How Much Can You Afford?

Understanding how much you can afford is one of the most important rules of home buying. Depending on your individual situation, your budget can affect everything from the neighborhoods where you look, to the size of the house, and even what type of financing you choose.

Bear in mind, however, that lenders will look at more than just your income to determine the size of the loan. Likewise, you may find that there are some creative financing options that can help boost your purchasing power.

Loan prequalification vs. preapproval
One of the best ways to determine your budget is to have your real estate agent or lender prequalify you for a loan. Prequalification is different from preapproval, because it is only an estimate of what you'll be able to afford. On the other hand, preapproval is a more formal process where a lender examines your finances and agrees in advance to loan you money up to a specified amount.

What factors are important to lenders?
Banks and lending institutions will use several criteria to determine how much money they'll agree to lend. These include:

Two important ratios
Lenders also use your financial information to figure out two, very important ratios: the debt-to-income ratio and the housing expense ratio.

Down payments make a difference
If you can make a large down payment, lenders may be more lenient with their qualifying ratios. For example, a person with a 20 percent down payment may be qualified with the 33 percent housing expense ratio, while someone with a 5 percent down payment is held to the stricter 28 percent ratio.

Other ways to improve your purchasing power