If the term mortgage has crossed your mind recently and you’re in the market to purchase a new home, you’ve probably asked yourself, “How much house can I afford”? This is a very important question all prospective homeowners should know the answer to before they begin shopping.

In fact, if you don’t already have a mortgage pre-approval in hand, which essentially details how much you can afford, most real estate agents won’t take you seriously. And may not even take you to see listings. Why? Because sellers won’t want to waste their time with a prospective buyer that isn’t qualified.

What Mortgage Can I Afford On…50k, 100k, 200k

While the question is often framed as “how much house,” perhaps it’s better to ask “how much mortgage can I afford” instead. I say that because you could potentially afford to buy all types of homes depending on the size of the down payment.

That being said, it seems a lot of folks want to know what mortgage they can afford based on a certain salary such as $50,000 or $100,000.

[See the latest mortgage rates from dozens of lenders, updated daily.]

Sadly, it’s not that simple, nothing ever is in the mortgage world.  We can’t just look at your income in a vacuum.  Instead, it needs to be compared to your monthly outlays (expenses) and the proposed housing payment.

For example, if someone makes $100,000, but has a pricey Range Rover lease that sets them back $2,000 a month, it may not matter that they’re in the six-figure club.

Their frugal friend who makes a bit less, say only $75,000 per year, but drives a Prius they own outright will have roughly the same amount of money available for the eventual monthly mortgage payment.

We also need to factor in the down payment of each borrower to determine the maximum loan amount.

Long story short, we need to look at more than just income…

So no one will be able to tell you with any certainty what you can afford just because they know you make X amount each year.

Income vs Liabilities

The best way to determine how much house you can afford, or really how much house the lender will let you buy, is to first look at your gross monthly income, and then compare it to all your liabilities.

Liabilities include anything you have to pay on a monthly basis, including both revolving and installment accounts, which show up on your credit report.

Installment accounts include things like mortgages, student loans, and car leases and loans, which have fixed terms and require regular equal payments. Essentially, you owe a set amount of money each month and have a predetermined amount of time to pay it back.

An example would be a car lease that has terms of 3 years at $200 per month. Each month you pay $200 and you must pay off the entire balance by the end of the 3 years.

[Mortgage vs. income]

Revolving accounts, on the other hand, offer more flexibility. These include credit cards that allow you to pay a minimum monthly payment, which you can also keep a balance on. Though you may have a preset spending limit, your balance can vary month-to-month, and thus your minimum payment can change as well.

You have the choice to make the minimum payment, or a larger amount. You can even pay the entire balance off if you so desire (you probably should!). When calculating your revolving accounts for a mortgage, simply take the minimum payment due.

Get a Credit Report

The next step is getting your hands on a credit report so you can see exactly what each monthly payment looks like for each liability as reported by the credit reporting agencies. This is important because although you may pay a certain amount monthly, the amount can change and will vary upon different credit reporting methods, so it’s best to view a credit report to see exactly what the credit bureaus see. This is what lenders will see too.

Also be sure to take into account any monthly payments you make that won’t show up on your credit report, such as gardening services, pool services, and cleaning services to name a few for your own budget.

*An important note to keep in mind! If you pull credit on your own or with a mortgage broker, the bank or lender you use for financing will still pull their own credit report, and any new activity will likely show up on their report.

This is why it is imperative to avoid opening any new credit cards and/or avoid making any expensive purchases on existing credit cards before and during the home-buying process.  Doing so can throw off payments and drop credit scores dramatically if you accrue a large amount of debt or open any new lines of credit between when you pull credit and the bank does.

[What credit score is needed for a mortgage?]

Figure Out Your Debt-to-Income Ratio

Once you tally up all your monthly payments and divide the total by your gross monthly income, you can figure out exactly how much house you can afford by calculating your DTI, or debt to income ratio.  Banks and mortgage lenders have certain DTI ratio requirements that you cannot exceed.

For example, you may see something like 30/45, meaning your total monthly housing payment (mortgage payment plus taxes and insurance) cannot exceed 30 percent of your gross monthly income, and your housing payment plus all other monthly liabilities cannot exceed 45 percent of gross income.

Keep in mind that this is a lender requirement, but you should also determine how much house you’re comfortable with financing.  In other words, don’t just buy the maximum amount of house you qualify for.  For instance, you may want to sock away a certain amount of money each month for savings, retirement, or your child’s college education.  So be sure to look at both the lender’s numbers and your own comfort level.

Lastly, understand that the less risk you present to the lender, the lower your mortgage rate will be, which can increase your purchasing power significantly.  Put simply, a lower rate means a lower monthly housing payment, which will allow you to buy more house, so to speak.

So focus on maintaining a solid credit score and keeping other monthly liabilities as low as possible.  Doing so will allow you to afford a bit more in the mortgage department if that’s what you ultimately desire.