Smaller questions that add up to the big one
To answer the big question — How much house can I afford? — you'll need to ask yourself these others.
- Can I make a large down payment easily, without fear of financial problems in the near future? You'll want to put 20% down — to avoid the additional cost of mortgage insurance.
- Do I have the cash available for closing costs and moving expenses?
- Will my house payment be 25% or less of my monthly take-home income?
- Can I afford utilities and maintenance?
Why should you keep your mortgage payment to within a quarter of what you earn? That's a common rule of thumb recommended by financial planners, though many people ignore it.
According to federal data cited by Consumer Reports, married couples with kids spend an average of more than 31% of their take-home pay on housing. For singles, the average is almost 36%.
But that lack of housing budget discipline may help explain why more than 80% of homeowners say their mortgage payment hampers their ability to save money, one survey found.
Use our calculator to find your affordable monthly mortgage payment.
Lending options that help with affordability
If you think you can meet the 25%-of-income rule but don't know how you can scrape together a large down payment, there are lending options that might help.
They include USDA loans, Fannie Mae HomeReady mortgages and FHA loans. These loans are designed for first-time homebuyers who are financially stable, though maybe not financially experienced.
- FHA loans offer low down payments and are great for those with imperfect credit histories.
- USDA loans typically don’t require a down payment, though an optimal credit history is required. These loans are intended for people in rural areas, though "rural" is defined loosely and includes many suburbs.
- HomeReady mortgages come with low down payments and are designed for borrowers with low to moderate incomes.
But a loan with a small down payment is still no good if you've got nothing in the bank. A high-interest savings account can help you put your down payment cash aside.
Consider other homeownership costs
One of the biggest mistakes that homebuyers make is that they don’t consider the maintenance or utility costs associated with their new home. They also don’t think about the annual tax bill they'll receive.
And, they fail to plan for the unexpected. If you develop a large emergency fund, you'll have a safety net if something happens and your income changes drastically.
When it comes to financial success, preparation is key.