For many Americans, owning a home with a white picket fence represents achieving the quintessential “American Dream.” However, taking on debt to finance this dream lifestyle is increasingly common. While debt may seem at odds with realizing your aspirations, it is possible to responsibly leverage debt on the path to homeownership.
Balancing Debt and Your Goals
The key is being strategic – don’t let debt stop you from achieving your goals, but also don’t take on more than you can reasonably handle. With the right planning and discipline, you can get closer to your dream home even if you are currently in debt.
Know What Lenders Look For
Controlling Your Debt-to-Income Ratio
Your debt-to-income ratio compares your monthly debt payments to your monthly gross income. Lenders generally prefer this ratio to be below 40%.
Anything over 36% will make it very difficult to get approved, as it indicates too much of your income is already tied up in existing debts. A lower ratio signals to lenders that you have enough disposable income to manage mortgage payments.
Some strategies to decrease your debt-to-income ratio include:
- Paying down debts aggressively before applying for a mortgage
- Avoiding taking on new debts close to your home purchase
- Increasing your income with a promotion, second job, or side gig
With a lower ratio, you’ll be in a better position when seeking mortgage approval.
Understanding the Impact of Your Credit Score
In addition to your debt-to-income ratio, lenders will review your credit report and score. The most widely used credit score model is FICO, which rates scores as follows:
- 800-850 = Exceptional
- 740-799 = Very Good
- 670-739 = Good
- 580-669 = Fair
- Below 580 = Poor
In most cases, you will need a minimum score of 620-640 to be approved for a mortgage. However, the higher your score, the more favorable the interest rate you will be offered.
If your score is on the lower end, take time to improve it before applying. Pay all bills on time, lower credit utilization, and correct any errors on your report. With a higher score, you will have more financing options available to make your homeownership dream a reality.
Save Up for a Down Payment
While lenders may approve loans with less than 20% down, a higher down payment of at least 20% is ideal. With 20% equity in the home, you can avoid costly private mortgage insurance.
Building up your down payment takes discipline, but is worth the effort. Some tips:
- Save aggressively – set a monthly savings goal and stick to it
- Reduce expenses – trim discretionary spending to dedicate more to savings
- Earn extra income – take on a side gig or freelance work
- Use special accounts – you can make penalty-free withdrawals of up to $10,000 from an IRA for a first home purchase
- Look into down payment assistance programs – these can provide grants or low-interest loans to help cover your down payment
Down Payment Assistance Programs
There are many down payment assistance programs available for first-time homebuyers. These programs offer grants, low or no-interest loans, and other benefits to help buyers cover their down payment and closing costs.
Down payment assistance can come from federal, state, or local governments, non-profits, or even directly from mortgage lenders. Eligibility criteria varies but is generally based on income limits.
Utilizing these programs is a smart way for first time buyers to get into homeownership sooner by easing the burden of saving for a full down payment. Be sure to research programs available in your area.
Seek Mortgage Pre-Approval
Once you have your finances in order, obtaining a pre-approval letter from a lender is a smart move. Pre-approval will tell you the maximum home loan amount you qualify for based on your financial profile.
With pre-approval done upfront, you will have more confidence when submitting offers. It shows sellers that you are a serious buyer with the ability to obtain financing.
Can I Still Achieve the American Dream if I Have Debt?
Absolutely, you can still achieve aspects of the American Dream like homeownership even if you have existing debts – with the right mindset and smart financial habits.
First and foremost, maintaining discipline around your current obligations is key. Seek help from reputable debt settlement companies who can negotiate with your creditors to consolidate multiple debts into one more manageable monthly payment with better terms. Debt settlement specialists have extensive experience creating win-win solutions. They act as your advocate to get late fees waived, interest rates reduced, and develop customized debt repayment plans that fit your budget. This process simplifies debt repayment and can result in settling debts for less than you owe.
Also, build in a buffer for surprise expenses when budgeting and buying a home. Avoid maxing out your borrowing capacity so you have wiggle room for unexpected bills.
Additionally, explore ways to supplement your income like renting out an extra room to a roommate. This added cash flow provides a cushion for mortgage payments each month.
Finally, be realistic about what you can afford. Opt for a home well within your budget, not at the very top of what you’ve been approved for. Financial prudence now prevents issues down the road.
The American Dream is still within reach with diligence, responsible money management, and the guidance of experts. Remain focused on your goals and take strategic steps to pay down debts while continuing to save for the future. With careful planning, diligence, and astute financial moves, you can responsibly leverage debt to achieve homeownership.
Stay focused on your aspirations – with dedication and the right money management approach, the dream of homeownership can become a reality, even while paying down debts. Remember, strategic planning is key – you can leverage debt responsibly on the path to achieving your own version of the American Dream.