By Neena Vlamis, President of A and N Mortgage

Loan limits for each major mortgage type—including conventional and VA—have received a significant boost for 2021 over last year’s limits. In some counties, the new loan limits are much higher than they were last year, giving buyers across the board access to more potential buying power. Although there is a significant degree of variation across individual county limits, the steep jumps are due to the swelling home prices that are tied to historically low-interest rates. 

Mortgage loan

Conforming loan limits for Cook county in 2021 are:

  1. Single units: $548,250
  2. Duplexes: $702,000
  3. Triplexes: $848,500
  4. Four-family: $1,054,500

The Housing and Recovery Act of 2008 (HERA) stipulates that mortgage providers must provide limits that are 115% of the median home value. Consequently, several of the wealthiest zip codes in cities such as San Francisco, New York City, and Washington, D.C. saw large jumps in their limits to keep step with the increased housing costs. On the other hand, less desirable areas with falling demand saw precipitous declines—up to a 49% decrease in county loan limits.

Overall, the new, higher loan limits set by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) afford more opportunities to potential buyers in an increasingly competitive market. These loan limits also extend to those who are already homeowners as they can take more cash out of their home’s equity, too, as reverse mortgage limits follow suit. 

Conventional Loan Limit

Conventional loans are traditional mortgages awarded to creditworthy individuals by private lenders. They must adhere to the loan limits set by the FHFA and follow the credit score and down payment guidelines that have been set by the government-sponsored Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  

This year, conforming conventional loan limits are capped at $548,250 in low-cost areas, up quite a bit from $510,400 in 2020 in most counties in the U.S. In high-cost areas, this year’s single-unit loan limit soars to $822,375. These properties make up a small number of notable exceptions in the highest-priced neighborhoods, mainly in California and Hawaii. Since limits for conforming mortgages vary considerably based upon location, check your local FHFA county limit to get an idea of what you will be able to borrow in 2021. 

Conforming loan limits for Cook county in 2021 are:

  1. Single units: $548,250
  2. Duplexes: $702,000
  3. Triplexes: $848,500
  4. Four-family: $1,054,500

As private lenders usually have more stringent lender requirements for their borrowers, they are free to set their own limits for nonconforming conventional loans (which do not need to adhere to FHFA loan limits), including jumbo loans. Depending on the buyer’s financial situation, jumbo loans will generally be capped around $1-$2 million dollars, and they are subject to a different set of lending requirements. Often, securing a jumbo loan will require a large down payment (10%) and a hefty amount of reserves to ensure that the buyer will not default on the loan for between 6-18 months.

FHA Loan Limit

The Federal Housing Administration offers mortgages for low-to-moderate-income borrowers who can qualify with lower down payments and credit scores. The FHA’s loan limits vary according to the type of property—whether it’s a single-family unit, duplex, triplex, or four-family dwelling. Also, note that FHA loans can only be used for primary residences. These loans are not available for additional or investment properties. 

As with conventional loans, these limits also vary by county with higher limits assigned to pricier zip codes. Limits in 2021 were increased to keep pace with the housing market. In 2019, for example, the FHA loan limit for a single unit was $314,827. This year’s figures for a comparable property are set nearly $17,000 higher. 

For 2021, the 2021 FHA loan limits for Cook county in low-cost areas are as follows:

  1. 1-unit: $379,500
  2. 2-unit: $485,800
  3. 3-unit: $587,250
  4. 4-unit: $729,800

Still, the FHA’s floor limits only rise to 65% of their equivalent conforming-loan counterparts. FHA maximum limits, however, rise to meet the FHFA conforming loan ceiling in 2021—as high as $822,375 for a single-unit dwelling in higher-cost areas. 

VA Loan Limit

Private lenders issue VA Loans, and a portion is guaranteed by the U.S. Office of Veteran’s affairs. As of January 1, 2020, VA loans are no longer capped by conventional loan limits. 

Conventional conforming loan limits will still apply to veterans with more than one existing VA loan or who have previously defaulted on a loan, allowing veterans to borrow up to $548,250 for single-family homes in Cook County. 

Apart from those scenarios, VA loans are just subject to the private lender’s approval. Even though there is no limit if this is your first VA loan and you have not previously defaulted on a loan, your lender will only approve an amount that can be supported by your income and credit history.

Further, while the loan limit has been removed, the VA funding fee has also increased slightly. Veterans can still anticipate more favorable interest rates as one of the perks of their service. 

Finally, they do not have to provide a down payment.

Credit Score Requirements For All

Conventional Loan: Private lenders require borrowers to have good credit and to be able to afford a reasonable down payment. To qualify for a conventional loan, you’ll need to have a score of at least 620-640. The better your score, the more favorable your interest rates will be. Lower interest rates translate to lower monthly payments. With a conventional loan, expect to provide a down payment of at least 3%, possibly more for buyers who have lower credit scores. 

Additional Read: Your Guide To Conventional Mortgage Loans

FHA Loan: Since the FHA is in place to make homeownership more accessible to lower and moderate-income families, the credit score requirements for FHA loans are generally more lenient than those of private lenders offering conventional mortgages. 

Additional Read: How Do FHA Loans Work?

Borrowers applying to government-sponsored FHA programs for an FHA loan should expect to have a FICO score of at least 500-579 and be able to provide a 10% minimum down payment. If you plan to put as little as 3.5% down, you’ll need a score of at least 580 in addition to verifiable employment history and income. 

VA Loan: The VA does not set a minimum credit score. As private lenders are responsible for underwriting VA loans, they generally follow conventional mortgage requirements. Expect to have a 620-640 credit score to secure a VA loan, as you would need for a traditional mortgage from the same private lender.  

How Do These Limits Affect Homebuyers?

The FHFA raised loan limits in response to increases in the price of homes for sale. Thanks to historically low interest rates throughout last year, it is a great time to buy a home. Low-interest rates continue to make home-buying attractive, and with the increase in loan limits, buyers have increased purchasing power. This increase gives them access to larger amounts of capital, which affords them even more opportunities to purchase a home. Fundamentally, it now costs even less to finance a larger amount of money. 

Navigating The New Mortgage Loan Limits 

This opportunity and flexibility make it a great time to consider buying a house. The other side of this coin is that competition for the housing market is heating up. While this is great news for sellers as the number of houses on the market will struggle to keep up with the demand, it will cause housing prices to continue to escalate if the trend increases. 

Recent uncertainty within the market will unfold in the coming weeks, so these trends will likely shift. Still, unseasonably low-interest rates meant to stimulate the economy mean low monthly payments, and the 2021 loan limit increases allow you to secure larger, more valuable properties than were previously accessible with lower loan limits.

Instead of the $510,400 loan limit for low-cost areas in 2019, homebuyers can access up to $548,250 through a conforming conventional loan from a private lender. For single-unit dwellings in high-cost markets, that limit increases to $822,375 from $765,600 in 2020. Though the imposed limits are in place for conventional and FHA buyers, recent legislation removed the cap for some VA loans. The ceiling in those cases, then, is subject to the amount the lender approves. Conventional loans above these thresholds, like jumbo loans, adhere to a different set of standards entirely. 

For help with navigating conventional, FHA, or VA loans, feel free to reach out to A & N Mortgage. We’re happy to help you answer any more questions about the mortgage selection process to help you determine your best options for home buying in the Chicago area.


A and N Mortgage Services Inc, a mortgage banker in Chicago, IL provides you with high-quality home loan programs, including FHA home loans, tailored to fit your unique situation with some of the most competitive rates in the nation. Whether you are a first-time homebuyer, relocating to a new job, or buying an investment property, our expert team will help you use your new mortgage as a smart financial tool.

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