WASHINGTON – Aug. 22, 2017 – When deciding between an FHA mortgage and a conventional mortgage, the most important difference is arguably the mortgage insurance that the Federal Housing Administration requires. This insurance typically can't be canceled and comes with both an annual premium and an upfront premium that you'll need to factor into your home buying budget.

Despite these insurance-related drawbacks, an FHA loan may be the only option for borrowers who can't qualify for a conventional loan due to a low credit score or a lack of savings especially since down payments as low as 3.5 percent are permitted.

If you're considering an FHA loan, here's what you should know about FHA mortgage insurance.

What is FHA mortgage insurance?

"Mortgage insurance is essentially a policy that protects lenders and servicers against losses resulting from defaults," says Jim Hettinger, executive vice president of operations at Guaranteed Rate, an online mortgage lender. Most mortgage loans require mortgage insurance only if the borrower is putting down less than 20 percent of the purchase price, he says, but the FHA requires it for all loans.

If an FHA loan is ideal for your financial situation, the mortgage insurance premium is something you're likely just going to have to live with, says Keith Gumbinger, vice president of HSH.com, a mortgage information website. 'If you want a low-down-payment mortgage that doesn't penalize you for having a lower credit score, the mortgage insurance premium is a fact of life,' he says.

How much does it cost?

When you take out an FHA mortgage, you must pay an upfront premium of 1.75 percent of the loan amount, according to the FHA. You can pay that premium at closing, or you can roll it into your loan amount. The latter will result in a more expensive loan.

In addition to this upfront premium, you'll also pay an annual premium that is added to your monthly mortgage payments. Depending on your loan's size and term, this expense ranges from 0.45 percent to 1.05 percent of the loan amount.

Take, for example, a $200,000 home. Say you put down $7,000, which is 3.5 percent, the lowest permitted for an FHA loan. The 1.75 percent upfront premium on your $193,000 loan would cost $3,377.50. If your annual premium was the highest amount, 1.05 percent, you'd pay $2,026.50 per year, or roughly $169 per month.

How to cancel FHA mortgage insurance

If you put 10 percent or more down on your FHA loan, your mortgage insurance premium will end after 11 years. If your FHA loan was made before June 2013, you may be able to cancel your mortgage insurance depending on your loan's original term or loan-to-value ratio. Contact your lender to see if you qualify.

If you don't fall into either of these categories, there's something else you can do: refinance into a conventional loan once your LTV ratio is lower or you've bolstered your credit score, Hettinger says. The loan-to-value ratio represents the amount of the loan compared with the value of the asset. For example, if you put 20 percent down on a home that costs $100,000, your LTV is 80 percent.

If refinancing isn't an option, there's still reason to keep hope alive, Gumbinger says. "The FHA commissioner has wide discretion to change premiums and has a number of times in the past 10 years," he explains. He says that borrowers might be able to cancel FHA mortgage insurance in the future or that annual premiums might be reduced. A quarter-percentage-point reduction of the premium was scheduled to take place in late January 2017, but it was suspended by the incoming Trump administration before it took effect.

Paying FHA mortgage insurance can be a pain, especially if you're stuck with it for the life of the loan. But this ongoing expense could be worthwhile for those who want to own a home and can't qualify for a conventional mortgage.

Copyright © 2017 The Grove Sun, Emily Starbuck Crone. All rights reserved. The article FHA Mortgage Insurance: What You Need to Know originally appeared on NerdWallet.