Owning a home should give you safety and security, and that includes being financially secure. Before you buy a home, you should calculate how much you can afford for a mortgage and make sure it fits safely withing your budget.
Prepare a Detailed Budget
The standard rule of thumb says that you can afford a home that costs 2 to 3 times your gross income for one year. In other words, if you earn $100,000 in a year, you should be able to afford a home between $200k to $300k.
There is one problem with this rule. It doesn’t factor in your monthly expenses and debts. If we use our previous example of $100k per year income, and you have $1000 monthly debt payments, this leaves you with less money to pay the mortgage.
You should prepare a family budget that takes into account your ongoing monthly bills for everything — credit cards, car and student loans, lunch at work, day care, date night, vacations, and savings.
Now you can see what’s left to cover the costs of owning a home, such as your mortgage, property taxes, insurance, maintenance, utilities, and community association fees, if applicable.
Factor in Your Downpayment
Having enough for a down payment is also an important factor to consider. It’s simple: the higher the down payment, the lower your monthly mortgage costs will be. If you put down at least 20% of the home’s cost, you may not have to get private mortgage insurance, which protects the lender if you default and costs hundreds each month. That leaves more money for your mortgage payment.
The lower your down payment, the higher the loan amount you’ll need to qualify for and the higher your monthly mortgage payment.
But, if interest rates and/or home prices are rising and you wait to buy until you accumulate a bigger downpayment, you may end up paying more for your home.
Consider Your Overall Debt
Lenders generally follow the 43% rule. Your monthly mortgage payments covering your home loan principal, interest, taxes and insurance, plus all your other bills, like car loans, utilities, and credit cards, shouldn’t exceed 43% of your gross annual income.
Here’s an example of how the 43% calculation works for a home buyer making $100,000 a year before taxes:
- Your gross annual income is $100,000.
- Multiply $100,000 by 43% to get $43,000 in annual income.
- Divide $43,000 by 12 months to convert the annual 43% limit into a monthly upper limit of $3,583.
- All your monthly bills including your potential mortgage can’t go above $3,583 per month.
You might find a lender willing to give you a mortgage with a payment that goes above the 43% line, but consider carefully before you take it.
Use Your Rent as a Mortgage Guide
If you currently are renting, then you can use an online calculator to compare the costs of renting vs owning a home to see which makes the most sense for your financial situation.
If you’re struggling to keep up with your rent, buy a home that will give you the same payment rather than going up to a higher monthly payment. You’ll have additional costs for home ownership that your landlord now covers, like property taxes and repairs. If there’s no room in your budget for those extras, you could become financially stressed.
Also consider whether or not you’ll itemize your deductions. If you take the standard deduction, you can’t also deduct mortgage interest payments. Talking to a tax adviser, or using a tax software program to do a “what if” tax return, can help you see your tax situation more clearly.
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