Section 184 Loan vs FHA

Section 184 Loan vs FHA: Which Is Better?

Native American homebuyers, when they hear of the Section 184 Loan, often ask whether it’s really better than FHA.

Is the program worth the extra work?

For most, it is. Here’s a summary of Section 184 advantages and disadvantages vs FHA. We’ll go into each aspect in detail after the table.

Get a Section 184 eligibility check from a lender.

Section 184 Loan vs FHA -Comparison Table

The check mark indicates the better loan for that feature.

Loan FeatureSection 184FHA
Down payment1.25-2.25% ✔3.5%
Upfront mortgage insurance1.0% ✔1.75%
Monthly mortgage insuranceNone ✔0.55%
Can be used on-reservationYes ✔No
Credit scoreNo minimum ✔580 for 3.5% down
Available in all statesNoYes ✔
Tribe membership requiredYesNo ✔
AvailabilityAbout 140 lendersThousands of lenders ✔
Tribe approval from HUD requiredYesNo ✔

Down payment: Section 184 is better

The Section 184 Native American Home Loan requires a 2.25% down payment for loans over $50,000. For loans under $50,000, the down payment is just 1.25%.

FHA requires 3.5% down.

Here is a comparison table in real numbers. It’s clear to see that Section 184 saves the homebuyer significant amounts in upfront out-of-pocket costs.

Loan AmountSection 184 Down PaymentFHA Down Payment

But cost is not where the down payment advantage ends. You are also more likely to get Tribal down payment assistance if you use the Section 184 loan. Your Tribe might have a program to cover your entire down payment if you use this program. Check with your Tribe. 

Related: Section 184 Loan Closing Costs

Upfront mortgage insurance: Section 184 is better

Section 184 is the winner in this category. It requires an upfront mortgage insurance fee or “funding fee” of 1.0% of the loan amount, compared to FHA’s 1.75%.

This fee can be added to the loan amount for both loan types.

For a $250,000 loan, Section 184 will add $2,500 to the loan amount upfront. FHA will add $4,375. 

Tip: Use this Section 184 Loan Calculator to estimate your mortgage insurance.

Monthly mortgage insurance: Section 184 is better

Section 184 loans win easily in this category. As of July 1, 2023, monthly mortgage insurance is no longer required for Section 184 loans.

FHA’s mortgage insurance rate is 0.55% of the loan amount per year, which equals about $46 per month per $100,000 borrowed.

Loan AmountSection 184 monthly mortgage insuranceFHA monthly mortgage insurance

Tip: On a $400,000 loan, a homebuyer saves $200 per month by using Section 184 over FHA.

Mortgage Rates: Toss-up

Section 184 and FHA could have similar loan rates, but in some cases, Section 184 loan rates might be better. Even if FHA comes with slightly better rates, Section 184’s lack of monthly mortgage insurance will probably make it less expensive overall.

Buy a home on or off the reservation: Section 184 is better

There’s no surprise here. The Section 184 Loan was designed from the ground up to be used on trust land. 

Remember, though, that it does not have to be used on the Reservation. It can be used in any state or county that is approved for Section 184 loans (which is most of the U.S.). The property does not have to be near or even in the same state as your Tribe.

FHA loans can’t be used on Reservation land at all, making Section 184 the clear winner in this category.

Documentation and loan complexity: FHA is better

There are fewer “hoops” to jump through to get an FHA loan (as reported in a few Section 184 Loan reviews). This is because Native and non-Native buyers can use it. There are no special requirements and it’s available to nearly everyone. 

Because Section 184 is only for Native buyers, you have to:

  • Prove enrollment with a federally-recognized Tribe
  • Ensure the Tribe has to be approved for Section 184 with HUD
  • Work with BIA and HUD for property history if buying on trust lands

While the benefits of Section 184 are many, they do take more legwork than FHA.

Geographic availability: FHA is better

FHA is available nationwide with no exceptions. However, there are 14 states in which Section 184 loans are available only in select counties and 11 additional states where the program is completely unavailable. 

Twenty-four states are fully approved.

Credit Score: Section 184 is better

Section 184 Loans have no minimum credit score. So a lender can consider your application even with a very low score.

FHA loans require a 580 score to qualify for 3.5% down and a 500 score for 10% down. 

Both loan types accept non-traditional credit, where the lender looks at rent history, utility payments, and other non-debt sources to verify creditworthiness.

See if you’re eligible for a Section 184 loan.

Finding a lender: FHA is better

There are about 140 Section 184 Loan lenders nationwide that are approved for Section 184 Loans. There are thousands of FHA lenders.

But having more than 100 lenders to choose from is far from limiting. Most homebuyers call just 3-4 lenders, even for FHA loans. Many buyers contact just one. There are likely enough lenders in your state to compare, which is all that you need.

Tribe requirements: FHA is better

You need to meet two major Tribal requirements for Section 184:

  1. You must document your Tribal membership
  2. The Tribe must be approved by HUD

Most applicants can prove they are an enrolled member of a Tribe. You can use your Tribal ID card.

The second requirement is harder. The Tribe must have already received approval from HUD. If not, it’s unlikely it can be approved before your loan closing. Consider FHA if your Tribe is not HUD-approved.

Which is better: FHA or Section 184?

For most Native Americans, the Section 184 Loan is better, despite some complex aspects of it. 

If you’re willing to do a little more work upfront, you can enjoy the huge benefits of Section 184 for years to come.

Contact a lender to start your Section 184 mortgage.


  • Tim Lucas

    Tim Lucas (NMLS 118763) has 20 years of hands-on mortgage industry experience helping everyone from first-time buyers to experienced investors. He purchased his first home at 26 with just $1,100 out-of-pocket and now owns real estate worth $2.4 million. Tim was the managing editor at national websites and and has been featured in publications such as Time, U.S. News, MSN, and more. He is a licensed loan originator (NMLS 118763). Connect with Tim on LinkedIn, Twitter, and TikTok.