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What are Alt-A Loans?

Alt-A loans are a type of mortgage loan that is in between a prime and subprime loan. These loans are designed for borrowers who do not meet the strict criteria that is required for a prime loan but are still better credit risks when compared to subprime borrowers. Alt-A loans were very popular during the housing boom of the early 2000s but fell out of favor following the 2008 financial crisis. However, they have recently made a comeback as interest rates have continued to remain low.

How Alt-A Loans Work

Alt-A loans are designed to serve a niche market of borrowers who do not quite meet the requirements for a prime loan, but still have reasonably good credit scores. These loans typically require a lower credit score than a prime loan, and they may also require less documentation. Alt-A loans are often given to self-employed individuals, freelancers or people with irregular income sources that cannot document their income in the traditional sense.

Alt-A loans often have more flexible underwriting criteria, which can include lower down payments, higher debt-to-income ratios, and smaller reserves. These loans can be offered with fixed or adjustable interest rates and can have terms ranging from 10 to 30 years.

Advantages of Alt-A Loans

One of the most significant advantages of Alt-A loans is that they provide an opportunity for borrowers who don't quite meet prime lending criteria to secure a mortgage. For borrowers with self-employment income, irregular income or a less-than-perfect credit score, Alt-A loans can provide a path to successful homeownership. Alt-A loans can also offer a lower rate of interest than subprime loans, which can be quite costly for borrowers.

Another advantage of these loans is that they typically have more flexible underwriting criteria. For borrowers that don't meet the strict requirements of a prime loan, these more flexible criteria can make it easier to secure financing.

Alt-A loans can also help stimulate the real estate market by making homeownership more accessible to a broader range of borrowers. This can have a positive effect on the economy, as more homeownership can create jobs and boost economic activity.

Disadvantages of Alt-A Loans

One of the significant downsides of Alt-A loans is that they can be riskier for lenders than prime loans, which can lead to higher interest rates or stricter underwriting requirements. The more flexible criteria for Alt-A loans can also lead to borrowers taking on more debt than they can afford, which can lead to default, foreclosure, and financial ruin.

Borrowers taking out Alt-A loans should be aware that these loans often have features that can make them riskier than conventional loans. This can include interest-only payments, balloon payments, and negative amortization. These features can make monthly payments more manageable, but they can also leave borrowers with a larger balance at the end of their loan term, which can be difficult to repay.


Alt-A loans serve a specific niche of borrowers who are not quite prime, but are less risky than subprime borrowers. These loans can provide an opportunity for homeownership for self-employed individuals, freelancers, and others with irregular income. Alt-A loans can be more flexible than conventional loans, but also come with higher risk to lenders and borrowers. Borrowers considering an Alt-A loan should weigh the advantages and disadvantages and consider seeking professional advice.

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