22% of Women Don't Feel Confident Buying a Home. Here's How to Know How Much House You Can Afford

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  • Buying a home is a decision you need to approach with confidence.
  • Here's an easy formula to use when determining how much house to buy.

It's important to get that number just right.

Homeownership is a big goal for many people -- women included. But buying a home can be a challenge for women -- namely, because of the ever-present wage gap, which often leaves female employees underpaid compared to their male counterparts. 

Meanwhile, recent data from Bank of America shows that 22% of women aren't confident about buying a home. If you feel that way, there's a pretty easy step you can take to determine how much house to commit to. 

It's all about crunching the numbers

There are different factors that mortgage lenders take into account when determining how much money to loan to home buyers. These include your credit score, the amount of your existing debt, and your income. But rather than rely on a mortgage lender to determine how much house you can afford, a better bet is to run your own numbers and consider the various expenses you have.

As a general rule, your monthly housing costs should not exceed 30% of your take-home pay. So if you bring home $4,000 per month after taxes, that means you shouldn't spend more than $1,200 per month on housing.

But let's be clear -- that doesn't mean you should feel free to take on a $1,200 monthly mortgage payment. Rather, that $1,200 should include all of your monthly housing expenses. Those include things like property taxes and homeowners insurance, and they might, depending on your situation, also include expenses like HOA fees and private mortgage insurance (an ongoing premium that applies when you don't make a minimum 20% down payment on a conventional home loan). 

It's important to stick to that 30% rule so you don't wind up with a house that's not affordable to you -- especially if you're buying one solo. It's one thing to stretch your home-buying budget when there are two incomes in the mix. But if you're buying a home you'll be covering on a single income, then it's important to be mindful of not going overboard. You don't want to overextend your budget on the home-buying front only to leave yourself in a situation where you're forced to charge other expenses, like groceries, on a credit card whose balance you keep carrying forward. 

Meanwhile, if you have a lot of other expenses -- say, you spend a lot of money on childcare -- then you may want to stick to an even lower limit than 30%. Ultimately, only you know what your various living costs look like -- not your mortgage lender. So it's important to go in with a clear sense of how much you want to spend on a home.

Are you ready to buy?

Sticking to the 30% limit when buying a home could help you avoid getting in over your head. But it's also important to make sure to leave yourself with ample cash reserves. That way, if the need for a home repair arises or your moving costs end up being more than expected, you'll have a cushion and won't feel as stressed. 

Having a healthy savings balance going into homeownership could also help you approach the process with more confidence. And when you're taking on such a big commitment, that's an important thing.

Our Research Expert

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