When you are filling out a mortgage application, the lender will be asking you for specific financial information. One of the reasons they ask for this information is to enable the underwriter to calculate your debt to income ratio. This ratio is what most mortgage lenders use to determine the level of risk they are taking when they agree to provide you a mortgage. Keep in mind, most mortgage lenders will use your debt to income ratio to determine your interest rate, down payment requirements, and in some instances, escrow requirements.
How Lenders Calculate Debt to Income Ratio
When your loan is being underwritten, the lender will look at both a “front-end” and a “back-end” debt to income ratio. There are two separate calculations for these ratios which are:
- Front end – this calculation is based entirely on your housing costs. The lender will add up all housing costs including mortgage payments, interest payments on your mortgage, personal mortgage insurance, and insurance payments. The total will then be divided by your current monthly income before taxes and other deductions to find the ratio. Ideally, a lender would not want this number to exceed 36 percent.
- Back end – the debt to income ratio on the back end includes all expenses including housing. Your lender will likely use your open credit accounts showing on your credit report which could include car loans, revolving credit lines, and student debt. For most mortgages, your debt to income ratio should be no higher than 43 percent.
Current Rent and Housing Expenses
If you are currently paying more than 36 percent of your total income for rental expenses, the lender may consider this when calculating your front-end ratio. For example, if your current rent payment is 40 percent of your total gross income and you can demonstrate you have been making payments on time, as agreed for a long period of time, the lender may be more flexible with the terms of your loan. Keep in mind however, you could pay an interest premium if this is the case.
The back-end ratios are also important. This is because for a lender to have your loan backed by a Fannie Mae, or other approved mortgage backer, your ratio would have to be lower than 43 percent. There are exceptions to this rule but in general, a borrower would face challenges obtaining a mortgage if their debt ratios are too high.
Lowering Debt to Income Ratio
There are two ways to improve your debt to income ratio. The first is to earn more money and the second is to lower your debt. Lowering debt can be accomplished by paying off some of your outstanding debt, putting a larger down payment on your home purchase, or taking a mortgage with a lower interest rate. For most consumers, paying off debt is the best way to lower their ratio.
Keep in mind, even if you have open credit lines that are not being used, your mortgage lender may take them into consideration when calculating your debt to income ratios. Before closing an account however, talk to your mortgage lender about what options you should explore. In some instances, a lender may offer you a shorter-term loan or a loan with an adjustable rate to help you qualify.
Borrowers should be aware their credit scores are not tied to their debt to income ratios. However, a lower debt to income ratio combined with a higher credit score can make a big difference when it comes to what loan programs a lender may be willing to offer to you.