How Much House Can You Afford?

Just because a lender approves you for a mortgage doesn’t mean you can comfortably afford it.

It doesn’t matter if you’re searching homes for sale in Fort Lauderdale, FL, or Philadelphia, PA. Type “how much house can I afford” into a Google search and you’ll come up with a number of online tools and mortgage calculators to help you figure the answer to your query. You might also see rules of thumb that state things like “your mortgage payment shouldn’t take up more than 35% of your monthly income.”

But it’s important to make sure you understand how the pieces all fit together, and that you take your personal financial situation into account. Here’s why.

Financial rules of thumb may not apply to you

Every person’s finances are just as individual as they are. So while it may be a good reference point to know that your mortgage payment shouldn’t be more than 35% of your monthly income, that figure could vary a lot depending on things such as debt and other monthly payment obligations, not to mention how much you’ve saved for a down payment.

Online mortgage calculators are great at giving you a clearer starting point for mortgage shopping. You’ll get a much better sense of what your price range might be instead of a blanket rule of thumb. But they’re only as accurate as the information you provide, so if you forget to add regular budget line items such as food, day care, or gas costs, you won’t get a complete picture.

Your lender may approve you for more than you can realistically afford

Lenders are now legally required to ensure borrowers can “reasonably afford” to repay a loan before they approve a new mortgage. But there’s a difference between being able to reasonably afford something and being able to realistically afford something.

When looking at what’s reasonable, lenders can account for your income and any current debts that you need to repay each month. If you make $5,000 per month after taxes and need to pay $500 toward your car loan each month, a mortgage payment of $1,500 may seem perfectly reasonable.

In this (extremely simplified) example, you’d have about $3,000 per month left over to handle all your other expenses. And perhaps you can afford your living expenses on this budget. But what about the other goals you want to achieve? What about saving for retirement or investing for your future?

If you commit to a large monthly mortgage payment, you may find yourself squeezed to make your remaining money cover your living expenses, plus monthly bills and loan repayments. While a lender can give you a mortgage you can reasonably afford, it comes with the consequence of not being able to handle other financial priorities. In short: Even though you may qualify for a large mortgage, that doesn’t mean you should max out your house budget.