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Health, Life Events

You Could Be Paying for More Insurance Than You Need

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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Tiffany Hamilton knew as a college student that she would one day be an entrepreneur. With that in mind, she made sure to enlist the help of a financial planning company when she bought her first life insurance plan at 21, as she was just getting her start in real estate.

That first policy was a $20,000 term-life plan that cost her about $80 a month. When her salary increased, she decided she needed more coverage than that. As a single woman with a burgeoning business, she wanted to make sure she had enough coverage to take care of any debts and leave something for her mother..

Her insurance representative at the time encouraged her to up her coverage. So at 25, she converted her policy to a $1 million whole life policy.

“I thought by going to a financial planner, sitting down and answering the questions, and then going off of their recommendations, I thought I was doing the right thing,” Hamilton told MagnifyMoney. “Yes, the $1 million would give my mom X, Y and Z, but was that in my best interests?”

Now 35 and running her own real estate business based in Tallahassee, Fla., Hamilton has lately been wondering: Is it possible to be overinsured?

How much insurance is too much insurance?

As we grow in our careers, home life and families, paying for life insurance becomes another one of those obligatory items on our financial to-do lists, like establishing a 401(k) or an emergency fund. But the sheer volume of life insurance options available may have created a unique problem: Some of us might be overly insured. That is, our insurance coverage may be wildly disproportionate to our salaries and overall net worth.

Joel Ohman, a Tampa, Fla.-based certified financial planner and founder of Insuranceproviders.com, said it’s also easy to end up with a policy that has more bells and whistles than you genuinely need.

Generally speaking, life insurance is a type of coverage that provides a payout to a selected beneficiary in the event of the policyholder’s death. This is often called the “death benefit.” Many people aim for a death benefit that includes a payout substantial enough to cover a few years of the deceased’s salary, funeral expenses and any outstanding debts.

Those with families may also want to include money to pay off a house, children’s college funds and more.

Of course, there are other options for anyone who has a large estate, want to make charitable contributions, needs special tax breaks or has other complicated financial circumstances to consider.

“Unless there are complex estate planning requirements or the insured has exhausted all other investment options, then typically the idea to use life insurance outside of a straightforward death benefit payout is a fool’s errand that will only result in a fancier car for your insurance agent,” Ohman said.

The cost of being overinsured

The difference in premiums between insurance plans can be striking, and if you’re not sure precisely what to get, it’s easy to throw up your hands in frustration. But if you simply choose a plan that may “sound right” without carefully exploring all your options, you could easily wind up paying for more coverage than you need.

Most insurance websites include insurance calculators to make it easy to figure out what your costs could be for a variety of different plans. Using State Farm’s calculator for example, a $500,000, 20-year term policy for a 30-year-old woman in Arizona is about $33 a month. Comparatively, a whole-life policy is $460 a month. That’s a difference of nearly $5,000 a year.

In Hamilton’s case, she realized she was paying thousands of dollars more for insurance than she needed to. In 2016, she converted her $1 million whole-life policy into a $500,000 universal-life policy.

“That cut my budget down by almost $10,000 a year,” she said.

John Barnes, a certified financial planner and owner of My Family Life Insurance, said those cost savings can be important for families.

“My take is, you can be doing something else with that money,” he said. “Families today are squeezed. I’m not about to overextend them, I’m going to get them the right amount.” The additional savings, he said, could go toward retirement, college tuition or other financial need.

Ohman said that a simple term-life policy is a great way to get inexpensive insurance that will still take care of most families’ needs.

“When people are looking for pure life insurance, they want to protect their loved ones if something should happen to them, and they want them to be financially taken care of in a worst-case scenario,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, then, that cheaper term life insurance product is going to be the best fit.”

Chris Acker, a chartered life underwriter, chartered financial consultant and independent life insurance broker in Palo Alto, Calif., said he almost always recommends term-life insurance to his clients, particularly young families.

“If you’re talking about people in their 30s,” Acker said, term insurance “is hands down the best way to go.”

That’s because it’s an inexpensive way to get insurance that provides coverage for your entire family. Plus, you can always get additional insurance later. But he cautions against applying one piece of advice across all situations.

“The bottom line is, there’s no right answer,” he said. “No two cases are the same.”

Types of life insurance

There are two main types of life insurance: Term insurance and permanent insurance. When consumers typically think about life insurance, they are looking for an option that will provide their families with financial stability if the unthinkable happens. If you work full time for a company, it’s possible that your workplace has a some type of life insurance policy, often equal to one year of the employee’s salary.

But some experts recommend that families purchase their own insurance plan outside of their employer because employer-sponsored life insurance typically falls short of their family’s actual needs.

Permanent insurance does exactly what the name implies: It provides lifelong coverage. In addition to the death benefit also provided by term-life insurance, permanent insurance also accumulates cash value. But with that added benefit comes pricier premiums.


Whole Life


Variable life


Universal life


Variable universal life

Whole life is the most common type of permanent insurance. With a whole life policy, the premium never changes. Part of the premiums goes into a savings component of the policy, which builds cash value and can be withdrawn or borrowed. That cash value also has a guaranteed rate of return.

Variable life offers the same death benefit, but allows consumers the option to seek a better return by allocating premiums to investments like stocks and bonds.

Universal life lets you vary your premium payments and gives a minimum death benefit as long as the premiums are sufficient to sustain it.

Variable universal life insurance is a sort of mix between variable and universal life, meaning consumers can vary premium payments and can also allocate them among investment subaccounts.

Best for: Those who want a policy that offers cash value and stable premiums. There are also tax advantages to this type of policy.

Best for: Those who want the same advantages as a whole-life policy, plus the option of allocating premiums toward different stocks and bonds.

Best for: Those who want the same advantages of any permanent policy with the option of varying premium payments. For example, those who may want to start with a lower premium that increases as their finances do

Best for: Those who want the option to vary premium payments, but also the option to allocate those payments toward different stocks and bonds.


Term-Life Insurance

Term-life insurance provides coverage for a specified amount of time — let’s say 15 or 20 years. Customers pay a premium each month and are covered through the specified term. This is typically the cheapest insurance option.

Best for: Those whose need for coverage will disappear or change at some point, like when a debt is paid or children reach adulthood and go to college. Also good for those looking for a low-cost option.

Even within term- and whole-life insurance, there are additional products you could be offered, like mortgage life, return of premium (in which your premium is returned if you outlive your initial term) and final expense (which covers just funeral expenses). There’s even an option that would provide lifetime protection for your estate upon your death. With all the available options, it’s easy for the costs to add up.

Tips to choose the right life insurance

Use a life insurance calculator. Wealthy families, those with special-needs family members and others in unique situations will also have different insurance needs. Most insurance websites offer calculators to help consumers decide how much coverage to take. The consumer website lifehappens.org also offers step-by-step guidance on choosing insurance, along with a needs worksheet.

Get multiple free quotes. Consumers can also get free quotes from multiple insurers from sites such as My Family Insurance, InsuranceProviders.com and http://myfasttermquotes.com/, which are independent-agent sites for Barnes, Ohman and Acker. Keep this in mind: Getting a quote doesn’t obligate you to work with a particular company or insurer.

Choose the right advisor. It’s also important to understand that hiring an insurance agent or financial planner is just like any other relationship: You want someone who works best for you and inspires comfort. Hamilton said she not only interviewed potential reps this last go-around, she also requested references and asked them about their company philosophy before making a decision. LifeHappens suggests that consumers use referrals to find an insurance provider.

Seek out independent agents. When it comes to actually choosing an agent or financial planner, Ohman suggests looking into independent agents that aren’t tied to a particular insurance company. That’s because a “captive” agent can only recommend those products that his/her company provides, whereas an independent agent can recommend any number of companies. That doesn’t mean they don’t have your best interests in mind, just that they aren’t able to provide customers with options outside their company offerings.

“The only products that they know about, the only products that they’re even allowed to bring to your attention,” Ohman said, are “their own products.”

Understand what it means to be a fiduciary. Another thing to consider is whether the company or adviser you’re working with is a fiduciary. “One of the big advantages you get with working with an insurance agent who has that CFP designation is that they are supposed to be working as a fiduciary, which means they put your financial interests first,” Ohman said.

Those who hold a CFP designation like Ohman are expected to provide fiduciary care to their clients. It’s also perfectly OK to ask your agent if he or she is, in fact, a fiduciary.

By the way, this doesn’t mean that other agents can’t or won’t provide clients with the type of insurance that works best for them. But don’t hesitate to ask if they’re paid on commission and whether a bonus or trip is tied to a particular transaction.

Check the insurance company’s ratings. Once you get a recommendation, he says, make sure the company has at least a A rating or better from independent agencies that rate companies’ financial strength. There are four independent agencies that provide this information: A.M. Best, Fitch, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s. Do your research and find the ratings from each of the four agencies, because some companies may highlight a positive rating from one agency and play down a lower rating from another agency.

Trust your gut. Barnes said regardless of whom you choose to represent your insurance needs, make sure you have a level of comfort.

“Don’t be discouraged, there are some great independent agencies,” he says. “If it doesn’t feel right during the process, trust your gut.”

That means continuing to be open-minded, but also not allowing yourself to purchase an insurance product you don’t want or can’t afford. During that first meeting or so, Barnes says the agent should spend time getting to know you and your situation without necessarily trying to sell you on a product.

Similarly, Acker says it’s OK to question your agent to make sure you’re getting the best policy for your needs and lifestyle: “Don’t be bullied into buying what someone else says you should buy.”

For her part, Hamilton says she also looked into whether companies were commission- or fee-based. That’s because a fee-based company will charge a set rate, which can ease the worry of having an overzealous rep who may offer expensive products to boost his or her commission.

Because many good policies also offer a conversion option, you’re not “stuck” forever with something that doesn’t actually work for you. That means you have the option to change policies, as Hamilton did. Some consumers also choose to buy additional policies down the road.

But, and this is key, you shouldn’t let uncertainty or the fear of overpaying keep you from getting at least a simple policy.

“Think about today — the immediate need; protect that right this second,” Acker says. “Then that gives you time to work on your financial planning. Then you can figure out if you want to keep the insurance.”

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Crystal Lewis Brown
Crystal Lewis Brown |

Crystal Lewis Brown is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Crystal here

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Life Events

Places Where You Can Earn Six Figures and Still Be Broke in 2019

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

expensive metros to live in
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A household bringing in $100,000 each year should be on firm financial footing. But depending on where you live, that amount might be barely enough to scrape by — or might not even be enough to cover the basics. Taxes, housing, transportation and other typical expenses can easily eat up six figures a year in certain cities, leaving families strapped for cash, according to a recent analysis by MagnifyMoney.

For this study, we looked at data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s Location Affordability Index (updated in March 2019), which also uses data from the 2012-2016 American Community Survey, to see which cities would leave a dual-professional households earning $100,000 with little to no disposable income. We considered the average cost of housing (e.g. insurance and taxes), transportation (e.g. car payments, parking, tolls, bus fare, etc.), childcare, food, retirement contributions, utilities and other line items in a typical family’s budget.

After tallying up all of the expenses, we were able to calculate the disposable income of families living a typical six-figure lifestyle in various metro areas around the United States. Then, we ranked the top cities where families earning $100,000 a year would have the least (and most) amount of money leftover at the end of the month. Here’s what we learned.

Key takeaways

  • In San Jose, Calif., considered the capital of Silicon Valley, a joint income of $100,000 with a preschool-aged child means a couple may have to run up their credit cards $1,046 a month just to cover what the typical two-earner household spends on the basics (not including compounded interest on that credit card debt).
  • In seven of the 100 metro areas we reviewed, the average professional couple spends more than $100,000 on the basics.
  • In McAllen, Texas, a couple earning $100,000 can expect to have around $1,795 left over every month after paying the typical bills for a local dual professional household.
  • Seven of the 10 places where couples can expect the most disposable income are in Texas, Florida and Tennessee, where there’s no state income tax.
  • More than half of married couples have six-figure incomes in 19 of the 100 metros we reviewed.

Worst places in the U.S. to make six figures

Although rising incomes are outpacing housing cost increases, according to one of our previous studies, families in certain metros are continuing to struggle to make ends meet — even after pulling six figures. In seven of the 10 worst cities in the U.S. to make six figures, a household income of $100,000 isn’t enough to cover basic expenses.

For example, in Oxnard, Calif., a coastal city in Southern California, families need to scrounge up another $195 to break even each month. Meanwhile, those in the northern California city of San Jose have a whopping total of $1,046 in unmet expenses each month.

Things get slightly better as families head east. Those in the Big Apple have about $65 in disposable income each month (not even enough for the average Broadway show ticket). But families making $100,000 a year in Minneapolis have an extra $149 to play with after expenses, so at least not all Minnesota families are doomed after making six figures.

Breaking down the expenses by line item can give you a sense of what’s costing families the most in these metros.

The majority of household budgets is devoted to housing, transportation and childcare. Housing was the single largest expense in the top 10 places where you can earn six figures and still be broke, with families in San Jose, Calif., paying the most ($2,760 each month) and families in Worcester, Mass., paying the least ($1,779). Transportation ate up the second largest portion of the budget, ranging from $1,082 to $1,532 depending on the city, with childcare costing slightly less.

Best places in our rankings to make six figures

Everything’s bigger in Texas — including the amount of disposable monthly income for families making $100,000 a year. In McAllen, a city along the state’s southern border, households have $1,795 left in their bank accounts after covering basic expenses; meanwhile, families in the western city of El Paso have just slightly less ($1,679) to spend at the end of the month.

Cities in Florida took third and fourth place, followed by Tennessee metros in fifth, sixth and eighth place. No city in our list of the top 10 places where you can earn six figures and still be flush left families with a surplus of less than $1,400.

A relatively low cost of housing helps families keep more money in their pockets in the best places to make six figures; none of the average households in the top 10 metros spent more than $1,299 to keep a roof over their heads. Families in McAllen, Texas, barely pay more than four figures for housing, which costs $1,004 a month on average.

Seven of the top cities are in places with no state income tax, giving families another roughly $200 to $400 to play with each month, compared with those in the worst cities for families earning $100,000. Childcare was also significantly less in these cities, ranging from $514 to $694 a month, roughly half (or less) of what families making $100,000 pay in the most expensive city, San Jose, Calif.

Our full rankings

Check out the full rankings of the 100 places where you can earn six figures and still be broke (or flush).

For the most part, the percentage of the population that makes over $100,000 in these cities inversely correlates with the average amount of disposable income those families have. None of the average families making $100,000 in these 100 cities saw housing or transportation fall below four figures, making those categories the most significant line items in everyone’s budgets.

Overall, families on the East Coast and West Coast tended to have less disposable income than households in other parts of the country.

Understanding the metrics

There are a few changes to the methodology in our 2019 study. We focused on the largest 100 metros this time around as opposed to some 381 metros last year. We also took a more detailed approach to calculating variables that impact a family’s disposable income.

We based our case study on a family earning a gross income of $8,333 per month. Then we subtracted their monthly expenses, debt obligations and savings to come up with an estimate of how much cash they’d have left over at the end of the month.

These are the assumptions we made for this study:

Savings. We assumed the family contributed $500 monthly to their 401(k). In previous years, we assumed the family set aside 5% of their savings in a regular savings account. This year, we changed the savings to 401(k) contributions because it’s something of a bastion of corporate middle-class personal finance, and it offers a tax benefit.

Tax assumptions. Our study assumes the couple will file jointly for 2019. They took the standard federal deduction and received a federal $2,000 credit for their one child. They also took the standard deductions and credits offered by their state, and took advantage of the pretax Dependent Care FSA child savings plan to deduct the $5,000 maximum from their taxable income by their employer. The couple had insurance premiums paid from their pretax income by their employer and their 401(k) contributions paid from their pretax income by their employer.

Debt. We assume the family had a monthly student loan payment of $393 — the median student loan payment according to the Federal Reserve — in order to be consistent with the other metrics (which also look at the mean). Housing and auto debt are bundled in with the housing and transportation cost budget line items in monthly expenses.

Monthly expenses. We based monthly expenses — housing, transportation, food, utilities, household operations, child care and entertainment — for each location on data taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Care.com, Kaiser Family Foundation and the Federal Reserve. We calculated an average for these expenses taking into account the lifestyle costs of a six-figure earner. We also removed entertainment and combined household expenses with housekeeping supplies and apparel. The cost of apparel is the average amount for a woman, man and child under the age of 2 in each metro.

Compared with last year, we beefed up the monthly necessity expenses — although by no means hit them all — by adding costs like household operations costs and utilities to get a more realistic sense of how much people would have left over after paying their basic bills.

Unfortunately, we haven’t located updated childcare costs compared to last year, so that remains the same in our numbers, but is likely to have increased. We’ve also added the average (mean) income for married couples in each metro, as well as the percentage of married couples in each metro with incomes over $100K.

Further, while the median cost of each expense would have painted a more accurate picture of what half the population experiences, this data only included the average, or mean, of the metrics, so the results may overstate what typical people earn and pay, especially for housing and transportation. With that being said, we recognize we may be lowballing some expenses a typical family faces. For example, our data on health insurance includes monthly premiums, but not copays for visits to the doctor and the cost of prescription drugs.

Methodology

The hypothetical family we created is a typical one that earns a combined income of $100,000 (the average income for a married-couple family in 2017 was $110,786 (the median was $85,031), and 41% of such couples earned at least $100,000 that same year).

We were conservative about the couple’s financial and debt obligations by making the following assumptions:

  • Both have corporate-style employers who offer typical benefits.
  • They have one child currently in day care.
  • Between them, they contribute 6% of their income to their 401(k)’s to maximize typical matching, which is considerably less than the median rate of 10% from an employee in a matching plan (page 7).
  • Only one of them has student loans and is making the average payment of $393 a month. (Student Loan Hero and MagnifyMoney are both owned by LendingTree.)
  • The entire household is on one person’s group insurance plan.
  • The family has average spending habits and expenses for where they live.

To calculate federal and state taxes, we assumed the following:

  • The couple will file jointly for 2019;
  • Took the standard federal deduction;
  • Received a federal $2,000 credit for their one child
  • Took the standard deductions and credits offered by their state;
  • Took advantage of the pre-tax DCFSA child savings plan to deduct the $5,000 maximum from their taxable income by their employer;
  • Had insurance premiums paid from their pre-tax income by their employer;
  • Had their 401(k) contributions paid from their pre-tax income by their employer.

The following variables were used to create their hypothetical expenses (each is the average cost for the geography indicated in parentheses):

  • Federal tax contribution (national, but adjusted for state average health care premiums)
  • State tax contribution (state)
  • FICA contribution (national)
  • 401(k) contribution (national; see notes on assumptions)
  • Insurance premiums for family coverage (state)
  • Housing costs for dual professional families (MSA)
  • Transportation costs for dual professional families (MSA)
  • Food costs (regional)
  • Utilities cost (regional)
  • Household operations, housekeeping supply, and apparel costs (regional)
  • Child care costs (MSAs where available (half of the MSAs), and state averages where not)
  • Student loan payments (national)

Sources include the Bureau of Labor Statistics; the Department of Housing and Urban Development; the Tax Foundation; Care.com; the Kaiser Family Foundation; the U.S. Federal Reserve; and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Joni Sweet
Joni Sweet |

Joni Sweet is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Joni here

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Life Events, Mortgage

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

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Not everyone can afford to buy a home on their own, especially if they’re managing student loan debt or don’t have a high salary. Fortunately, if you and a friend share the common goal of owning a home, there may be a path forward.

For good friends or cohabiting couples, buying a home together can help both parties boost their net worth or simply achieve homeownership.

However, purchasing a home together isn’t as simple as signing some paperwork and splitting the bills. The key to a successful co-homeownership arrangement is to set yourselves up for success from the get-go.

The content below is your guide to buying a house with a friend — the right way.

Is it a good idea to buy a house with a friend?

Before you get too excited about buying a home with your BFF, take the time to determine whether the decision makes sense for the both of you.

If either of you can’t afford or qualify to buy a house on your own, then it might make sense to buy with a friend, said Michael Becker, a branch manager with Sierra Pacific Mortgage in Lutherville, Md.

Getting started buying a home with a friend

First, you need to be clear on where you both stand financially. Do you each have a proven track record of paying your bills on time? Are you keeping balances low on your credit cards? Do you have steady employment and income?

You’re entitled to pull your credit report from each of the three credit reporting bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — once every year at no cost to you. You’ll also need to have an idea of where your credit scores stand, preferably by taking advantage of a service that offers a free credit score.

Before you start house shopping, you’ll want to know how much house you and your friend can afford based on your combined creditworthiness and income. That’s where a mortgage preapproval comes in.

A preapproval is a letter from a mortgage lender that says you’re conditionally eligible to borrow money to purchase a home. You’re given an estimated loan amount and interest rate. Having this information not only helps you better understand what types of homes might fit in your price range, but also helps home sellers take you more seriously as prospective buyers.

Creating a co-ownership agreement

You’ll want to settle on a co-ownership agreement before you start the homebuying process. Make it plain and get in writing how you’ll split equity in the home, who will be responsible for maintenance costs and what will happen if there’s a major life event such as death, marriage or having children.

“It’s important to talk about it and what your plans are if the relationship breaks down,” Becker said. “If somebody dies, what do you want to do with the house?”

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

Questions every co-ownership agreement should answer

The co-ownership agreement you draft and sign will need to address the issues surrounding your joint homeownership. Here are the main questions the agreement should answer:

Q What happens if one of you wants out?

Your agreement should outline an exit plan in case one or both of you want out of the property. This 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.

If you wanted to sell your interest in the property, however, the co-borrower would need to refinance the mortgage to remove your name from the paperwork. If they don’t refinance the loan and start missing mortgage payments, you’ll still be on the hook and your credit profile will be affected, even if you’ve moved on from that home.

Keep in mind that whomever refinances needs to qualify again for the mortgage. If you decided to buy a home together because you couldn’t originally qualify for or afford a mortgage on your own, you still might not qualify to own after a refinance, unless your financial circumstances have improved dramatically.

If you can’t refinance, you all may decide to arrange for the departing owner to rent out their living space in the household — then you’d need to take time to find a tenant.

Q What happens if one of you suffers a job loss?

You’ll 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 if one of you 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.

A good rule of thumb is to stash away three-to-six months’ worth of living expenses. If you each save that much individually, you can pool up to a year’s worth of expenses for a rainy day.

Q How will you split the bills?

The co-ownership agreement also needs to address how you all will split up housing costs. Should you put some of the bills in one person’s name and some in the other’s name? What about opening a joint account and contributing a set amount to it for monthly bill payments?

Don’t forget about maintenance, repairs and escrow payments. You’ll want to be prepared for increases in your property taxes and homeowners insurance, should they come.

Applying jointly for a mortgage

Once you’ve decided that you and your friend will apply for a mortgage together, there are several things to keep in mind about the mortgage application process.

Although you’ll be co-borrowers on the same loan, you’ll each fill out your own mortgage application, Becker said. All of your information will be listed separately, including information about your income and existing debts. Once your applications go through underwriting, your and your friend’s information will be merged.

Based on this information, your lender will make adjustments to the mortgage rate you’re quoted. The more money you and your friend can contribute as a down payment, the better your mortgage rate tends to be. Similarly, higher credit scores will put you in a better position to get a competitive rate.

Whose credit scores do lenders use?

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 a lower mortgage rate.

When you apply for a mortgage individually, your credit scores are pulled from the three credit reporting bureaus and the lender uses the middle credit score — the second highest score — to help determine your estimated mortgage rate. In the case of a joint mortgage application, the lender will pull all three scores for each applicant, take the two middle scores and use the lowest of the two.

Choosing the right 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 is important because it details what happens when one of the co-owners needs to part with the property.

The two most common ways to approach joint homeownership are tenants in common and joint tenants with rights of survivorship.

Tenants in common

Tenants in common (TIC), also referred to as tenancy in common, is the title structure most unrelated people use when buying a home. TIC 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 their wishes will be honored.

The TIC allows co-owners to own unequal shares of the property (60/40, 75/25, etc.), 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.

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.

Cons of a TIC structure

  • You could pay more housing costs compared to your friend if you have a larger ownership share. Because a TIC doesn’t require a 50/50 split, if you use more of the home’s square footage than your friend, you could shoulder a larger portion of the monthly mortgage payment and other bills.
  • 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.

Joint tenants with rights of survivorship

In a joint tenants with rights of survivorship (JTWROS) structure, you and your friend would have equal shares in the property — a 50/50 split. This title structure differs from the TIC in that in the case of one co-owner’s death, the deceased party’s shares will be automatically absorbed by the living co-owner. For this reason, this type of structure is more common among family members or unmarried couples looking to purchase a home together.

If you were buying a home with a family member instead of your friend and would like your relative to automatically absorb your share of the property in the event of your untimely death, you’d go with this option. Even if you have it written in your will to pass your interest to another beneficiary, that likely wouldn’t be honored.

A joint tenants agreement requires these four components:

  1. Unity of interest: Co-owners must all have equal ownership interest.
  2. Unity of time: Co-owners must all acquire the property at the same time.
  3. Unity of title: Co-owners must all have the same title on the home.
  4. Unity of possession: Co-owners must all have the same right to possess the entirety of the home.

Pros of a joint tenants structure

  • Everyone owns an equal share in the property. There’s no 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.

Cons of a joint tenants structure

  • 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’s a concern, a TIC agreement is best.
  • No outside beneficiaries. In the event of your death, your co-owning friend would receive your share of ownership in the home, which means you can’t grant your ownership share to an heir in your will.

Pros and cons of buying a house with a friend

Still not sure if you and your friend should buy a home together? Consider the following pros and cons before making your decision.

Pros of joint homeownershipCons of joint homeownership
  • Gives you the chance to enter the housing market sooner than if you’d waited until you could buy on your own.
  • Lenders consider the lowest middle credit score between you and your co-borrower, which might impact how good of a mortgage rate you’ll get.
  • Potentially increases your buying power, as two separate incomes are being considered for the mortgage.
  • You’re both on the hook for the mortgage payments every month — a half payment won’t satisfy your lender.
  • Provides you with a choice in how you’ll structure homeownership.
  • If one of you wants out, the other has to refinance. If they can’t qualify for a mortgage alone, this could create problems for you both.

The bottom line

It sounds like a fun idea to own a home with a friend, but there are several considerations to work through before you get entangled in a contract that will impact you both financially and personally.

The biggest mistake you can make is letting feelings take over, Becker said. This applies to pre- and post-homeownership decisions.

“It should be very calm, cool, planned out, thought out,” he said. “Sometimes when those relationships end, people let their emotions get the best of them.”
Know (and get it in writing) where you each stand on taking title, paying bills, filing taxes and establishing a way out — should life change for either of you.

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Crissinda Ponder
Crissinda Ponder |

Crissinda Ponder is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Crissinda here

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