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MagnifyMoney 2017 Survey of Recent College Graduates

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An estimated 1.8 million college students will make up the U.S. class of 2017. The first few years — even the first few months — after college can feel like a financial land mine as graduates figure out how to manage their finances independently.

To give this graduating class a leg up, MagnifyMoney asked 1,000 recent college graduates to tell us what they wish they had done differently in those crucial years after graduation.

Among the most popular regrets were not being careful about debt/missing debt payments (48%) and not building their credit score up sooner (40%). One in five graduates also said they wished they had been better about saving money.

Missing a credit card or student loan payment even once can result in lasting credit score damage, and a lower credit score can make it difficult to get approved for new credit down the road.

Looking closely at the results of our survey, we can understand why so many college graduates may be struggling to stay on top of their bills — especially those who graduated with student loan debt.

Student Debt: A gateway to credit card debt

The vast majority of our survey respondents (61%) said they left school with student loan debt. On average, graduates with student loan debt said they carried $35,073.

We found some troubling trends among those with student loan debt. Not only are they more likely to say that they did not feel like they were better off their parents at their age, but they are also more likely to carry large loads of credit card debt.

More than half (58%) of graduates without student loan debt say they believe they are better off now than their parents were at their age. Graduates with student loans were less likely to agree with that statement. Half (52%) of college graduates with student loans say they are better off than their parents were at their age.

According to our survey, college graduates who left school with student loan debt were more likely to wind up in credit card debt down the road, as well.

  • 59% of all college graduates reported having credit card debt.
  • But 67% of recent grads with student loan debt report having credit card debt, versus 44% of those without student loans.
  • 20% of recent grads with student loans report credit card debt of $10,000 or more, almost twice the rate of those without student loans (11%).
  • And 24% of recent grads with $50,000 or more in student loans report having $10,000 or more of credit card debt.

2 in 5 will need longer than 10 years to pay off their student loans

A significant percentage of student loan borrowers expect to take longer than the standard 10 year repayment timeframe to pay off their loans.

  • 40% of recent grads with student loans anticipate that they’ll need more than 10 years to repay their student loans. For context, the standard repayment period for federal student loans is 10 years, however, we did not ask survey respondents what type of loans they carried (federal or private).
  • Among the grads who report more than $50,000 in debt, just 26% say they will pay off loans within 10 years. And 41% believe they will take more than 20 years, or never pay off their student loan debt.
  • Among all student loan borrowers, 7% said they will “never”be able to pay off all the debt.

Optimism for the future

One thing graduates seem to have in common — whether they carry student debt or not — is a shared sense of optimism for their futures.

  • 65% of grads without student loans feel they will be better off than their parents in the future.
  • 64% of those with student loan debt also feel they will be better off than their parents.

Even among recent graduates with the burden of $50,000 or more in debt, 60% believe they will be better off financially than their parents in the future.

Those with Master’s degrees are most confident, with 68% saying they will be better off than their parents, versus 64% of Associate’s and Bachelor’s degree recipients.

Top 3 tips to manage debt after college

Know your options. If you are struggling to pay down your student loan debt, find out if you qualify for flexible repayment options like income-driven repayment plans. Students with high-interest student loan debt can consider refinancing to lock in a lower interest rate.  Here are the top 19 places to refinance student debt in 2017.

Stay on top of your payments. Student loans will be reported on your credit report after you graduate. By making on-time student loan payments, you are already taking one of the most powerful steps toward building a solid credit score. If you fear you will miss a payment, contact your loan servicer right away. Even one missed payment can derail your credit score.

Build your credit score strategically. A 2014 study by MagnifyMoney found that the average college student will face credit card APRs of 21.4%. Carrying a balance with an APR that high can quickly lead down a long road of unmanageable credit debt. A simple way to build credit is to take out a credit card, charge small amounts each month and pay it off in full. To avoid relying on credit card debt, set money aside from your paycheck for emergencies.

Methodology

MagnifyMoney conducted a national online survey of 1,000 U.S. residents with college degrees who reported completing their most recent degree within the last five years via Pollfish from April 26 to 30, 2017.

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Life Events, Mortgage

Debt-To-Income and Your Mortgage: Will You Qualify?

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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The most important factor in getting a mortgage probably isn’t your credit score. Your application more likely hinges on your debt-to-income ratios — crucial measures that tell lenders how well you are managing payments with your monthly earnings.

Before you take ownership of your dream home, you’ll need to prove you’re aren’t presently overwhelmed with your credit card and loan payments, and that you can comfortably repay a mortgage on top of everything else on your plate.

Keep reading to get a handle on debt-to-income ratios and why they matter so much when you’re buying a home.

Understanding debt-to-income ratios

Mortgage lenders definitely care about your credit score, but they’re even more concerned with your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio. Your DTI ratio is the percentage of your gross monthly income that is dedicated to monthly debt payments, including auto loans, credit cards, housing, personal loans, student loans and any other loans or lines of credit you’re responsible for repaying.

DTI ratios help tell lenders how much money you’ll have left over each month after you satisfy your debt obligations. It also gives them a measurement of how likely you’ll fall behind on your payments and helps them determine how much money they’ll be comfortable lending to you.

How to calculate your DTI

There are two types of DTI ratios: front-end and back-end. The front-end ratio focuses solely on your housing debt, whether it’s rent or mortgage payments. Let’s say you’re trying to get approved for a home loan that has a $1,000 monthly mortgage payment and you earn a gross monthly income of $5,000. You would divide the mortgage payment by your income amount to get a front-end DTI ratio of 20%.

The back-end ratio is more widely used. It includes all of your monthly debt obligations, including your housing payment. To continue the above example, let’s add another $1,000 to account for your auto loan, student loans and credit cards, bringing your total monthly debt payments to $2,000. That makes your back-end DTI ratio to 40%.

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What DTI do you need to get a mortgage?

Generally speaking, to increase your chances of mortgage approval, try to keep your front-end debt-to-income ratio at or below 30% and your back-end DTI ratio at or below 43%. However, it’s possible to qualify with a slightly higher back-end DTI.

The average front- and back-end ratios for all loans closed during December 2018 was 26% and 39%, respectively, according to mortgage software firm Ellie Mae’s latest Origination Insight Report.

Mortgage TypeDebt-to-Income Ratio
Conventional loan43%;up to 50% with compensating factors.
FHA loan43%;up to 50% with compensating factors.
VA loanNo DTI max, but there’s a residual income test.
USDA loan41%;up to 44% with compensating factors.

Conventional lenders usually want to see a back-end DTI ratio of 43% or less, though some lenders may approve DTI ratios of up to 50% if the borrower has a higher credit score or a larger down payment. Similar guidelines apply to FHA loans. Check out our explainer on minimum mortgage requirements for a deeper dive on the DTI requirements for additional mortgage types.

How to improve your DTI

There are a few ways to improve your debt-to-income ratio before you apply for a mortgage.

Pay down your existing debt

Take the time to chip away at your auto loan, credit card, student loan and other debt by dedicating any extra money that comes your way to that debt. Use bonuses, gifts, inheritances and tax refunds to pay down your debt balances and eventually lower the amount of your income going to debt payments every month.

Increase your income

If money is a little tight for you right now and you don’t have additional dollars to put toward paying down your debt load, consider increasing your income by picking up a side hustle, such as driving for Lyft or accepting freelance projects. Review these 10 ways to make extra money and pay off debt for more guidance.

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Mortgage options for borrowers with a high DTI

It’s possible to still qualify for a mortgage if your debt-to-income ratio slightly exceeds the general requirements mentioned above. Below, we highlight a few mortgage products available to high-DTI-ratio borrowers.

Fannie Mae HomeReady® Mortgage

This low down payment loan product from government-sponsored enterprise Fannie Mae allows a maximum back-end DTI ratio of 45% for manually underwritten loans. Depending on your credit score and down payment amount, you may also need to show you have a few months of cash reserves saved up.

Freddie Mac Home Possible® Mortgage

Similar to Fannie Mae’s HomeReady® product, GSE Freddie Mac offers the Home Possible® mortgage that allows a maximum 45% DTI ratio for loans that are manually underwritten.

FHA Mortgage

Home loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration allow borrowers to have DTI ratios up to 50% if they supply a down payment of at least 10%.

Other important mortgage eligibility requirements

While debt-to-income ratios can make or break a prospective borrower’s chances at buying a home, there are several other mortgage requirements that matter to the loan application process. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the most important must-haves:

 

  • Credit score: Prepare to have a credit score of at least 620 for a conventional loan and 580 for an FHA loan. It’s possible to qualify for an FHA mortgage with a score as low as 500, but you’ll have to make a larger down payment.
  • Down payment: Save for at least a 3% down payment, or higher if your credit score means you’ll need to put more money down. However, keep in mind that you’ll need to account for mortgage insurance for down payments that are less than 20%.
  • Employment and income: You’ll need to have proof of a steady job and income in order to qualify for a mortgage. Gather your pay stubs and tax returns to demonstrate your capacity to take on a mortgage.

 

The bottom line

Mortgage lenders are tasked with establishing your ability to repay a mortgage, and that includes reviewing your existing debt load and how your hypothetical mortgage would fit into your current financial picture.

If you’re anxious about your debt-to-income ratio percentages, take action to increase the money you bring in monthly and decrease your credit card and loan balances to more manageable amounts.

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Life Events

10 Cities Where Women Outearn Their Partners

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Despite the growing prevalence of women in the workforce, the median earnings of women over the age of 25 was $32,679 in 2017, with men’s median earnings for that same age group at $46,152, per U.S. Census Bureau data, who estimated that women only earn nearly 71% of their male counterparts.

The reasons for this discrepancy are stridently debated, with theories ranging from personal preferences to mismatched family responsibilities, cultural pressure, institutional compensation or advancement bias. Whatever combination of factors are keeping women’s pay low, the fact remains that female workers make less than their male counterparts — both at work and at home.

Our new analysis takes a closer look at pay differences between men and women to see how it affects couples. To find out whether some places are more likely to have a balance between male and female breadwinners, we analyzed microdata from the American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census for the 50 largest metros in the country.

In an ideal world, men and women would be equally likely to be the breadwinner of a couple. But our analysis found that in the 50 largest metros, women were the main breadwinner in less than 31% of couples’ households.

Key takeaways

  • Women are far less likely to be the breadwinners in a couple, our study found. Even in the cities with the highest rates of female breadwinners, women outearned their partners in just one out of three coupled households.
  • Hartford, Conn., takes the No. 1 spot. In 31.1% of this city’s coupled households, a woman was the partner who earned more. Minneapolis and Columbus, Ohio, follow in second and third place, with female breadwinner rates of 31.2% and 30.7%, respectively.
  • Only 22.6% of couples in Salt Lake City have female breadwinners, earning it the last place spot (50th) on our list. Following at 49th and 48th place are Houston and Riverside, Calif., with female breadwinner rates of 23.5% and 23.9%, respectively.

Top 10 cities where more women outearn their partners

In the 10 major U.S. cities with the highest rates of couples with female breadwinners, roughly three in 10 couples have a woman earning more than her partner.

This is a contrast to other surveys that have found higher rates of female breadwinners, such as 49% of women who said they were the primary breadwinner in an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll. The difference in these findings could be attributed to single women or single mothers who are the household’s sole income earners. Women may be more likely to be breadwinners in these surveys that include those who report they’re not competing with a partner for that title.

When they are paired up, however, our analysis shows that women are less likely to be the higher earner. Here’s a closer look at the 10 major U.S. cities that had the highest rates of female breadwinners.

1. Hartford, Conn.

Women who are partnered up are the most likely to be the breadwinner if they live in Hartford. Here, 31.3% of coupled women outearn their partner. This could be thanks to the higher parity of pay in this city, where the gap between men and women’s earnings shrinks to just 17.8%.

2. Minneapolis

Next is Minneapolis, which has almost the same rate of female breadwinners, with 31.2% of coupled women earning more than their partners.

Minneapolis also took the No. 2 spot in our ranking of the best cities for working women. Its high ranking is due to a number of factors, but it’s a true standout for low unemployment among women and decent workplace protections for pregnant women and mothers.

3. Columbus, Ohio

In Columbus, 30.7% of partnered women are the breadwinners. Overall, women here make about $0.19 less per dollar than their male counterparts, well in line with the average among all 50 cities included in this analysis.

4. Providence, R.I.

Providence, R.I. has a female breadwinning rate of 30.5%. This is no surprise, given that it was the eighth-best city for working women in our 2018 study.

While the gender pay gap is above average here, at 19.9%, Providence has above-average rates of women in management positions along with better policies for maternity and parental leave.

5. Baltimore

Among women in Baltimore who are part of a couple, 30.2% outearn their partners. Here, women earn just 18.8% less than men, giving them a better chance of landing pay that beats their significant other’s salary.

6. Sacramento, Calif.

The third-best city for working women, Sacramento, also has one of the highest rates of female breadwinners: 30.0%.

It offers a lower pay gap between genders, with women earning just 14.6% less than men. Sacramento also gets a boost from California’s robust policies and benefits for pregnancy, maternity and family leave.

7. Boston

Boston is the next city with the highest rate of coupled households for which women are the breadwinners, at 29.6%. The gender pay gap here is 18.9%, which is just below average.

8. San Francisco

Next is another top city for working women, San Francisco. Here, the gap in median pay by gender is 18.7% and women outearn their partners 29.5% percent of the time. As another Californian city, women workers in San Francisco are also likely to benefit from strong parental and family work policies.

9. Memphis, Tenn.

In Memphis, women are the breadwinners in 29.4% of couples’ households — that’s despite its ranking as the second-worst city for women. It has just a few redeeming factors, however, such as the above-average number of female managers and the below-average childcare costs in Memphis.

10. Richmond, Va.

Couples in Richmond are among those most likely to be led by a female breadwinner, with 29.2% of women out-earning their partners. Women here earn $0.19 less for every $1 male workers earn, only slightly above the average. Still, working women in Richmond are more likely to receive employer-provided health care and more affordable child care costs, which can offset this pay gap.

10 cities where women aren’t breadwinners


Along with the 10 cities that had the highest rates of women out-earning their partners, we also found the 10 major U.S. cities where women were the least likely to be breadwinners. In these cities, around a quarter (or fewer) of women with partners bring home higher pay than their significant other.

Most of these cities were also among the worst places for women to work, including Detroit and Oklahoma City. Still, low rates of female breadwinners isn’t always a sign of a city that disadvantages women, as three of these cities were among the 15 best places for working women: Austin, Texas; Phoenix; and Virginia Beach, Va.

How the gender pay gap affects shared finances

Overall, this study is another sign of how women are often behind when it comes to pay. The gender pay gap is a big contributor to the low rate of female breadwinners, but it affects more than just women.

When a woman is paid less, this impacts her partner too. The entire household comes up short, setting back financial goals such as paying down debt, building security and savings, and managing money day-to-day.

Some women will also feel the pain of the wage gap more than others, too. Same-sex couples comprised of two female earners, for example, will be doubly hit by the setbacks of the gender pay gap. Women who are the sole breadwinners might also find that they’re having to support their family on less pay than many men in the same position. And for women who earn less than their partner, a separation or divorce can be particularly problematic for their finances.

Many of these factors are outside of U.S. women’s immediate control — but that makes it all the more important to focus on improving their finances where they can.

Here are some ways women can work to close, offset, or compensate for the gender pay gap.

Work on increasing your income. The top cities are proof that the gender pay gap doesn’t have to be universal, and many women are finding ways to close or even overcome it. Take a look at your current pay and do some research through sites such as PayScale or Glassdoor to figure out if it’s fair. If it’s not, it might be time to ask to be paid what you’re worth, either with your current employer or a new one.

You can also look out for career training and opportunities that could act as stepping stones to higher-paying positions. You can even create your own opportunities to boost your income and grow your skills with a side hustle.

Share costs fairly. There are a lot of ways for couples to manage their money together, so look into different methods and decide together on one that’s equitable. If your partner earns twice as much as you, for example, does it really make sense to split expenses 50-50? Discuss how you can work with differences in pay to ensure that both assets and expenses are equally and fairly shared.

Make savings a priority. Women in a couple must save for their own future, regardless of what they earn. It can be wise to have your own checking or savings accounts that are held in your name alone, where you can build financial security independent of your partner. It’s also wise to set up your own retirement accounts and contribute to those regularly, as well.

Manage debt wisely. Debt can be a huge source of stress for couples. On top of that, debt accrued in marriage can be considered jointly shared, making you equally responsible for its repayment even if your spouse took it out. So it’s smart to practice good budgeting habits, live within your means and avoid getting into debt. Even if you’re not married, your or your partner’s debt will still affect shared money goals and lower the debtor’s ability to contribute as equally. Work on paying debt off faster, and look into ways to lower costs such as credit card consolidation.

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While women with a partner are still less likely to be the breadwinners than partnered men, it doesn’t have to hold back their finances. Choose a significant other who values and equal partnership and practices sound financial management. Aim for higher-paying positions at work to try to close the gender gap. Then improve your own money skills and knowledge so you can make the most of your income.

Methodology

Analysts used the U.S. Census’ American Community Survey 2017 microdata hosted on IPUMS to determine the percentage of coupled households with a female partner, where a female partner had the higher income. The analysis was limited to the 50 largest metropolitan statistical areas in the U.S.

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.

Elyssa Kirkham
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Elyssa Kirkham is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Elyssa here

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