Tag: Homeownership

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Mortgage

How I Bought My Dream Home for No Money Down  

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Source: iStock

Like many young professionals, 31-year-old Brittany Pitcher thought her dream of homeownership dream would never quite line up with the reality of her financial outlook. Pitcher, an attorney in Tacoma, Wash., earns a good salary, but a large chunk of her take-home pay goes toward paying down her debt from law school, not leaving much room to save for her dream home — especially when most experts recommend coming up with at least a 20 percent down payment. 

“With my law school student loans, I could have never saved 20 percent down for a house,” Pitcher told MagnifyMoney. “Twenty percent is an outrageous amount of money to save.” 

But Pitcher managed to find a more affordable solution, and in 2015 she was able to purchase her dream home for $0 down.

Here’s how she did it:

A loan officer suggested Pitcher look into securing a grant from the National Homebuyers Fund (NHF), a Sacramento, Calif.-based nonprofit that works with a network of lenders nationwide to make the home-buying process more affordable, offering assistance for down payments, closing costs, mortgage tax credits and more. She applied and was awarded an $8,000 grant, which covered her down payment and closing costs. 

Each lender that works with the NHF to offer downpayment assistance has different eligibility requirements for borrowers. In Pitcher’s case, she had to earn less than $85,000 annually to qualify for the grant. She also had to take an online class driving home the importance of paying her mortgage. 

There were other stipulations, too. She was required to use a specific lender and agree to a Federal Housing Administration mortgage with a rate of 4.5%. Since FHA mortgage loans require only a 3.5 percent down payment, the grant fully covered her down payment.

But like all FHA mortgage holders, Pitcher soon learned there was a price to pay for such a low down payment requirement — she had to pay a monthly mortgage insurance premium (MIP) on top of her mortgage payment, which added an additional $112 per month.  

With the grant, Pitcher successfully purchased her first home in 2015, trading up from a one-bedroom rental to a three-bedroom house. And even with the added cost of MIP, her monthly mortgage payment was still roughly $100 less than what she would pay if she continued renting in the area.  

“When I bought my house, with my student loans, my net worth was like negative $120,000 or something horrible like that,” says Pitcher. “Now my house has appreciated enough to where my net worth is only negative $60,000. It’s been an incredible investment that’s totally paid off.” 

After she moved into her home, she came up with a strategy that would ultimately get rid of her MIP and secure a lower interest rate. Within a year, her house had increased in value enough for her to refinance out of the FHA loan and into a conventional loan, which both lowered her interest rate and eliminated her mortgage insurance premium. 

Pitcher’s experience highlights how the 20 percent down payment rule of thumb might actually be more myth than a hard-and-fast rule.  

“Historically, the typical first-time homebuyer has always put less than 20 percent down,” says Jessica Lautz, Managing Director of Survey Research and Communications for the National Association of Realtors (NAR).  

According to NAR’s 2016 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers report, the typical down payment for a first-time homebuyer has been 6 percent for the last three years.  

How to get a house with a low down payment  

There are plenty of programs out there that can help first-time homebuyers get approved for a mortgage without needing a 20 percent down payment.  

Type of Loan

Down Payment Requirement


Mortgage Insurance

Credit Score Requirement

FHA

FHA

3.5% for most

10% if your FICO credit score is between 500 and 579

Requires both upfront and annual mortgage insurance for all borrowers, regardless of down payment

500 and up

SoFi

SoFi

10%

No mortgage insurance required

Typically 700 or higher

VA Loan

VA Loan

No down payment required for eligible borrowers (military service members, veterans, or eligible surviving spouses)

No mortgage insurance required; however, there may be a funding fee, which can run from 1.25% to 2.4% of the loan amount

No minimum score
required

homeready

HomeReady

3% and up

Mortgage insurance required when homebuyers put down
< 20%; no longer required once the loan-to-value ratio reaches 78% or less

620 minimum

homeready

USDA

No down payment required

Ongoing mortgage insurance not required, but borrowers pay an upfront fee of 2% of the purchase price

620-640 minimum

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, for example, has a tool where homebuyers can search for programs local to their area. 

“There might be programs there that first-time homebuyers could qualify for that either allow them to put down a lower down payment or help them with a tax credit in their local community, or even property taxes for the first couple of years after purchasing the home,” Lautz says. “Those programs are available. It’s just a matter of finding them.” 

Case in point: Maine’s First Home Program provides low, fixed-rate mortgages that require a small, or sometimes zero, down payment. Similarly, the Massachusetts Housing Partnership, a public nonprofit, boasts its ONE Mortgage Program. The initiative offers qualified homebuyers low down payments with no private mortgage insurance. 

Generally speaking, where low- or no-down-payment loans are concerned, potential homebuyers have a number of options. An FHA mortgage loan, funded by an approved lender, is perhaps the most popular. Folks whose credit scores are 580 or above can qualify for a 3.5 percent down payment. That number goes up to 10 percent for people with a lower credit score. The catch is that you’ll have to pay an upfront insurance premium of 1.75 percent of the loan amount along with closing costs. 

Veterans, active-duty service members, and military families may also be eligible for a VA loan, which comes without the burden of mortgage insurance. They do charge a one-time funding fee, but no down payment is required, and the rates are attractive. 

Check out our guide to the best low down payment mortgage options > 

Christina Noone, 34, and her husband Eric, 33, bought their first home in Canadensis, Pa., in 2011 with a USDA loan. USDA home loans are backed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The couple put 0 percent down for a $65,000 loan with no private mortgage insurance requirement. 

“Putting money down makes your payments lower, but this specific type of loan, designed for rural areas, is manageable,” Christina says of their $650 monthly payment, which includes their mortgage and taxes. “I might have liked to wait until we had money to put down so we could have bought a nicer house for the same payments, but with zero down, we were able to get into a house easily.” 

The biggest downside for Eric and Christina, who own a local restaurant, is that their house is “a big fixer-upper,” something the couple hasn’t financially been able to tackle yet. This is precisely why Steven Podnos, M.D., a Certified Financial Planner and CFP Board Ambassador, stresses the importance of having a three- to six-month emergency fund before buying a house — especially since putting down less than 20 percent often necessitates paying for private mortgage insurance. He also suggests keeping your overall housing costs under 30 percent of your income. When it comes to finding a lender, he adds that shopping around is in your best interest. 

“It’s a competitive process,” he says. “I always tell people: get more than one offer. Go to more than one institution because different banks at different times have different standards, different amounts of money they’re willing to lend, and different risks they’re willing to take.”

Marianne Hayes
Marianne Hayes |

Marianne Hayes is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Marianne here

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Investing, Life Events, Mortgage

How to Buy a House With a Friend — The Right Way

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

It’s completely possible for you to purchase a house or other property with someone who isn’t your spouse, like a friend or family member.

“It’s a beautiful occasion, but it’s also a complex business transaction,” says Senior Managing Partner of New York City-based Law Firm of Kishner & Miller, Bryan Kishner. “There are tremendous positives to the overall thing, but people need to be careful with the unforeseen items, and a lot of people say they didn’t think about that.”

For friends who are unable to afford a home in their area on a single income, or cohabiting couples, buying a home together can help both parties boost their net worth or simply achieve a goal of becoming a homeowner.

That being said, purchasing a home with a friend can be more complicated than buying a house with your spouse. The key to a successful co-homeownership arrangement is to set yourselves up for success from the get-go.

Choose the Right Joint Homeownership Structure

When you buy a home, you’ll get a title, which proves the property is yours. The paper the title is printed on is called a deed, and it explains how you, the co-owners, have agreed to share the title. The way the title is structured becomes important when you need to figure out what happens when a co-owner needs to part with the property.

These are the two most common ways to approach joint homeownership:

1. Tenants in Common

A tenants in common, or tenancy in common, is the most common structure people use when they purchase a property for personal use. This outlines who owns what percentage of the property and allows each owner to control what happens if they pass away. For example, a co-owner can pass their share onto any beneficiaries in a will, and that will be honored.

The TIC allows co-owners to own unequal shares of the property, which can come in handy if one owner will occupy a significant majority or minority of the shared home. For example, if two friends decide to buy a multifamily home, but one friend pays more because one friend’s space has much more square footage than the other friend’s space, they can split their shares of the home accordingly.

Kishner says to make sure you “reference and evidence your intent to use the tenants in common structure on the deed,” as it’s the primary evidence of your ownership — meaning you would write who owns what percentage of the property on the deed and note the parties chose a TIC structure.

The Pros of a TIC structure

Ownership can be unevenly split

You can own as much or as little as you want of the property as long as the combined ownership adds up to 100%. So, if you’re putting up 60% of the down payment, you can work it out with the other co-owner(s) to own 60% of the property on the title.

You don’t have to live there

You can own part of the property without living there. This is relevant for someone who simply wants to be a partial owner, but doesn’t want to live at the property.

You get to decide what happens to your share after you pass away

The TIC allows you the flexibility to decide what happens to your interest in the property in the event you pass away. You can decide if it will go to the other co-owners or to an heir. Regardless, the decision is yours.

The Cons of a TIC structure

Co-owners can sell their interest without telling you

Co-owners in a TIC can sell their interest in the property at any time, without the permission of others in the agreement. However, if they are also on the mortgage loan, they are still on the hook to make payments, says Rafael Reyes, a loan officer based in New York City.

2. Joint Tenants with Rights of Survivorship

This arrangement is different from a tenants in common arrangement in that in the case of one co-owner’s death, the deceased party’s shares will be automatically absorbed by the living co-owners. For this reason, this type of structure is more common among family members or cohabiting partners looking to purchase property together.

If, for example, you are purchasing with a family member and would like them to automatically absorb your portion in case you pass away unexpectedly, this is the option you’d go with. Even if the deceased has it written in their will to pass their interest to a beneficiary, that likely won’t be honored.

A joint tenants agreement requires these four essential components:

  1. Co-owners must all acquire the property at the same time.
  2. Co-owners must all have the same title on assets.
  3. Each co-owner must own equal interests in the property. So if you buy with one friend, you’ll own 50%, but if you buy with two friends, you’d own one-third of the property. This may be an important consideration if co-owners will occupy different amounts of space in the property.
  4. Co-owners must each have the same right to possess the entirety of the assets.

The Pros of a joint tenants agreement

Everyone owns an equal share in the property

There’s not arguing over shares if you go with a joint tenants arrangement, since it requires all co-owners to have an equal interest. So each co-owner has the same right to use, take loans out against, or sell the property.

No decisions to make if someone dies

There’s nothing for co-owners or family members to fight over after you pass away. Your ownership shares are automatically inherited by the other co-owners when you pass away, regardless of what might be written in a will.

The Cons of a joint tenants agreement

Equal ownership

Equal ownership can be a con as much as it’s a pro. If you’re going to occupy more than 50% of the space, or put up more of the mortgage or down payment, you may want to own more than your equal share of the property. If that will bother you, a TIC agreement is best.

How to Create a Co-ownership Agreement

Before you even start the mortgage lending process, it’s recommended to work out an agreement on how you’ll split equity in the home, who will be responsible for maintenance costs, and what will happen in the event of major life events such as death, marriage, or having children.

“You are more or less going into business together” when you purchase a home with a friend or relative, says Kishner. And like any smart business owner, you’ll want to protect yourself in case things go south down the road.

A real estate attorney can help you set up an official co-ownership agreement.

Kishner recommends each person in the agreement get their own attorney, who can represent each party’s personal concerns and interests during negotiation. Rates vary by location, but he estimates a good real estate lawyer would charge around $1,000.

Ideally, Kishner says, this agreement is created and signed before closing the mortgage loan. That way, if simply going through all of the what-ifs scares someone off, they have the opportunity to pull out.

3 Questions Every Co-ownership Agreement Should Answer

The co-ownership agreement you draft and sign will need to address many issues. Here are three common scenarios the experts offered us:

1. What happens if someone wants out?

Your agreement should outline an exit plan in case one or more of you want out of the property. This could be because of a number of reasons but is the area where things can get extremely complicated. For example, what if one of the co-owners wants to be bought out by the other co-owners?

Let’s say you’ve got three people on a mortgage and on the title to a property. If the other two can come up with the money for the equity, you’ve solved that problem.

But if someone wants to sell their interest in the property, for example, Reyes says they can’t just take the cash and walk away, since they’ll still have some financial obligation to the home if they are on the mortgage. So you’d need to also refinance the mortgage to get them off of it, and that could affect the other co-owner’s financial picture. The only way to relieve someone of their financial obligation to the mortgage is to refinance with the lender. That’s because if they leave and decide to stop making mortgage payments, that will affect your credit score.

Be prepared. When you refinance, the remaining co-owners will need to qualify again for the mortgage. If you decided to add a co-owner because you couldn’t originally qualify for the property based on your income, you might not qualify to own after a refinance.

If you can’t refinance, you all may decide to arrange for the departing member to rent out their living space in the household … then you’d need to deal with the issues surrounding finding a roommate or having a tenant. However you all want to go about handling this kind of situation should already be outlined in the co-ownership agreement, so you’ll have one less thing to argue over in a split.

2. What happens if a co-owner loses their job?

You want to be prepared to fulfill your financial obligations if someone loses their income. That’s why it’s recommended to create a shared emergency fund, which you can draw from in the case that one of the owners runs into financial issues (or, of course, to handle any maintenance needs). You can establish the contributions and rules surrounding a shared emergency fund in your co-ownership agreement.

Reyes advises putting away about six months’ worth of the property expenses into a shared savings account.

“That six-month reserve, at least, is important because ultimately, God forbid, if there is some kind of financial turbulence like job loss, they can cover the mortgage or they could sell the home within six months in this market,” said Reyes.

3. How will you pay bills and taxes?

The co-ownership agreement also needs to address how you all will split up housing costs. Kauffman says you should set up a joint account and agree on what each party should contribute to the fund each pay period.

You should consider the repairs, maintenance, and upkeep on the house, as well as things that could increase over time such as property tax and homeowner’s insurance, too, Kauffman adds. In the event those costs exceed what you’ve set aside to pay for them in escrow accounts, the co-ownership agreement needs to outline how the extra bill will be paid.

Applying for a Mortgage as a Joint Homeowner

If you want to purchase a home with a friend or relative, you’ll first have to decide whether or not both of your names will be on the mortgage.

A lender will consider both of your credit scores during the underwriting process, which means a person with a lower credit score could drag down your collective credit score, leading to higher mortgage rates.

Kauffman strongly advises reaching out to figure out your financing before applying for a loan with friends.

“Each of them might understand what they can afford on their own, but they may not be aware of how their purchasing power changes,” Kauffman says. You may find you qualify for more or less house than you thought you could afford.

He adds there are some serious things to consider when you decide to enter into an investment with other people that you’re not necessarily tied to. Carefully consider your personal relationships with the people you’re going into homeownership with.

“You’ve got to really consider who you’re getting into it with and really consider all of these things that are bound to happen when you have [multiple] lives,” says Kauffman.

It can also be potentially awkward when friends or colleagues realize they must reveal aspects of their finances that they might prefer to keep private, such as their credit score, credit history, and total income.

“Oftentimes people learn a lot about their [co-owner] through a credit report, and it becomes embarrassing and uncomfortable sometimes,” says Rick Herrick, a loan officer at Bedford, N.H.-based Loan Originator.

Brittney Laryea
Brittney Laryea |

Brittney Laryea is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brittney at brittney@magnifymoney.com

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Strategies to Save

Clever Ways to Make Homeownership More Affordable

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

We all know that aiming to live well below your means will help you save more money, get out of debt, and get ahead financially overall. To supercharge this process, you may want to consider attacking your largest expense: housing.

Just being able to save $200, $500, or more each month on housing could put a large dent in your debt repayment or help you seriously pad your savings. Reducing or eliminating your housing expenses might sound difficult, but there are so many different strategies, at least one could work for you.

What’s more is that these options don’t have to be permanent. You can always go back to a more traditional housing situation once you feel like the arrangement has run its course.

See if one of these ways of cutting your housing costs might work for you.

Be Energy Efficient

The eco-revolution is here, and as a result, there are so many ways to save on utilities. A bonus is that some energy-efficient modifications and products can help you earn federal tax credits.

The list of things you can do is long and can get expensive, but there’s some low-hanging fruit when it comes to reducing your energy consumption:

  • Stop air leaks with caulk, insulation, or weatherstripping
  • Swap out incandescent lights for LED lights
  • Turn down your water heater and get a jacket for it
  • Plug your devices into powerstrips that minimize idle current usage (or unplug devices altogether)
  • Use rainwater barrels for your outdoor water needs
  • Air-dry your clothing
  • Choose light colors on flooring and walls to minimize artificial light use during daylight hours
  • Program your thermostat
  • Get alerts for higher priced kilowatt rates during certain hours of the day

You get the point. The more you can minimize your energy use, obviously the more money you’ll save on these costs. Pick a few that work for you, then use the money saved to get ahead in your finances.

Put Your Bills on Autopay

Not only will this small gesture save your sanity, it could potentially save you fees and penalties connected with late payments. You can set up automatic payments to be deducted from your bank account or a credit card account. If you choose the latter, be sure to avoid carrying a balance from month to month and pay your credit card bill on time as well. Otherwise, the interest and late fees from missing your credit card payment could cancel out the benefits of your autopay setup.

Appeal Your Property Taxes

If you’ve ever gotten those solicitations in the mail from companies that claim to reduce your property tax bill, don’t put it in the junk pile quite yet. According to the National Taxpayers Union, up to 60% of U.S. properties are over-assessed. This means that 60% of Americans could be paying inflated property tax bills.

Many property owners don’t even know that they can get their property tax bill reduced via an appeal process. Because of this, it’s very possible that you are paying too much for your property taxes.

The appeal process to get your taxes can seem daunting, but it’s usually a string of paperwork and deadlines. Of course, you’ll be dealing with government entities so that could add a layer of complexity to the whole ordeal, but it’s not insurmountable.

If you have the time and ambition, it’s a process you could easily undertake yourself. If not, it may be worth hiring help to file and follow up through the property-tax appeal process. If the appeal is successful and your property taxes are reduced, you’d fork over a portion of the savings to the firm or person you hire.

Shop Around for Insurance

If you’ve got home insurance, you are likely to have other policies for vehicles, and perhaps you also have coverage for health and life insurance benefits, too. If you’ve got insurance needs that require multiple policies, you can leverage your buying power to shop around for better rates.

Shopping around for insurance can seem straightforward, but be ready to use your brain to the utmost in this endeavor. Not only will you need to compare prices, but you’ll also want to compare things like coverage amounts, premiums, deductibles, and available riders at the quoted prices.

Fortunately, there are comparison sites and independent insurance agents that can make this task a little easier. Either way you do it, it’s a good idea to check around every once in awhile to make sure your current insurance provider is being competitive and offering you the best rate.

Become a DIYer

One of the most costly expenses of owning a home can be maintenance, repairs, and upgrades. Save money by learning to do some things around the house yourself. There are many resources to help you with anything you don’t know much about, from books, to websites, to YouTube. Though it can take more time, you might come out ahead by cutting your own grass or installing your own kitchen backsplash.

If you’ve got complicated jobs that require special expertise and equipment, consider a partial DIY approach. For example, if you’re redoing your bathroom, you might ask the contractor about things you can do yourself to shave the bill down some. Demolition and cleanup of existing fixtures might be the type of work you can handle.

Don’t be afraid to experiment, but definitely be wise about the projects you decide to take on yourself. Finding the right balance between hiring and DIYing can save you time, money, and headaches as a homeowner.

Rethink Your Home Purchase Plan

Getting a conventional mortgage with vanilla terms that include a 10%-20% down payment and a 30-year loan period are all too familiar to the home-buying public. But if you really want to save on the single largest expense in your life, you might have to be a little more flexible than the standard terms accepted on most home loans.

Larger Down Payment

One approach to consider is putting down at least 20% on your home purchase. This will allow you to skip private mortgage insurance (PMI), which can amount to thousands of dollars over the life of your home loan. PMI can eventually go away over the life of the loan when certain criteria are met, but you can save more money by dumping it sooner than later.

Refinance Your Mortgage

Many people refinance their homes in hopes of getting a lower monthly payment or locking in a lower interest rate. Adjusting these numbers downward can definitely save money for some homeowners over the long run.

However, refinancing your home loan is not a silver-bullet solution that will work in every scenario. In some cases, it makes perfect sense to refinance, and in others, it wouldn’t be a good idea. The best thing to do is run the refinance numbers and make a decision. After doing the math, you might actually find that fees and extended loan terms could cause you to lose money rather than save it.

Make sure you fully understand the terms of your refinanced mortgage along with the potential impact on your entire financial outlook. Most definitely, confirm your assumptions about this move with math. If you need help running the numbers, check out this refinance calculator from myFICO.

Pay Cash for Your Home

While not an option for the average American, paying cash for your home is not unheard of. Paying cash for a home would eliminate tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest, mortgage fees, and PMI. If you think you’d like to go for the gusto and pay cash for a home, consider ways to make this feat possible:

Make Some Lifestyle Changes

Though these options aren’t for everyone, they are still worth a mention. These suggestions are for those who might be willing to change their lifestyle in order to garner the most savings possible when it comes to housing.

Get a Roommate (or Two)

The home-sharing revolution has caught on, and everyone from young professionals to empty nesters are finding boarders on places like Craigslist and Airbnb. If it works out, it can truly be a good solution to help lower your housing costs. Plus, having a roommate can be temporary or longer term, based on your living preferences.

Again, this option is not for the faint of heart. Adding a roommate to your living equation could be utterly disastrous or surprisingly pleasant, so choose your housemates wisely.

Buy a Multifamily Unit, Rent One Unit Out

Depending on the location and property type in these situations, homeowners can often cover their entire mortgage amount with their renters’ payments. It can definitely have its benefits, but don’t buy that two-flat just yet.

Remember, with this arrangement, you’ll be swimming deep in the waters of landlordship. How it all pans out can be based on so many variables: the landlord, tenant, property, location, and a host of other factors can make this arrangement easy income or a nightmarish headache.

If things go wrong with your property, your tenant doesn’t share the burden of fixing things though they live there just the same. There can be costs associated with maintenance and repairs that go well beyond the monthly income your rented unit brings in. You’ll want to have a comfortable cash cushion for incidentals before starting your homeownership journey as a landlord.

Downsize

You don’t have to join the tiny home revolution to downsize (though it’s not a terrible idea). Downsizing can look different for different people. Downsizing for one person might be moving from the lake-view two-bedroom apartment to a studio in a less ritzy location. You’ll have to decide what downsizing looks like for you and if it will be worth the effort.

While you might not be game for all of these suggestions, you can probably adopt a few that could change your financial situation significantly. Whatever measures you choose to save or eliminate your housing costs, make sure you are ready to deal with the consequences. These consequences can be both beneficial and somewhat inconvenient for your quality of life and your financial health. In the end, you’ll have to determine if it’s worth it.

Aja McClanahan
Aja McClanahan |

Aja McClanahan is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Aja here

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Life Events, Mortgage

The Hidden Costs of Selling A Home

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

With home values picking back up, many homeowners may be already dreaming of the money they’d make selling their home. Although the aim is to make money on a home sale, or at least break even, it’s easy to forget one important thing: selling a house costs money, too.

A joint analysis by online real estate and rental marketplace Zillow and freelance site Thumbtack found American homeowners spend upward of $15,000 on extra or hidden costs associated with a home sale.

Most of those expenses come before homeowners see any returns on their home sale. Most of the money is spent in three categories: closing costs, home preparation, and location.

Here are a few hidden costs to prepare for when you sell your home.

Pre-sale repairs and renovations

Zillow’s analysis shows sellers should plan to spend a median $2,658 on things like staging, repairs, and carpet cleaning to get the property ready.

Buyers are generally expected to pay their own inspection costs; however, if you’ve lived in the home for a number of years and want to avoid any surprises, you might also consider spending about $200 to $400 on a home inspection before listing the property for sale. That way, you can get ahead of surprise repairs that may decrease your home’s value.

Staging is another unavoidable cost for any sellers. Staging, which involves giving your home’s interior design a facelift and removing clutter and personal items from the home, is often encouraged because it can help make properties more appealing to interested buyers. Not only will you need to stage the home for viewing, but sellers often need to have great photos and construct strong descriptions of the property online to help maximize exposure of the property to potential buyers. If your agent is handling the staging and online listing, keep an eye on the “wow” factors they add on. Yes, a 3-D video walk-through of your house looks really cool, but it might place extra pressure on you budget.

You could save a large chunk on home preparation costs if you decide to DIY, but if you outsource, expect a bill.

ZIP code

Location drove home-selling costs up for many respondents in ZIllow’s analysis, as many extra costs were influenced by regional differences — like whether or not sellers are required to pay state or transfer taxes.

With a median cost of $55,000 for closing and maintenance expenses, San Francisco ranked highest among the most-expensive places to sell a home. At the other extreme, sellers in Cleveland, Ohio, pay little more than a median $10,100 to cover their selling costs.

Generally, selling costs correlate with the cost of the property, so expect to pay a little more if you live in an area with higher-than-average living costs or have a lot of land to groom for sale. Take a look at Zillow’s rankings below.

Closing costs

Closing costs are the single largest added expense of the home-selling process, coming in at a median cost of $12,532, according to Zillow. Closing costs include real estate agent commissions and state sales and/or transfer taxes. There may be other closing costs such as title insurance or escrow fees to pay, too.

Real Trends, a research and advisory company that monitors realty brokerage firms and compiles data on sales and commission rates of sales agents across the country, reported the national average was 5.26% in 2015.

Real Trends says rates are being weighed down by:

  • an increasing number of agents working for companies like Re/Max that give them flexibility to set commission rates without a minimum requirement
  • more competition from discount brokers like Redfin, an online brokerage service that charges sellers as low as 1%
  • an overall shortage of homes for sale pressuring agents to negotiate commission rates

The firm’s president, Steve Murray, told The Washington Post he predicts agent commissions will fall below 5% in the coming years.

Luckily, some closing costs are negotiable.

To save on real estate agent commissions, you can either negotiate their fee down or find a flat-fee brokerage firm like Denver-based Trelora, which advertises a flat $2,500 fee to list a house regardless of its selling price. Larger companies like Re/Max give their agents full control over their commission rates, so you may have better luck negotiating with them.

If you have the time on your hands, you could also list the home for-sale-by-owner to save on closing costs. Selling your home on your own is a more complicated and time-intensive approach to home selling and can be more difficult for those with little or no experience.

Other costs to consider:

Utilities on the empty home

If you’re moving out prior to the sale, you should budget to keep utilities on at your old place until the property is sold.

It will help you sell your home since potential buyers won’t fumble through your cold, dark home looking around. It may also prevent your home from facing other issues like mold in the humid summertime. Be sure to have all of your utilities running on the buyer’s final walk through the home, then turn everything off on closing day and handle your bills.

Make room in your household’s budget to pay for double utilities until the home is sold.

Insurance during vacancy

Again, prepare to pay double for insurance if you are moving out before your home sells. You’ll still need homeowner’s insurance to ensure coverage of your old property until the sale is finalized. Check the terms first, as your homeowner’s insurance policy might not apply to a vacant home. If that’s the case, you can ask to pay for a rider — an add-on to your basic insurance policy — for the vacancy period.

Capital gains tax

If you could make more than $250,000 on the home’s sale (or $500,000 if you’re married and filing jointly), you’ll want to take a look at the rules on capital gains tax. If your proceeds come up to less than $250,000 after subtracting selling costs, you’ll avoid the tax. However, if you don’t qualify for any of the exceptions, the gains above those thresholds could be subject to a 25% to 28% capital gains tax.

The Key Takeaway

Selling a home will cost you some money up front, but there are many ways you can plan for and reduce the largest costs. If you’re planning to sell your home this year, do your research and keep in mind falling commission costs when you negotiate.

List all of the costs you’re expecting and calculate how they might affect the profit you’d make on the sale and your household’s overall financial picture. If you’re unsure of your costs, you can use a sale proceeds calculator from sites like Redfin or Zillow to get a ballpark estimate of your potential selling costs, or consult a real estate agent.

Brittney Laryea
Brittney Laryea |

Brittney Laryea is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brittney at brittney@magnifymoney.com

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Mortgage

Buying a House When You Have Student Loan Debt

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Buying a House When You Have Student Loan Debt

Student loan debt is a reality for many people wishing to buy homes. Fortunately, it does not have to be a deal-breaker. But there’s no getting around the fact that a large amount of student loan debt will certainly influence how much financing a lender will be willing to offer you.

In the past, mortgage lenders were able to give people with student loans a bit of a break by disregarding the monthly payment from a student loan if that loan was to be deferred for at least one year after closing on the home purchase. But that all changed in 2015 when the Federal Housing Authority, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac began requiring lenders to factor student debt payments into the equation, regardless of whether the loans were in forbearance or deferment. Today by law, mortgage lenders across the country must consider a prospective homebuyer’s student loan obligations when calculating their ability to repay their mortgage.

The reason for the regulation change is simple: with a $1.3 million student loan crisis on our hands, there is concern homebuyers with student loans will have trouble making either their mortgage payments, student loan payments, or both once the student loans become due.

So, how are student loans factored into a homebuyer’s mortgage application?

Anytime you apply for a mortgage loan, the lender must calculate your all-important debt-to-income ratio. This is the ratio of your total monthly debt payments versus your total monthly income.

In most cases, mortgage lenders now must include 1% of your total student loan balance reflected on the applicant’s credit report as part of your monthly debt obligation.

Here is an example:

Let’s say you have outstanding student loans totaling $40,000.

The lender will take 1% of that total to calculate your estimated monthly student loan payment. In this case, that number would be $400.

That $400 loan payment has to be included as part of the mortgage applicant’s monthly debt expenses, even if the loan is deferred or in forbearance.

Are Student Loans a Mortgage Deal Breaker? Not Always.

If you are applying for a “conventional” mortgage, you must meet the lending standards published by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. What Fannie and Freddie say goes because these are the two government-backed companies that make it possible for thousands of banks and mortgage lenders to offer home financing.

In order for these banks and mortgage lenders to get their hands on Fannie and Freddie funding for their mortgage loans, they have to adhere to Fannie and Freddie’s rules when it comes to vetting mortgage loan applicants. And that means making sure borrowers have a reasonable ability to repay the loans that they are offered.

To find out how much borrowers can afford, Fannie and Freddie require that a borrower’s monthly housing expenses (that includes the new mortgage, property taxes, and any applicable mortgage insurance) to be no more than 43% of their gross monthly income.

On top of that, they will also look at other debt reported on your credit report, such as credit cards, car loans, and, yes, those student loans. You cannot go over 49% of your gross income once you factor in all of your monthly debt obligations.

For example, if you earn $5,000 per month, your monthly housing expense cannot go above $2,150 per month (that’s 43% of $5,000). And your total monthly expenses can’t go above $2,450/month (that’s 49% of $5,000). Let’s put together a hypothetical scenario:

Monthly gross income = $5,000/month

Estimated housing expenses: $2,150
Monthly student loan payment: $400
Monthly credit card payments: $200
Monthly car payment: $200

Total monthly housing expenses = $2,150

$2,150/$5,000 = 43%

Total monthly housing expenses AND debt payments = $2,950

$2,950/$5,000 = 59%

So what do you think? Does this applicant appear to qualify for that mortgage?

At first glance, yes! The housing expense is at or below the 43% limit, right?

However, once you factor in the rest of this person’s debt obligations, it jumps to 59% of the income — way above the threshold. And these other monthly obligations are not beyond the norm of a typical household.

What Can I Do to Qualify for a Mortgage Loan If I Have Student Debt?

So what can this person do to qualify? If they want to get that $325,000 mortgage, the key will be lowering their monthly debt obligations by at least $500. That would put them under the 49% debt-to-income threshold they would need to qualify. But that’s easier said than done.

Option 1: You can purchase a lower priced home.

This borrower could simply take the loan they can qualify for and find a home in their price range. In some higher priced real estate markets it may be simply impossible to find a home in a lower price range. To see how much mortgage you could qualify for, try out MagnifyMoney’s home affordability calculator.

Option 2: Try to refinance your student loans to get a lower monthly payment.

Let’s say you have a federal student loan in which the balance is $30,000 at a rate of 7.5% assuming a 10-year payback. The total monthly payment would be $356 per month. What if you refinanced the same student loan, dropped the rate to 6%, and extended the term to 20 years? The new monthly payment would drop to $214.93 per month. That’s a $142 dollar per month savings.

You could potentially look at student loan refinance options that would allow you to reduce your loan rate or extend the repayment period. If you have a credit score over 740, the savings can be even higher because you may qualify for a lower rate refi loan. Companies like SoFi, Purefy, and LendKey offer the best rates for student loans, and MagnifyMoney has a full list of great student loan refi companies.

There are, of course, pros and cons when it comes to refinancing student loans. If you have federal loan debt and you refinance with a private lender, you’re losing all the federal repayment protections that come with federal student loans. On the other hand, your options to refinance to a lower rate by consolidating federal loans aren’t that great. Student debt consolidation loan rates are rarely much better, as they are simply an average of your existing loan rates.

Option 3: Move aggressively to eliminate your credit card and auto loan debt.

To pay down credit debt, consider a balance transfer. Many credit card issuers offer 0% introductory balance transfers. This means they will charge you 0% interest for an advertised period of time (up to 18 months) on any balances you transfer from other credit cards. That buys you additional time to pay down your principal debt without interest accumulating the whole time and dragging you down.

Apply for one or two of these credit cards simultaneously. If approved for a balance transfer, transfer the balance of your highest rate card immediately. Then commit to paying it off. Make the minimum payments on the other cards in the meantime. Focus on paying off one credit card at a time. You will pay a fee of 3% in some cases on the total balance of the transfer. But the cost can be well worth it if the strategy is executed properly.

Third, if the car note is a finance and not a lease, there’s a mortgage lending “loophole” you can take advantage of. A mortgage lender is allowed to omit any installment loan that has less than 10 payments remaining. A car is an installment loan. So if your car loan has less than 10 payments left, the mortgage lender will remove these from your monthly obligations. In our hypothetical case above, that will give this applicant an additional $200 per month of purchasing power. Maybe you can reallocate the funds from the down payment and put it toward reducing the car note.

If the car is a lease, you can ask mom or dad to refinance the lease out of your name.

Option 4: Ask your parents to co-sign on your mortgage loan.

Some might not like this idea, but you can ask mom or dad to co-sign for you on the purchase of the house. But there are a few things you want to make sure of before moving forward with this scenario.

For one, do your parents intend to purchase their own home in the near future? If so, make sure you speak with a mortgage lender prior to moving forward with this idea to make sure they would still qualify for both home purchases. Another detail to keep in mind is that the only way to get your parents off the loan would be to refinance that mortgage. There will be costs associated with the refinance of a few thousand dollars, so budget accordingly.

With one or a combination of these theories there is no doubt you will be able to reduce the monthly expenses to be able to qualify for a mortgage and buy a home.

The best piece of advice when planning to buy a home is to start preparing for the process at least a year ahead of time. Fail to plan, plan to fail. Don’t be afraid to allow a mortgage lender to run your credit and do a thorough mortgage analysis.

The only way a mortgage lender can give you factual advice on what you need to do to qualify is to run your credit. Most applicants don’t want their credit run because they fear the inquiry will make their credit score drop. In many cases, the score does not drop at all. In fact, credit inquiries account for only 10% of your overall credit score.

In the unlikely event your credit score drops a few points, it’s a worthy exchange. You have a year to make those points go up. You also have a year to make the adjustments necessary to make your purchase process a smooth one. Do keep in mind that it is best to shop for mortgage lenders and perform credit inquiries within a week of each other.

You should also compare rates on the same day if at all possible. Mortgage rates are driven by the 10-year treasury note traded on Wall Street. It goes up and down with the markets, and we’ve all seen some pretty dramatic swings in the markets from time to time. The only way to make an “apples-to-apples” comparison is to compare rates from each lender on the same day. Always request an itemization of the fees to go along with the rate quote.

Rafael Reyes
Rafael Reyes |

Rafael Reyes is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Rafael here

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3 Investing Strategies to Save for a New Home

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

3 Investing Strategies to Save for a New Home

Buying a home is one of the most significant financial decisions you will make in your lifetime. For many Americans, saving for a purchase of that magnitude can feel impossible. The good news is there is no shortage of strategies you can choose from. The number one factor to consider (apart from your income) is how much time you have to save. Depending on when you plan on buying, some options may be better than others.

Here’s a guide to saving for a new home with various timelines in mind.

If you want to buy a home in the next 3 years…

Every investment option comes with a degree of risk, and with only a few short years to save, it’s likely not a wise idea to take big risks with your savings. The last thing you want is for the money to lose value without enough time to recover.

In this case, you should be looking for savings options that offer safety rather than growth, like a high-yield savings account and certificates of deposit (CDs). These are very low risk and, best of all, come with guaranteed returns on investment. If you’re looking for the highest paying savings accounts in your area, you can use our free comparison tool. We also have a list of the best CDs for the month.

If you want to buy a new home in 4 to 7 years…

The longer you have to save for a home, the more creative you can be with your investing strategy. The key is to strike the right mix between safety and growth. You want your money to grow at a comfortable enough pace to beat inflation but maintain enough conservative investments to offset any potential losses you might experience in the market.

You may be able to achieve this with a 25/75 portfolio.

The 25/75 portfolio strategy is pretty simple — no more than 25% of your money is invested in stocks, and the remaining 75% are in bonds. This blend of stocks and bonds should allow your money to grow modestly while keeping safety top of mind. You can start this process by opening a brokerage account and choosing your own mutual funds to reach the right mix. But do your research first. For example, U.S. News & World Report maintains a list of funds that are ranked for their allocation, fees, and performance. 

If you want to buy a home in 8 to 10 years…

Time is certainly on your side if you’ve got nearly a decade to save for your dream home. The key is taking on the right amount of risk. Because you have so much time to save, you can afford to take riskier investment bets, which can potentially reap much higher rewards in the long run.

Consider a 50/50 investment strategy: You’ll invest 50% of your savings in stocks and 50% in bonds. You should have just enough risk to ensure you’ll beat inflation and then some, but still be conservative enough to be able to weather any downturns in the market. To achieve the perfect 50/50 mix, you could split your money evenly between your own selection of stocks and bonds. For those who like a more hands-off approach, U.S. News & World Report has a ranking of mutual funds that are preset to give you the 50/50 allocation. There you can select the fund you feel suits you best. 

Deciding where to invest 

Where you invest your money matters. Save your money in the wrong place and taxes could eat up a portion of your gains each year. You could also be in a situation where taking the money out to buy a home could cause a penalty as well.

If you plan on buying a home in five years or more, strategically using a Roth IRA could be your best option. With a Roth IRA you can withdraw all of your contributions without penalty; additionally, you can withdraw $10,000 of the earnings without tax or penalty for a first-time home purchase. 

Lastly, a plain brokerage account may suit you. There are no tax advantages to investing here, but if you’re using the account to buy a home in the future, there may be more benefits in other areas. You can only contribute $5,500 ($6,500 after age 50) in a Traditional IRA or Roth IRA, and withdrawals are subject to strict rules. A regular brokerage account, on the other hand, has no limits to what you can put in or take out for home purchases or any other purchases. Take a look at your situation and see which options fit you best.

What about my 401(k)?

A common question most people ask is whether they should use their 401(k) to grow the money and then use it to buy a home. This is usually a bad idea. If you withdraw the money before age 59½, you would be subject to a 10% penalty, plus income taxes on top of that amount. In addition, the amount that you withdraw could severely alter your retirement goals. This is called an opportunity cost.

A better idea, though still not one we recommend, is taking a loan from your 401(k). You are allowed to take a loan of up to $50,000 or half the value of the account balance, whichever amount is less. This is still a loan, however, meaning it could affect your ability to qualify for a mortgage. You also have to pay this loan back. Depending on your company’s 401(k) rules, if you leave the company, the entire balance of the loan might come due within 60 to 90 days after you leave. If you stay with the company, you could be required to pay the loan back within five years.

Thankfully, your 401(k) isn’t your only option. Taking money from a Traditional IRA is a bit better. You are allowed to withdraw $10,000 without penalty for a first-time home purchase. This may change your tax situation as any withdrawal would have to be counted as part of your regular income. For most people this still isn’t the best option but certainly better than dipping into your 401(k).

Making a clear goal

Do some research to see what home prices are like in your desired area. Then make a clear savings goal. An easy way to do this is to take 10 to 20% of the average home value in your area to estimate your downpayment. Use this calculator to see how long it will take you to reach your goal.

Kevin Matthews II
Kevin Matthews II |

Kevin Matthews II is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Kevin here

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5 Unexpected Homeownership Costs to Consider Before Buying

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Unexpected Homeownership Costs Before Buying

If you’ve saved up enough money to put down a substantial down payment on a home (keep in mind that experts recommend at least 20% to avoid paying the infamous Private Mortgage Insurance, or PMI), you should be very proud of yourself.

Unfortunately, that’s just the beginning.

For many people, home ownership is still a dream that’s well worth attaining. If you’re in this group, then it’s important to consider some of the extra costs that come with owning a home that aren’t exactly broadcasted with the price tag of the house. The following are some of the big ones to consider.

Fee No. 1: Closing costs

I’ll never forget the day my sister and her husband bought their first home. They got home from their realtors office and she called me and said, “Did you know there’s this thing called ‘closing costs’? It’s so much extra money!” Now you may have heard the term ‘closing costs’ before, or you might at least be aware that there are some additional fees that go along with closing on a home, not just your down payment amount, but it’s worth doing a little extra research to determine just how much your closing costs are estimated to be based on where you live. Different states have different laws about these things, and when it’s a couple extra thousand we’re talking about potentially having to spend, it’s worth budgeting that in with your down payment costs from the beginning.

Fee No. 2: Property taxes

When you own a home, you’re much more a part of a community than you are when you live in, say, an apartment — at least you will be expected to pay to be a part of a community more so than you are when you live in an apartment. Property taxes are an unfortunate downside of living somewhere and being expected to help maintain the upkeep of the surrounding area. Depending on where you live, property taxes could even total somewhere between $500 and $1,000 or more a month on top of your mortgage payment, so again, it’s worth checking into this added fee before signing on the dotted line of your new place.

Fee No. 3: Homeowner’s insurance

If you already live in your own apartment then you should already be somewhat familiar with the concept of renter’s insurance. When you buy a house, though, the cost that you’re paying each month for the security of your home should you need to make repairs may go way up. For starters, an entire home will most likely be larger, and you’ll need more stuff to fill it, so right there the amount of money it’ll take to insure your things will go up. You can get a handle on how much of an additional cost this might be to your monthly budget by calling your current renter’s insurance company and getting quotes based on the size and price home you’re in the market for.

Fee No. 4: HOA fees

Not all houses will come with this fee, but if you’re looking for a condo, townhouse or to purchase an apartment, especially, expect to probably have to dish out for homeowners’ association fees. These fees can start in the low hundreds and go up to the thousands, based on how fancy of a place you’re looking at, but it’s definitely worth factoring into your monthly budget, as well. The good thing about HOA fees is that they’re used to help take care of common areas and in some cases may even cover areas around your own specific home, like the yard, roof, driveway, etc. (This is good in the sense that any repairs needed in those areas will already be covered in your HOA fees, but it’s somewhat bad in the fact that if you’re HOA covers an area, you’ll probably get little to no say with what can be done to them.)

Fee No. 5: Maintenance

Remember when you had mold in your apartment and you called up your maintenance man and he fixed it? Or when the dishwasher broke and suddenly a new one appeared? Whether or not it took a while for your maintenance people to actually fix problems in your apartment, the truth was it was kind of nice that at the very least, you didn’t have to worry about paying for the repairs. When you own your own home, guess what? That’s all on you. Leaky roof? Grumbly dryer? Termite infestation? While the good news is now you and you alone have a say on how quickly these problems get fixed (well you and your repairman, at least), the bad is that you also have to pay out of your own pocket for them.

If you’ve taken all these additional costs into consideration and you still feel ready to take the leap into homeownership, check out this story for nine additional tips for first-time homebuyers to make the experience a little easier.

Cheryl Lock
Cheryl Lock |

Cheryl Lock is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Cheryl at cheryl@magnifymoney.com

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College Students and Recent Grads, Life Events, Strategies to Save

Why You Shouldn’t Buy a House By the Time You’re 30

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Grenada+view

I am 27, and my husband is 31. Although we have been married for five years and have two children, we have absolutely no plans to buy a house before I turn 30 or any time even remotely soon.

I know it seems odd, especially because many of our friends and family members who are in their 20’s are anxious to buy a home because they want to invest in real estate or they want to set down roots.

While that’s admirable, I strongly believe there are many reasons why you should consider waiting to be a first time homeowner and rent instead.

1. The Freedom to Pursue Your Passions

One of the big reasons I am not a homeowner today is because my husband and I pursued our passions. We were actually looking at houses in the Richmond, VA area where we lived until my husband got accepted to medical school in the Caribbean.

We were so lucky that we didn’t buy a house before choosing to move to the Caribbean, as it was a down market and would have been very difficult to sell. Because we were not homeowners, we were able to sell our things, buy one-way tickets, and leave for a great adventure.

When you are in your 20’s, remember that you are still early in your career. Your preferences could change. Your goals could change. Even your luck could change! You could get incredible job offers or several other opportunities that you might not get when you are older.

So, for example, if you were a renter instead of a homeowner you could easily enroll in cooking school in Paris without too much hassle. You can accept the internship at that awesome winery in Napa. You can join the start-up that your college friend founded in Manhattan. You can do all of these things when you’re a homeowner, sure, but it makes things a lot more complicated because you’ll have a major asset you have to decide what to do with if you need to move.

Even now, I’m glad I’m not tied down to a home because my husband is finally applying to residency this year. For all I know, he could be accepted to the hospital down the street or a hospital in Alaska. It’s really up in the air, and not having to worry about a home to sell is a huge perk. We’re not even sure we’re going to be buying a home until my husband is almost 40! And you know what? That’s completely fine with us. We’d rather do what’s best for our finances and for our career paths than be saddled with debt.

2. The Ability to Focus on Early Investing

Again, you can do this when you own a home, but many people don’t. Homeowners tend to be very concerned with improving their home, creating additions, updating the wood floors, and finally getting that granite countertop.

When you rent, even if you pay a little extra for a nice place, you don’t have to stash away $10,000 or more for that kitchen remodel. You can use it to invest for retirement instead. I know in my area of New Jersey, it’s very difficult to become a homeowner because housing prices are extremely high as are property takes. My neighbors have million-dollar houses that are small, and their property taxes are as much as $1,000 a month and sometimes more. Even though my rent is high, I’m glad I’m not paying property taxes or paying to fix the hot water heater. At this stage in my life, renting is perfect and allows us to put some money in investment accounts that we wouldn’t be able to otherwise.

3. The Trend Towards Starting Families Later in Life

Many, many people are getting married in their late 20s and starting families in their 30s. In fact, only 26% of the millennial generation (18-32) are even married.

If you buy a smaller home for yourself in your 20’s you’ll quickly find that when you get married and have kids, your home might not meet your needs anymore. Once you find your partner in life and you decide whether or not you want a family that will help you determine the size home you need.

Sure, you can make money buying and selling a smaller starter home, but it’s also beneficial to purchase what your family needs from the outset instead of risking a downturned market again.

I got married young at 22 and had my twins at age 26, so I definitely don’t match up to the majority of millennials. However, I know I would not be comfortable in the 300 sq. ft. apartment I had in the Caribbean right now or the 500 sq. ft. studio my husband had during his bachelor days. Each stage of your life is different, and home ownership in America is really synonymous with putting down roots and starting a family. For these reasons, it’s important not to be impulsive and buy a home when you’re in those early stages so that you have the financial wherewithal to get one you do want when it’s time.

Of course, once I find out where my “forever” location will be, likely where my husband gets his first job offer, I’ll start saving to pay for a large portion of my home in cash. Until then, I’ll happily pay my landlord rent. Sure, it’s a lot, but I’ve also maintained my right to freedom, to picking up and going whenever I need to, and that, my friends, is a luxury.

For the counter-argument, read about the benefits of buying a home in your 20s.

Cat Alford
Cat Alford |

Cat Alford is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Catherine at cat@magnifymoney.com

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