You recently applied for student loan refinancing, a car loan, or maybe a mortgage, but soon after are notified that your application was not accepted. Denied. Your credit score is solid, you make a decent living, and you’ve never missed a payment. What gives?
There’s one factor you might not be considering: your debt-to-income ratio.
What is a debt-to-income ratio?
Your debt-to-income ratio is a percentage of how much debt you owe relative to your income. Often referred to as DTI for short, it’s an important number in your financial life.
When applying for a loan or other type of credit, many lenders look at not only your overall credit score, but also your DTI to determine if you’re a good candidate. If a large chunk of your income is going to debt each month, lenders may be wary of lending you any more money.
The lower your debt-to-income ratio, the better. But if you have pesky student loans, they could be pushing your DTI into the red zone, which can make you appear as a risk to creditors and make it difficult to reach your financial goals.
Front-end vs. back-end DTI
As if the whole concept of DTI weren’t complicated enough, you actually have two different debt-to-income ratios: front-end DTI and back-end DTI.
Your front-end debt-to-income ratio is how much of your gross income goes toward housing costs, such as mortgage payments and insurance. If you don’t yet own a home and are applying for a mortgage, your front-end DTI is what you would be paying if you were approved.
Your back-end debt-to-income ratio is how much of your gross income goes toward all of your debt obligations, including credit card payments, student loan payments, mortgage — even child support and alimony.
Typically, lenders would like your front-end DTI to be 28 percent or less. For back-end DTI, the standard benchmark is typically 36 percent or less. These numbers aren’t set in stone and may vary by lender, but you have a generally high debt-to-income ratio, you may have difficulty getting approved for new loans.
In fact, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, 43 percent is the maximum DTI a borrower can have in order to get approved for a qualified mortgage.
How student loans impact your debt-to-income ratio
Your student loans aren’t accounted for in the front-end debt-to-income ratio, but that debt certainly impacts the back-end. If you have a steep student loan balance, your DTI can be high — in some cases, too high, effectively limiting your options to buy a house with student loans, refinance your student loans, and more.
For example, let’s say you are applying for a mortgage. Your gross income (before taxes) is $3,000 per month and your monthly debt breakdown looks like this:
- Estimated mortgage payment and insurance = $1,000
- Student loan payment = $300
- Credit card payment = $50
- Car payment = $200
In this scenario, your total debts add up to $1,550 per month. To find out your DTI, you’d divide your total debts by your gross income or use the calculator below.
With either method, you’ll find that your monthly debt of $1,550 divided by an income of $3,000 = a DTI of 51.6 percent. Yikes!
Debt-to-Income (DTI) Calculator
If over half of your income would be going to your debt obligations, you won’t get approved for that mortgage.
“I think debt-to-income ratios are about to become very problematic for people who carry student loan debt and want to buy a house,” said Aaron LaRue, borrower experience lead at Clara Lending, which is now part of SoFi.
“When applying for a home loan, debt-to-income ratios can be one of the largest limiting factors when calculating home affordability. I’d argue that this is a bigger issue than having a low credit score. As far as qualifying, it’s right up there with how much you have for a down payment,” LaRue added.
How to improve your debt-to-income ratio
If you’re thinking of applying for a credit card, mortgage, car loan, student loan refinancing, etc., it’s important to not only maintain good credit, but a healthy debt-to-income ratio as well.
For example, when mortgage lenders examine your back-end DTI, a large student loan payment can be “a killer,” according to LaRue. “A monthly payment of a few hundred dollars can translate to a loss of tens of thousands of dollars off of your maximum home purchase price,” he explained.
Before you go after a big financial goal, calculate your debt-to-income ratio. If it’s too high, you may want to hold off for a while until you improve your situation or risk rejection.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: I was actually rejected for student loan refinancing because of my debt-to-income ratio. Honestly, I should’ve known better considering I was making $30,000 at the time and my student loans balance was also at $30,000. If your loans are the same or even higher than your salary, it’s likely your DTI is too high!
But before you give up on applying for a mortgage or refinancing forever, there are ways you can improve your debt-to-income ratio:
In other words, to improve your DTI, you need to earn more, get rid of some debt, or both. Given the example above, if you were to focus on eliminating your student loans and car loan, you’d be left with a prospective $1,000 mortgage payment and $50 credit card bill each month.
$1,050 divided by $3,000 = 35 percent
By focusing on eliminating debt, your DTI would drop from over 50 percent to 35 percent. If you want to improve your debt-to-income ratio to pursue your big life goals, make it a point to pay off your debt as soon as possible and find ways to supplement your income.
It could mean the difference between getting a letter that says “Congratulations!” or “We regret to inform you…”
By preparing now and understanding how student loans affect debt-to-income ratio, you can take the necessary steps to go after what you want without being automatically rejected.
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1 Important Disclosures for Earnest.
To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.
Earnest fixed rate loan rates range from 3.89% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.87% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 2.47% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.87% APR (with Auto Pay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 1.82% and 5.50% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of Month/Day/Year, and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.
Auto Pay discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.
The information provided on this page is updated as of 08/21/18. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice. Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 302 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, email us at email@example.com, or call 888-601-2801 for more information on ourstudent loan refinance product.
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2 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.
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4 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it endorse, any educational institution.
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