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Four Numbers That Determine Your Buying Power

Understanding your finances is a crucial first step to buying a home. While you might be busy comparing square footage, finishes and neighborhoods, your mortgage lender is examining the specific numbers that make up your financial picture. Evaluating your buying power isn’t the most exciting part of the home-buying process, but understanding how these numbers affect the chances of an offer being accepted is important for every prospective buyer. Here, Realtor.com takes a look at some factors that can help ensure that you’re not only in a strong financial position but you also can make your offer stand out from the crowd.

Credit score

Your credit score is one of the most basic ways a lender can determine your ability to pay your loan on time every month. Five key factors influence your score, each varying in importance: payment history (35 percent); amounts owed (30 percent); length of credit history (15 percent); credit mix (10 percent) and new credit (10 percent). While a low credit score (think below 620) doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be denied for a loan, it certainly impacts the quality of loan you’re offered. Interest rates for scores in the 580 to 699 range could be anywhere from 0.5 percent to 4 percent higher than the lowest rate available—and that will make your mortgage more expensive. Meanwhile, a score of 760 to 850 could land you the best possible rate, and a score of 700 to 760 could put you just 0.25 percent above the lowest rate.

Down payment

Credit scores are playing a larger role, but cash still is key in the home-buying arena. Regardless of how low your mortgage rate is, the ability to offer a serious down payment improves your overall buying power the most. There are plenty of benefits to the often-repeated 20 percent rule of thumb, in which you come up with 20 percent of the home’s sale price in cash. Putting this much money (or more) into a down payment can eliminate the need for private mortgage insurance (PMI) and allow you to negotiate for a lower interest rate. In competitive markets, it even could place you above the competition. For sellers, it all boils down to looking committed and financially ready to make such a hefty purchase. In turn, your high down payment could significantly lower the amount you pay over the life of your loan.

Debt-to-income ratio

Making a nice, steady income is great, but it’s not everything when it comes to determining your mortgage eligibility. Lenders want reassurance that you’ll be able to pay your mortgage in addition to all other outstanding debts currently in your name. To do this, they will look first at your front-end ratio (or housing ratio)—your monthly housing payment (including insurance, interest, taxes and PMI, if applicable) divided by your monthly income. The general rule of thumb is to keep this at or below 28 percent. Next, lenders will consider your back-end ratio (or debt-to-income ratio)—a calculation that determines how much of your monthly pay services your existing debt (such as car and student loans and credit card payments). This calculation is your total monthly debt payments divided by your total monthly household income. The general rule of thumb for this calculation is to keep it at or below 36 percent. While landing above the suggested ratios won’t necessarily end your journey to homeownership, it can certainly impact your loan terms.

Assets

A lender’s biggest concern always is whether the borrower will have the income coming in and the financial resources already on hand to stay up to date on payments, regardless of other financial storms they may be weathering. Therefore, you will be required to provide documentation of assets showing where money for the down payment is coming from and what your savings and investments currently look like. The bigger your cushion, the more likely lenders will think you can afford all mortgage costs and fees, and all other home-related financial obligations afterward.