How much house can I afford to buy?

Buying a house is likely your biggest investment. Before you begin your search, it's important to understand how much of a monthly payment you can afford. It's a good idea to speak with a mortgage lender before you start shopping for a home to confirm how much you can qualify for.

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How much house can I afford to buy based on my income?

One rule of thumb to consider is that your mortgage payment shouldn't exceed more than a third of your monthly income. There's also the 28/36 rule. This rule goes a step further, recommending spending no more than 28% of your income on mortgage expenses, including taxes and insurance, (also known as the front-end ratio). And you should spend no more than 36% of your income on your total debt, including car payments, student loans, credit cards, etc. (also known as the back-end ratio).

For example, if you make $5,000 per month, your monthly mortgage expenses should be no greater than $1,400, using the 28/36 rule. You can also determine that your total budget for paying off debt each month should be no greater than $1,800 by multiplying $5,000 by 0.36.

When you apply for a mortgage, your bank will typically look at your front- and back-end ratio to determine how much you can borrow. Use our house affordability calculator to help estimate how much house you can afford based on your income, debt obligations, and the details of your home loan. You should consult your financial advisor to determine if this estimate makes sense with your circumstances.

Home affordability calculator

This calculator is for illustrative and educational purposes only. Its accuracy and applicability to your circumstances is not guaranteed. You may wish to consult your own advisor regarding your particular circumstances.

How much do you need for a down payment on a house?

The minimum down payment you need for a house varies by the mortgage type. Twenty percent is a typical amount for a down payment. So, for a $300,000 home, you're looking at a down payment of $60,000. Since most people don't have that much in savings, it's generally easy to find a mortgage that requires less than 20% down. Some may qualify for a mortgage with a low down payment of 3.5% (for a $300,000 home, that's $10,500.) However, making a down payment of less than 20% usually means you'll need to pay private mortgage insurance, or PMI.

PMI protects the lender against the possibility of a default. You typically need to pay this insurance until you reach 20% equity in the home. However, once you've reached that, you can request that the insurance be dropped.

Conventional loans vs. FHA loans: Which should I consider?

It's important to know the difference between the two main types of home loans as they can differ in required down payment and qualifications. A conventional loan is the kind of loan most often offered by banks. A private lender provides these loans rather than a government agency. If you put down less than 20% for your down payment, a conventional loan will typically require PMI.

An FHA loan (Federal Housing Administration) is backed by the government and the FHA itself. These loans are helpful for buyers who fall into the low to moderate-income range. FHA loans have more lenient requirements, requiring a credit score of just 580 and allowing people who qualify to borrow up to 96.5% of the home's value. This means you only need to make a down payment of 3.5%. Even if your credit score is lower than 580, you may still qualify by making a down payment of 10%.

FHA loans also include an Annual Mortgage Insurance Premium or MIP. The MIP requires monthly payments of 0.45% to 1.1% of the loan amount for either 11 years or the length of the loan.

Other home buying expenses to consider

You should also budget a certain amount for closing costs. Closing costs average between 2% and 5% of the home's total cost. They include loan origination fees, appraisal fees, surveys, and more. You (or your realtor) can negotiate closing costs, but most buyers will end pay at least a portion of these expenses. If you can get the seller to agree to pay most of the closing costs, you can reduce your costs a bit.

In addition to the down payment, closing costs, potential mortgage insurance, and other expenses, you should also budget for property tax and homeowners insurance. Learn more about how much homeowners insurance costs.

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