Your Car Payment May Prevent You From Qualifying for a Mortgage

You May Have to Choose Between a Car and a House Have you ever thought that you might have to make a choice between your new or nearly new car and owning your own home? Many young people are finding out the hard way that it's often one or the other. Car versus house.

Let me show you how your car can keep you from qualifying for a mortgage. The examples used will be based on the assumptions found at the bottom of this page. I'll be throwing a lot of numbers around, but bear with me. The concept is actually fairly simple, and understanding it can make the difference between qualifying for a mortgage, or not. At the end of the example shown here, you'll see why so many people end up having to choose between their new-ish cars and owning their own home, and how you can avoid being one of them.

How Lenders Determine How Much Mortgage You Qualify For

Lenders use two simple ratios to determine how much money you can borrow to purchase a home. Here's how to quickly calculate them.

Ratio #1: Total monthly housing costs compared to total monthly income

Step 1: Write down your total gross pay per month, before deductions for taxes, insurance, etc.

Step 2: Multiply the number in Step 1 times .28 (28%). This is the amount most lenders will use as the guideline for what your total housing costs (principal, interest, property taxes, and homeowners insurance, or PITI) should be. Some lenders may use a much higher percentage (up to 35%, but most people cannot realistically pay this much towards housing, and Ratio #2 often makes this a moot point).

Example for Ratio #1:

The combined income for you and your spouse is $70,000, or $5,833 per month. $5,833 x 28% = $1,633. Your total PITI should not exceed this amount.

Ratio #2: Debt to income

Step 1: Write down all of your monthly debt payments that extend for more than 11 months into the future, such as car loans, furniture or other installment loans, credit card payments, student loans, etc.

Step 2: Multiply the number in Step 1 times .35 (35%). Your total monthly debt, including what you expect to pay in PITI, should not exceed this number.

Example for Ratio #2:

You and your spouse have credit card payments of $200 per month, car payments of $436 and $508 (see assumptions), student loan payments of $100 and $75, payments of $100 per month for furniture you purchased on a revolving credit account and will pay off over a two-year period, for a total monthly debt payment of $1,419.

Multiply your total monthly income of $5,833 per month times .35 (35%). Your total monthly debt, including PITI, should not exceed $2,041. Subtract your monthly debt payments of $1,419 from $2,041. This leaves you $622 a month for PITI. Deduct your estimated taxes and insurance (see assumptions) and you're left with $386 per month towards principal and interest on a mortgage.

How Your Car Payment Can Keep You From Qualifying for a Mortgage

Under the above illustration, you'd qualify for a house that costs $61,000 (at 6.5% interest). Do you see the problem? There are very few places left in the United States where you can buy a house for $61,000. What is keeping you from qualifying for a reasonable mortgage amount? Your car payments! Without them, you'd qualify for a mortgage payment (PITI) of $1,565 per month ($2,040 total allowable monthly debt payments minus your actual monthly debt payments, not including car payments, of $475).

$1,565 minus property taxes, homeowners insurance, and private mortgage insurance, leaves $1,074 per month towards principal and interest payments. Without car payments you'd qualify for a house that costs approximately $169,000.

How You Can Avoid the Problem of Choosing Between New Cars and Owning a Home

Now, obviously you have to have transportation, so the point here is not to go without cars, but to consider the impact of buying new cars on your ability to buy a house so you can plan ahead by making wise car-buying decisions. Most cars depreciate in value very quickly, so buying a one- or two-year old used car can save you between $5,000 and $15,000 (assuming the car cost $25,000 new). This would considerably improve your debt-to-income ratio and allow you to qualify for a larger mortgage, while still allowing you to own nice, almost new cars.

Buying the same make and model cars used in the above illustrations, but buying two-year-old cars instead of new would give you car payments of $183 and $350 per month instead of $436 and $508, for a savings of $411 per month (not to mention what you'd save on auto insurance). You'd qualify for $65,000 more house, for a total of $128,000. You're much more likely to find houses for $128,000 than $61,000!

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is this: it's enjoyable (and tempting) to have new cars, but when you consider the trade-offs between new and almost-new and the impact it has on your ability to buy a home or meet other financial goals, is it worth it?

Assumptions Used in This Article Assumptions used in this article for illustration purposes:

One spouse has purchased a 2003 Toyota Tundra Truck with 4dr Access Cab SR5 4WD SB (4.7L 8cyl 4A) at a base price of $26,775, plus a Premium 3-in-1 Combo Radio w/CD Changer for $490, and an off-road package for $1,005, for a total price new of $28,270. The other spouse has purchased a 2003 Nissan Altima 3.5 SE 4dr Sedan (3.5L 6cyl 4A) with a base price of $23,149, plus a sports package (power sunroof and rear spoiler) for $1,249, for a total of $24,398. These car prices are close to the average car price paid in 2002.

You have excellent and substantial credit, and qualify for a low interest rate of 4.5% (your credit score affects your interest rate). Your car loans are for five years and assume you paid $1,000 down on each car, resulting in payments of $436 for the Nissan Altima and $508 for the Toyota Tundra.

If you buy a two-year old Nissan Altima instead of a new one, the average price will be around $10,400 instead of $24,398 and your monthly payment will be around $183 at 6.3% interest and $1,000 down (rates on used cars are generally somewhat higher than rates on new cars).

If your spouse buys a two-year old Toyota Tundra truck instead of a new one, for $19,000 instead of $28,270 (Toyotas don't depreciate as quickly as American cars), your monthly payment will be around $350 at 6.3% interest and $1,000 down.

Your property taxes are $2,000 per year, or $166 per month and your homeowner's insurance is $300, or $25 per month. You can't make a down payment equal to 20% of the value of the house you're buying, so you'll also have to pay private mortgage insurance, estimated at $45 per month.