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Graduate to Homeownership

If you're a new college graduate and your life plan includes homeownership, don't be daunted — there are steps you can take to embark on your journey to the American Dream. But first, take a moment to reflect.

"New graduates should carefully consider whether buying a home makes sense at their current time in life," says Robert Farrington, founder of TheCollegeInvestor.com. "Recent graduates typically have a high amount of uncertainty in employment, location, family and more.”

If you've already landed a high-paying job, have a squeaky-clean credit rating, and have saved or been gifted cash for a down payment, you're golden. You may want to start house shopping today. On the other hand, if you're not sure if your life or financial situation is house-ready, consider the following issues to tackle and actions to take to reach your goal.

1. Decide If You're Ready to Buy

Evaluate the pros and cons of renting versus buying. Renting has many pluses, especially for recent grads who tend to be mobile, cash-strapped and debt-laden. You don't need much equity, you save money and time in the form of home maintenance and repairs, and you aren't tied down to a location should you receive a job offer in a far-off city. On the other hand, buying gives you an appreciating investment, access to tax credits, autonomy in home improvements, stability to start a family and, eventually, freedom from mortgage payments.

2. Take a Look at Your Finances

Generally speaking, you'll need a credit score above 650 to qualify for a mortgage and above 750 to get the best mortgage rates, but the threshold varies depending on your circumstances and the type of home loan you're seeking. Student loans contribute to your credit rating, so be sure to make all payments on time.

Work diligently to pay off your debt. Securing a mortgage with a pile of debt is difficult, as is managing hefty student loan and home loan balances. You may also need to make sacrifices, like living with your parents for a while, eliminating luxuries like dining out, or even getting a second job to supplement your income. The bonus is that making regular payments to whittle down your debt will improve your credit score.

For employment history, lenders typically want borrowers to have at least one to five years on the job.

3. Calculate Your DTI Ratio

New grads have several considerations when embarking on their journey to homeownership, Farrington says. "The biggest is debt-to-income ratio," he adds. This means that your total debt payments, including mortgage and student loans, should not exceed 36% to 50% (dependent on assorted variables) of your income. If it does, you'll have a difficult time getting a mortgage.

It’s also important to start saving as early as possible. Remember that you need more than just the down payment when purchasing a house. Other upfront costs include paying for a home inspection, taxes, and closing costs, not to mention home furnishings and incidentals — everybody needs a new bathroom throw rug, right?

4. Mortgage Preapproval and First-Timer Programs

When you're ready to go house shopping, first get a mortgage preapproval. Don't be tempted if you're approved for a higher-than-expected mortgage amount. Homeownership brings many expenses, including utilities, insurance, maintenance, taxes, and possibly homeowners’ association (HOA) fees. You don't want to end up house-rich and cash-poor.

"In some areas, there are first-time homebuyer programs that could help 20-something graduates purchase their first home," Farrington says. "Check with your state or local housing authority to learn more."

Additionally, Fannie Mae policies implemented in 2017 can also help student loan borrowers qualify for a mortgage. In one initiative, Fannie Mae will exclude non-mortgage debts, such as student loans, car loans or credit card debt paid by someone other than the student, such as a parent or grandparent, from consideration in the debt-to-income ratio for a borrower looking to qualify for a mortgage. In another, Fannie Mae no longer requires lenders to factor in 1% of your college loan balance when deciding whether to lend you a mortgage. Instead, lenders can now consider a borrower's actual student loan payment, which may be lower than 1% of the balance and can favorably tilt the debt-to-income ratio.

One last piece of advice: make sure you're buying where you can actually afford to live, and adjust your expectations if need be. It's okay to start out small and work your way up to your dream home.

Click here to read the full article by Michele DiGirolamo on MoneyGeek.


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