5 Lessons This Single Freelancer Learned After Buying a House

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Buying a house with student loan debt seems out of reach for many of us. Add being single and a freelancer, and the whole idea might seem downright laughable.

But with a little help from an inheritance, freelance writer Britany Robinson managed to make it happen. She was $30,000 in debt from a master’s degree in new arts journalism and a frequent traveler who’d never had any interest in owning a house.

Then, something within her changed – and she found herself a homeowner and landlord at the age of 29.

I sat down with her to talk about the ups and downs of being a young, single, and sometimes broke homeowner as well as what she wishes she’d known before taking the plunge.

How Robinson found herself in the market for a house

A traveler at heart, Robinson didn’t plan to own a home anytime soon. But eventually, she grew sick of “picking up everything and starting a whole new life again” every time she hit the road.

“I wanted something constant in my life,” she says. “I hadn’t expected to – but after bouncing around and changing locations and jobs so often, it was something I was craving.”

And when she arrived in Portland, Oregon, she quickly fell in love. “It was the first place that felt like somewhere I wanted to stay long term,” she says.

She’d recently received a small inheritance she could use as a down payment and knew the local real estate market was booming. All signs seemed to point toward buying a house.

“I wanted to ground myself in a way where I could travel and have a place to come back to,” she explains. “And it seemed like the best financial sense to own something I could rent out to people when I was gone.”

Crunching the numbers behind her new home

Robinson found a two-bedroom, one-bathroom house in an up-and-coming neighborhood. It cost $239,000; she put down $12,000, making her mortgage about $1,500 per month.

Although she had planned to rent out her spare bedroom on Airbnb, she soon realized the steady cash flow from a permanent roommate was a smarter move.

She charges her roommate $600 per month and says, “Having that rent come in every month has made a big difference.”

For her share, Robinson pays $900 plus utilities, which she says is comparable to what she’d pay for a one-bedroom apartment in Portland.

To afford her mortgage – plus unexpected expenses – on a freelancer’s income, she’s had to get a little thriftier. Instead of traveling internationally, she takes more road trips. Instead of eating out, she cooks in her big kitchen.

And although it’s been tight at times (she sometimes picks up hours at a coffee shop), she’s always found a way to make ends meet.

5 tips for buying a house with student loan debt

Robinson is the first to admit she didn’t do everything perfectly when she bought her first house, and she says she’s learned a lot through the process.

Here are some tips she shared during our conversation.

1. Don’t rush into choosing your new house

“Taking your time is the biggest piece of advice I can offer,” Robinson says. “As soon as I had it in my head that I wanted to buy a house, I wanted to buy a house right away.”

Also, remember that it’s your real estate agent’s job to convince you a house is a great buy – even if it’s not.

Analyze what you’re looking for in a house, what neighborhoods you prefer, and, most importantly, how much you can afford.

When it comes to price, you might want to consider the 28/36 rule. The 28 refers to the percentage of your gross monthly income you should spend on your monthly housing cost. The 36 refers to the total debt payments you make – including your mortgage.

“You really can’t think about this decision enough,” says Robinson. “Take a lot of time to think about what works for you and what feels right. It’s not something that should be rushed.”

2. Think about it from a rental standpoint

If you might want to rent out your house at some point, look up rental rates in your neighborhood – and make sure they’re higher than your mortgage.

When it comes to her house, Robinson notes, “I’ve discovered it would be possible to cover the mortgage if I still paid for utilities, but it would be hard to get the whole thing covered.”

Or if you’d like to rent out a property or room via Airbnb, consider purchasing something slightly bigger, maybe even with a separate entrance.

3. Accept the house in its current condition

As we all know from “House Hunters,” homebuyers are always thinking of ways they can change or update a home. And Robinson was no different.

“When you move in, you want it to be that house you imagined right away,” she says. “That’s why you bought it. But once you start doing those projects, you realize each project is an additional expense – even painting a new room.”

Translation? It’s not all going to get done right away. Robinson says it’s important to understand that “the house you move into is going to be the house you’ll live in for a while.”

Accept that “eventually, you’ll get to a place where it feels like home,” she says.

4. Account for unexpected expenses

Even if you calculate your mortgage and bills down to the last cent, remember there are many costs you won’t be able to predict.

“The mortgage and utilities aren’t that bad,” she says. “And I had planned for those. But the unexpected expenses are pretty much nonstop.” For example, she recently spent $5,000 to replace her heating system.

For a single person with a variable income, these unexpected expenses can create a huge amount of financial pressure.

Until now, Robinson has been able to use the remainder of her inheritance to cover them, but “it won’t last forever,” she says. So she’s searching for more consistent work that will allow her to build up an emergency fund.

5. Realize you won’t be spending just money

Being a homeowner, according to Robinson, is “more money and more work” than you might expect.

“The ‘more work’ thing might be just as stressful,” she admits. “Since I’m a freelancer, my work depends on constantly packing in as many hours as I can. So it’s really hard to think about ‘Oh, I need to fix the fence this weekend’ or ‘I need to wait for the electrician to get here.’”

Especially if you’re doing it alone, the time commitment is not something to be taken lightly.

Can you buy a house – even with student loans?

Although Robinson says she wouldn’t recommend home ownership to someone without a reliable income, she doesn’t think student loans should hold you back.

“I feel like student loans are just this thing that many of us are going to have in our life for so long,” she says. “They’re just kind of there, and eventually they won’t be. And as long as I can make the payments, I try not to let them impact my life so much.”

Despite all the stress and worry, Robinson is happy with her decision to buy a house.

“Ultimately,” she says, “I love coming home to it.”

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SoFi Disclosures

  1. Personal Loans: Fixed rates from 6.990% APR to 14.865% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 6.255% APR to 12.555% APR (with AutoPay). SoFi rate ranges are current as of September 1, 2018 and are subject to change without notice. Not all rates and amounts available in all states. See Personal Loan eligibility details. Not all applicants qualify for the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, to qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. Your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including evaluation of your credit worthiness, years of professional experience, income and other factors. See APR examples and terms. Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at 14.95%. Lowest variable rate of 6.255% APR assumes current index rate derived from the 1-month LIBOR of 2.08% plus 4.425% margin minus 0.25% AutoPay discount. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account.

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  2. Minimum Credit Score: Not all applicants who meet SoFi’s minimum credit score requirements are approved for a personal loan. In addition to meeting SoFi’s minimum eligibility criteria, applicants must also meet other credit and underwriting requirements to qualify.
  3. SoFi Personal Loans are not available to residents of MS. Maximum interest rate on loans for residents of AK and WY is 9.99% APR, for residents of IL with loans over $40,000 is 8.99% APR, for residents of TX is 9.99% APR on terms greater than 5 years, for residents of CO, CT, HI, VA, SC is 11.99% APR, and for residents of ME is 12.24% APR. Personal loans not available to residents of MI who already have a student loan with SoFi. Personal Loans minimum loan amount is $5,000. Residents of AZ, MA, and NH have a minimum loan amount of $10,001. Residents of KY have a minimum loan amount of $15,001. Residents of PA have a minimum loan amount of $25,001. Variable rates not available to residents of AK, TX, VA, WY, or for residents of IL for loans greater than $40,000.
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  1. Personal Loan Rate DisclosureFixed interest rates from 6.49% – 19.49% (6.49% – 19.49% APR) based on applicable terms. Lowest rates range from 5.99%-18.99% (5.99%-18.99% APR), are for eligible applicants, require a 3-year repayment term, and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment Discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.
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  • Loan approval is not guaranteed. Actual loan offers and loan amounts, terms and annual percentage rates (“APR”) may vary based upon LendingPoint’s proprietary scoring and underwriting system’s review of your credit, financial condition, other factors, and supporting documents or information you provide. Origination or other fees from 0% to 6% may apply depending upon your state of residence. Upon LendingPoint’s final underwriting approval to fund a loan, said funds are often sent via ACH the next non-holiday business day. LendingPoint makes loan offers from $2,000 to $25,000, at rates ranging from a low of 15.49% APR to a high of 34.49% APR, with terms from 24 to 48 months. The loan offer(s) shown reflect a 28 day payment cycle which is being offered as a courtesy as many of our customers are paid on a biweekly schedule and thus this may better align the loan payment dates with your actual income receipt schedule.

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All loans made by WebBank, Member FDIC. Your actual rate depends upon credit score, loan amount, loan term, and credit usage & history. The APR ranges from 6.95% to 35.89%*. The origination fee ranges from 1% to 6% of the original principal balance and is deducted from your loan proceeds. For example, you could receive a loan of $6,000 with an interest rate of 7.99% and a 5.00% origination fee of $300 for an APR of 11.51%. In this example, you will receive $5,700 and will make 36 monthly payments of $187.99. The total amount repayable will be $6,767.64. Your APR will be determined based on your credit at the time of application. The average origination fee is 5.49% as of Q1 2017. In Georgia, the minimum loan amount is $3,025. In Massachusetts, the minimum loan amount is $6,025 if your APR is greater than 12%. There is no down payment and there is never a prepayment penalty. Closing of your loan is contingent upon your agreement of all the required agreements and disclosures on the www.lendingclub.com website. All loans via LendingClub have a minimum repayment term of 36 months. Borrower must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident or be in the United States on a valid long term visa and at least 18 years old. Valid bank account and Social Security number are required. Equal Housing Lender. All loans are subject to credit approval. LendingClub’s physical address is: LendingClub, 71 Stevenson Street, Suite 1000, San Francisco, CA 94105.

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7 Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

  1. Earnest does not lend in Alabama, Delaware, Kentucky, Nevada, or Rhode Island.

8 Important Disclosures for Avant.

Avant Disclosures

* The actual rate and loan amount that a customer qualifies for may vary based on credit determination and other factors. Funds are generally deposited via ACH for delivery next business day if approved by 4:30pm CT Monday-Friday. Avant branded credit products are issued by WebBank, member FDIC.

** Example: A $5,700 loan with an administration fee of 4.75% and an amount financed of $5,429.25, repayable in 36 monthly installments, would have an APR of 29.95% and monthly payments of $230.33


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* Your loan terms are not guaranteed and are subject to our verification and review process. You may be asked to provide additional documents to enable us to verify your income and your identity. This rate includes an Autopay APR reduction of 0.5%. By enrolling in Autopay your payments will be automatically deducted from you bank account. Selecting Autopay is optional. Annual Percentage Rate is inclusive of a loan origination fee, which is deducted from the loan proceeds. Late payments or subsequent charges and fees may increase the cost of your fixed rate loan. All loans made by WebBank, member FDIC. Please refer to Upgrade’s Terms of Use and Borrower Agreement for all terms, conditions and requirements.

** Accept your loan offer and your funds will be sent to your bank via ACH within one (1) business day of clearing necessary verifications. Availability of the funds is dependent on how quickly your bank processes this transaction. From the time of approval, funds should be available within four (4) business days.

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Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality and will make a positive impact in your life. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print understand what you are buying, and consult a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time. Please do your homework and let us know if you have any questions or concerns.