June 11th, 2018: Along with paying down debt, building an emergency fund, and planning for retirement, buying a home is one of the most popular financial planning goals. With interest rates on the rise, you may be wondering how to buy a home as soon as possible. Here are some steps to take:
1) Get your credit in as good shape as possible. Your credit score can make a big difference in your mortgage interest rate. You can use sites like creditkarma.com (which uses TransUnion and Equifax) and freecreditscore.com (which uses Experian) to get free credit scores from all three credit bureaus, free credit monitoring to alert you of any changes to your credit, and advice on how to improve your credit scores. The key things are to make sure you make your debt payments on time, pay off as much of your debt as possible (except perhaps car and student loans, which tend to have relatively low interest rates), and be careful of closing credit card accounts. If you have a credit card that is charging you an annual fee, see if you can convert the card into a no-fee card rather than close it.
You can also order a free copy of your credit reports from each of the credit bureaus at annualcreditreport.com as long as you haven’t done so in the last 12 months. One study showed that about 70% of credit reports have errors in them so check to see if there are any in yours that could be hurting your credit score and if so, be sure to have them corrected. It’s bad enough to suffer from your own mistakes. You don’t want to suffer from someone else’s too. Finally, you may want to put a security freeze on your credit reports to protect you from identity theft.
2) Figure out how much home you can afford. Remember, just because the mortgage company will loan you the money doesn’t mean you should take it. There are rules of thumb like not spending more than 28% of your income on mortgage payments, but every person’s situation is different. Two people may have the same income, but one may need to save more for retirement or choose to make large private school tuition payments for their kids. Take a look at your current saving and spending needs to see how much you can realistically afford to pay each month and don’t forget to leave some room for the potential “hidden expenses” of home ownership like utility bills, HOA fees if applicable, repairs and maintenance.