 
  • Mortgage insurance – Fannie Mae mortgages need mortgage insurance if less than a 20% down payment. VA loans don’t require mortgage insurance.
  • Credit scores – Fannie Mae mortgages generally require a minimum 620 credit score. VA loans can go as low as 580-620 depending on the lender.
  • Debt-to-income ratio – Fannie Mae allows up to 50% DTI. VA has more flexible DTI requirements.
  • Loan amounts – Fannie Mae mortgages are capped based on conforming loan limits. VA loans can exceed conforming limits.
  • Occupancy – Fannie Mae mortgages can be used for primary residences, second homes or investment properties. VA loans are only for primary residences.
  • Funding fees – Fannie Mae mortgages may have typical origination fees. VA loans require a VA funding fee added to the loan amount.

Benefits of Choosing a VA Loan Over a Fannie Mae Loan

For an eligible veteran or military borrower, some key benefits make a VA loan worth considering over a conventional Fannie Mae mortgage:

  • Requires no down payment or mortgage insurance
  • More flexible credit score and debt-to-income requirements
  • Allows higher loan amounts in expensive markets
  • Prequalify easily by obtaining Certificate of Eligibility 
  • No prepayment penalties – can pay off early without penalty
  • Ability to roll closing costs into loan amount
  • Lower interest rates than many conventional loans

For qualifying borrowers, these features can make VA loans more affordable and accessible than Fannie Mae conventional loans. Veterans receiving VA loans also contribute to the ongoing viability of the VA mortgage program.

Limitations of Choosing a VA Loan Over a Fannie Mae Loan

Despite their many advantages, VA loans do come with some potential limitations to weigh against Fannie Mae mortgages:

  • Additional VA funding fee added to loan amount
  • Restricted to primary residence only – no investment properties
  • Require occupancy within 60 days of closing 
  • Potentially more stringent appraisal process
  • Cannot be used for multi-unit properties over 4 units
  • Typically require owner-occupied financing
  • May be more paperwork and documentation required

These restrictions mean VA loans are not right for every situation. For purchasing investment properties, vacation homes, or non-primary residences, Fannie Mae mortgages provide needed flexibility.

How to Decide Between a Fannie Mae Mortgage and a VA Loan?

When trying to choose between a Fannie Mae mortgage and VA loan, consider these key factors:

  • Are you an eligible veteran or military member? VA loans are restricted.
  • Is this for your primary residence? VA loans cannot be used for a second home or investment property. 
  • What is your current finances? VA loans allow lower credit scores and debt ratios.
  • How much do you have for a down payment? VA loans don’t require any down payment.
  • Will you pay off the mortgage early? VA has no prepayment penalties.
  • Do you need flexibility for a multifamily property? Fannie Mae allows 2-4 units.

Meeting with a qualified loan officer can help assess your situation and determine if a VA loan or Fannie Mae mortgage makes more sense based on your specific needs and financial profile. 

Be sure to ask about rates, fees, eligibility, and costs to see how affordable each option would be. Doing your due diligence upfront will ensure you select the optimal home loan.


While Fannie Mae and VA loans both promote homeownership opportunities, they serve different borrower segments. Understanding the key differences in eligibility, requirements, and benefits can clarify which mortgage program fits your needs as a borrower.

For eligible veterans and military members, VA loans offer clear advantages that should make them a top contender when buying a home. Just be sure to consider any limitations as well. For non-veterans and those needing investment financing, Fannie Mae mortgages provide greater flexibility.

By educating yourself on Fannie Mae and VA program guidelines, you can find the ideal mortgage solution to make your dream of homeownership a reality, regardless of your background. Partnering with an experienced lender simplifies the process further.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

Does Fannie Mae do VA loans?

Fannie Mae does not directly offer VA loans. Through its Selling Guide, Fannie Mae provides guidance to lenders about the eligibility requirements for VA loans, including credit, income, and asset documentation requirements. Additionally, Fannie Mae offers a variety of loan features and options to help lenders serve qualified veterans, active-duty military personnel, and their families.

What is the difference between Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae loans?

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are both government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) that provide mortgage loans to lenders. Fannie Mae loans are mainly used to purchase or refinance existing single-family and multifamily homes, while Freddie Mac loans are mainly used to finance multi-unit properties such as apartments and condominiums. Fannie Mae loans require a minimum credit score of 620, while Freddie Mac loans require a minimum credit score of 660. Fannie Mae loans also typically require a lower down payment than Freddie Mac loans.

Does Freddie Mac do VA loans?

No, Freddie Mac does not offer VA loans. VA loans are non-conforming government-backed loans that cannot be sold to Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae. Instead, they are sold to Ginnie Mae, a U.S. Government agency that provides liquidity for government-backed loans such as VA, FHA, and USDA loans.

What’s the difference between Fannie Mae and FHA loans?

Fannie Mae and FHA loans are two different types of mortgages. Fannie Mae loans are conventional loans that are offered by private lenders and backed by Fannie Mae, a government-sponsored enterprise. FHA loans are government-insured loans that are offered by approved lenders, and are designed to help low- and moderate-income borrowers. Fannie Mae loans typically require a higher credit score and down payment than FHA loans, and have higher closing costs. FHA loans, however, can offer more flexible qualification guidelines and lower down payments.