Editor’s note: This is the second column in a three-part series.
Borrowers without the income required to qualify for the mortgage they need have many possible options. "Income adequacy" is governed by general guidelines that can be adjusted to meet individual circumstances. It is "softer" than the down payment requirement, discussed last week.
Maximum debt-to-income ratio
The measure of income adequacy most often used is the sum of the monthly payment on the new mortgage, plus property taxes, homeowners insurance and other debt payments, divided by income. The maximum ranges from 40 percent to 43 percent, but underwriters have discretion to accept higher requirements if they believe that circumstances justify them.
Debt payments are those that extend beyond the next six months and are not deferred for a year or longer. This includes HELOCs and other revolving credits, credit card debt that you don’t pay off at month-end, student loans, and alimony and child support payments.
Repairing inadequate income
The obvious way to repair inadequate income is to earn more, but there are also ways to make your existing income count for more. One way is to convince the underwriter that you can safely devote a larger proportion of your income to housing expense than is typical for someone in your income bracket. The best (perhaps the only) way to do that is to document that you have done it in the past — either as a past homeowner or as a renter.
Another repair could be to induce the underwriter to count income that would ordinarily be disregarded because of a presumption that it won’t continue. You rebut that presumption by presenting evidence to the contrary. Such evidence could be historical data showing that the income has in fact been generated over a considerable period. Or the evidence could be forward-looking testimony by someone in position to have knowledge of your prospects, such as your employer. Here are some examples:
- If your income has recently increased, obtain a written statement from your employer explaining the reason for the increase and that it is likely to continue.
- If your income has recently decreased, obtain a written statement from your employer explaining the reason for the decrease and why it is likely to be temporary.
- If you want overtime, commission bonus and/or part-time income to be counted, document that you have received it for two years, along with a statement from your employer that it probably will continue.
- If you are in the military and want to claim pay above base pay for your rank (jump, hazard, special assignment, etc.), and/or housing, base and food allowances, provide an explanation of why they will continue. If you are deployed, explain in writing that your pay stubs do not match your W-2s because you have been deployed to a war zone and that your income is not taxed.
- If you have investment income from an unusual source that you believe to be stable, put your reasons in writing along with data on investment performance.
Borrowers qualifying with business income are subject to much more complicated rules that require a separate column.
Using the income of others near and dear
Co-signers: A co-signer assumes responsibility for payment of a debt in the event that the borrower doesn’t pay. However, co-signing on a mortgage is severely restricted, with the result that it is not much used.
Non-occupant co-borrowers: FHA allows a borrower to include the income of non-occupant co-borrowers who are close family members or can demonstrate a long-standing relationship with the primary borrower. That means that parents who want to help their children become homeowners can do it by becoming co-owners and co-borrowers. The loan amount must fall within FHA limits for the specific area, and the parents must meet the same underwriting requirements as the primary borrower.
Participating investors: Non-occupant co-borrowers are not allowed on conventional loans, but willing parents can become participating investors in a purchase classified as an investment rather than for occupancy. For the parents, being participating investors is the same as being non-occupant co-borrowers, since in both cases they are part owners, liable for the debt, and they must meet the same underwriting requirements as the primary borrower.
In most cases, mortgages on investment properties require 20 percent down, and are priced 0.75 percent to 1 percent higher than comparable loans to permanent occupants.
Reducing debt payments
If the debt-to-income ratio is swollen by large monthly debt payments, there may be ways to reduce the payments. Borrowers who have a 401(k) can borrow against it and use the proceeds to pay down other debt. Loans from 401(k) are not included in the debt ratio. Reducing debt payments by extending maturities is an option that should be exercised with care because longer-maturity debts usually have higher interest rates.
The writer is professor of finance emeritus at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Comments and questions can be left at www.mtgprofessor.com.
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