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Tips for Getting a Mortgage When You Have Student Loan Debt

Written by Steve Cook on January 12, 2015 in Newsletter  |   53 comments

If you’re dealing with significant student loan debt it may feel like you’ll never be able to afford a home. However, with a plan to reduce your overall debt, you may qualify for a mortgage sooner than you think.

tips-for-getting-a-mortgage-when-you-have-student-loan-debtMillions of American Millennials (those born between the early-1980s and early-2000s) are dealing with significant student loan debt, but they are also eager to buy homes and start their adult lives.

According to the Project on Student Loan Debt, about seven in 10 college seniors who graduated from public and private nonprofit colleges in 2013 had student loan debt, averaging $28,400. In some states, the average student loan debt was more than $30,000.

Yet in a study by loanDepot, one of the top 30 mortgage lenders in the United States, more than one-third of Millennials plan to purchase a home in the next five years. With all that student loan debt to pay off, how are they going to do it?

Perception vs. reality

There’s no doubt that student loan debt can pose a problem for Millennials who want to buy a home—it can skew their monthly debt-to-income ratio and make it difficult to qualify for a loan. However, the situation may be less dire than they think.

To determine your debt-to-income ratio, lenders look at the monthly cost you pay to service your debt, not your overall debt burden.

Many survey respondents believed that they needed to reduce their payments by more than $300 per month to qualify for a home. However, the loanDepot analysis found that a first-time homebuyer with student loan debt only needs to reduce his or her total monthly debt payments by between $150 and $300 to qualify for a home loan.

Thus, even small changes in the size of a loan applicant’s monthly debt payments can make a big difference in whether a loan gets approved.

Assuming your gross monthly income is $4,000 and your other monthly debt service—student loan, auto loan, and credit card payments—is $900, your DTI ratio is 23 percent. If you apply for a mortgage with a monthly payment of $1,000, your DTI ratio climbs to 48 percent.

With a DTI ratio of more than 43 percent, you may have a smaller chance of getting approved for a loan. However, if you can cut your monthly debt service by $300, your DTI ratio will drop to 40 percent, giving you a better chance for approval.

Tips for reducing your debt

To get an idea of where you stand, add up all the monthly payments you make and divide that number by your gross monthly income. If student debt is pushing you over the top, here are some tips to help you reduce your monthly debt load so that you can qualify.

1. Start early. If you wait until the last minute to reduce your debt load, you won’t have many options. Start a year before you plan to buy a home and create a plan that will bring your monthly debt load down to a level that will pass muster with a lender.

2. Pay off low balances. Review your credit accounts and pay off those with low balances. By doing so, you can quickly lower your monthly debt service.

3. Consolidate consumer credit. Shop around for a credit card with a low APR, even if it’s a temporary deal. Use it to pay off your expensive accounts.

4. Reduce your living expenses. The more money you save, the more money you can put down on your new home. Eat out less, take public transportation, and cut back on trips to the coffee shop.

5. Increase your income. Take a part-time job or do freelance work to augment your income. Use the proceeds to pay down debt.

6. Avoid new debt. Wait until after you have purchased your house to make large purchases on your credit card or buy a new car.

Student debt need not keep you from becoming a homeowner. Good planning and money management can help make the dream of homeownership a reality.

Steve Cook is executive vice president of Reecon Advisors and covers government and industry news for the Reecon Advisory Report. He is a member of the National Press Club, the Public Relations Society of America, and the National Association of Real Estate Editors, where he served as second vice president. Twice he has been named one of the 100 most influential people in real estate. In addition to serving as managing editor of the Report, Cook provides public relations consulting services to real estate companies, financial services companies, and trade associations, including some of the leading companies in online residential real estate.

The information contained in this blog post is designed to generally educate and inform visitors to the Equifax Finance Blog. The blog posts do not give, and should not be assumed to provide, personalized tax, investment, real estate, legal, retirement, credit, personal financial, or other professional advice. Before making any financial decision, you should always consult with the appropriate professionals who can explain your options, rights, and legal responsibilities, and advise you on any tax, legal, credit, or business implications that may result from those decisions. The views and opinions expressed by the authors of blog posts are their own views and may not be the views or opinions of Equifax, Inc. and/or its affiliates.


  1. Mustafa A. says:

    I want to increase my chances of obtaining a 2nd loan for a property. I need to raise my score and lower my D T Ratio. I have a mortgage and utilities bill. Any suggestions?

    • Sheri R. Century21TroopRE says:

      1. Ask a friend or family member w/good credit to add you as an “authorized user” to their credit card account(s). This will raise your credit score immediately and depending on the length of their credit history (with that card) it could mean a significant increase in your score. 2. Get a low (or no) interest loan from a private party to pay off your accounts with high interest. Then you can pay them back and the full amount goes to the loan/debt – rather than to interest – and the debt is off of your credit report instantly! Both of these remedies will result in a higher credit score and lower debt to income ratio! Good luck 😉

      • Anonymous says:

        Understand that as an authorized user, it goes both ways. If the cardholder misses a payment or pays late, it applies to your credit also.

  2. Jody G. says:

    Thank you for this information. In the past I used to delete emails like this. I have come to know that I need to get on board with whatever info will help me to make owing a home next year my reality. More importantly the information is free. I am most appreciative and will definitely be using these strategies.

    • EFX Moderator says:

      So glad you’re finding the emails and blog posts useful, Jody. Thanks for the kind words. Best of luck in your homebuying process, and be sure to check back for tips and tricks that could help you along the way.

  3. Sean S. says:

    I like your tip to pay off low balances. I know that I have a tendency to try and tackle the biggest hardest thing first in any aspect of my life. However, with debt, eliminating these low balances can help you decrease your debt more significantly.

  4. Ozzie B says:

    When you say” Pay off low balances. Review your credit accounts and pay off those with low balances. By doing so, you can quickly lower your monthly debt service.” does this mean past medical bills as well? Are all balances on you credit report considered when lenders are calculating your Debt to credit ratio?We have been working hard and have paid off all our credit cards. Now we are attacking misc dabt on our credit. Even though paying old debt will nnot help our scores, when lenders see that a medical debt has been paid in full will it help us get approved?

    • Rick I says:

      Typically the answer is NO, medical bill is unavoidable and usually the first past due debt that is disregarded by all lenders, better to apply funds toward other debt first. Not consideration included in debt to credit ratios, but is included in debt to income by some lenders. FHA guidelines include all debt even charged off very old debt.

  5. Joe Kazan says:

    Hello! Steve Cook,
    Taking a mortgage form lender may be it can work for debt reducing. But alternative option is so good i think, although increasing income policy is preferable but earn more is difficult. anyway good to read your writing.

    Thanks to share

  6. Babs says:

    I would like to see a response to Ozzie’S questions!

  7. Ashley says:

    Student loans are just a part of life these days, I’m surprised more people don’t have them. I’m looking into getting my first house, but I still have a couple thousand to pay off for my student loans. Hopefully they will see that I have good credit and it won’t be a problem. My payments are actually pretty low, so that should help me.

  8. GGO says:

    I’m currently dealing with this issue however my student loans are in an income base repayment plan and it’s still an issue because two credit agecies are reporting what I would be paying if I wasn’t on the repayment program. I’ve work really hard to increase my credit score and cleaned up my credit to be disappointed. My student loan is over 50K. I’m still keeping the faith that my dream will come true.

    • LC says:

      I am having the same issues! Wish you luck!

    • James C. says:

      I have been in the process for going on two months. I have been turned down by two lenders. I have a 755 score and only one car and one loan that i have and I still can’t get a loan approved. I have a 5% down and still can’t get qualified. I am having an extremely hard time and think I need to give up. One lender let me go through the whole process only to let me fail in escrow. He assured me he could make it work. Pre-approved, Home inspection, appraisal, title insurance, you name it and 3 weeks before close of escrow and I am left scrambling to get funded.

      I was upfront about all my student loan debt, its in deferment until 2018 and they still count this toward my DTI even though it’ll be two years after close of escrow. I make enough to cover the payments but because I am still in school and have quite a few loans, they count them all as individual payments.

      I am broken hearted and since I will continue going to school for awhile feel like i wont ever be able to get a home. I am doomed to rent for the rest of my life. This sucks. Good luck to the rest of you but I think if you don’t have 40-50% to put down you will likely get turned down.

      My advice, find a nice rental and be happy with it. At this rate I will pay off my loans in my late 50s and get a home when I am nearly 60. Who will give me a 30 year loan then?!


      • Lauren O. says:

        James – I ran into a similar situation but am getting it resolved. Have you considered applying for an FHA loan with 3.5% down? It is the only type of mortgage that will accept Income-Based Repayment amounts, including deferments (as long as they show as 12+ months deferred). As long as your income-based repayment amount renews around closing (you can request your loan company recalculate it early – it takes a couple weeks to process and gives you a month lag time), even if it is a deferment at $0, the FHA loan can accept that. Hope it helps! Better to get a home now and not lose money on rent if you can stand going through the process again. They should have known better – conventional loans, no matter how well you qualify, have to take the lesser of 1% or your standard payment amount, which disqualifies a lot of us, or the deferment needs to be for 3 years. It’s ridiculous. So many tricky laws and few loan officers know the rules! Good luck to you – we deserve to be homeowners!

        • Kim Gibbs says:

          Lauren O-Thank you for that information. Im in the process of cleaning up credit, paying off the smaller bills first; however my student loans exceed $100,000 but my income is is upper $90s..I was also advised to apply for an FHA loan especially since Im still in school and my loans are in deferment. My goal is to become a homeowner before I graduate next in 2016. James, its possible do not give up hope of your dream of being a homeowner..all things are possible

        • Anonymous says:

          How do you get a deferment longer than 12 months out, that’s my issue. You have to apply every 12 months so you will never be deferred longer than 12 months at a time.

      • Runshyt says:

        Any bank that rejects you for a 30-year mortgage because of your age will be discriminating due to age. That’s illegal, even if the decision is based on scientific probability that you will pass before paying off the mortgage on a normal schedule. They have no right to view your life expectancy in a light that is unfavorable to you, nor do they have the right to assume that you won’t at some point double-up or triple your payments once other accounts have been paid off.

        • James G. says:

          I applied for a home loan at 60 and every bank and mortgage company approved me. Age is not an issue.

          • Mia D. says:

            Okay folks let me clear up some issues you are all having. I too am in the process of buying a home. However, I have learned a few things. The first is that there are several different loan programs out there and deciding which one is best for is the most difficult. However, if you qualify for a FHA loan you may also qualify for USDA loan. USDA loans go by your income and there are more of them than you realize. It’s best to go directly to a USDA office and not an organization that represents mortgage loans. You can go to their website to find out where the nearest office is and apply for a loan. There are a few things you should know first: the application process can be lengthy and tedious, be prepared to show any needed information such as loan forgiveness letters, income, rent receipts, utility bills, credit card statements, and medical bills. They require a 640 credit score so James you should qualify if you have a 755 score. Personally I don’t know why you were refused by the bank that is very good score. Anyway, the USDA has different income levels very poor, poor, moderate, and etc. If you have HUD helping you that is an added plus but, even if you don’t you should still apply. Dar: They do take into account loan forgiveness for your student loan. Concerning your student loan you will need a letter from the Department of Education saying exactly what loans were forgiven and how much the loan amount was. No your student loans will not disappear from your credit report. Why? Well, because as far as debt you have a zero balance but, as far as credit you still owe. To explain further say you had a credit card that was charged off on your account. You called the company and you settled with them for 3/4 of the amount you owed. However, because you did not pay off the original amount owed; the whole amount will stay on your credit report as unpaid until the entire bill is paid. I know it doesn’t really make much sense but the difference between debt and credit is different. Donna B: I have social security benefits and will for life. I called the Department of Education and told them that I have a permanent disability that will last my entire life. They sent me an application, I filled it out, and 30 days later I received an approval letter. I also called them and told them that I need them to send me a letter that specifically states what loans were forgiven and how much. They told me that they would send me a letter that they send to banks and mortgage companies as proof that the loans were forgiven. So, back to James: Don’t give up it’s not a hopeless case and where there is a will there is always a way. The USDA may be more sympathetic to hear your case than just a bank who’s employees just work there. Also another benefit of going the USDA is that the mortgage amount is according to your debt to income ratio. So, the mortgage payments may more manageable for you. Lastly they have a 1% interest rate which is great and no one else has that. I hope this helps all of you. Good luck.

      • dorene says:

        Have you tried your local credit union?

  9. Neva says:

    I am also in same situation as GGO what can be done to show on credit what the pYment actually is because mine is Zero right now on student loan but credit report is saying full payment which is keeping me fron getting loan because of debt to income ratio.

  10. Deniece says:

    How is a foreclosure reflected on your credit report? Will it still show a remaining balance after the property has foreclosed? Is it possible to get a mortgage after having a foreclosure on your credit?

  11. Runshyt says:

    Why not keep your loans in deferral until you have paid off half of the mortgage? If you enroll in at least one college course per semester term/quarter, you can defer your student loans indefinitely. That would seem to suggest that, if an applicant can show an entitlement to deferments, the student loan debt should not be counted against the credit.

    If you run into financial issues mid-mortgage, the student loan consolidation companies will assist by allowing hardship forbearances, etc., and they do not force you to drop your other accounts or sell property. If the loans are not in repayment, can a lender factor the loans in as service debt?

    • Melody says:

      My loans are defeated and I was told does not matter they will take the highest payment that my husband and I each have abs add it to our DTI.

  12. SharpHawk says:

    Do they verify the 43% or less on the previous year’s gross income? Or the current month? Or a couple of months?

  13. Amber M. C. says:

    Is there any help out there to help me be able to get a forgiveness on my past debt while I’m a student now … so that I can continue my current education and get relieve of my past debt … could I be eligible for a forgiveness on all past educational debt and continue school as so when I graduate I can ly the current debt ?

  14. Nikki says:

    I’m a situation like many others in their 20s….I have a credit score of 750 and make 50k, but still can’t get a mortgage due to massive student loans. I haven’t started paying on them yet but when I do I will be paying the income based repayment amount, which makes my DTI way too high.

    I’m curious to know if anyone with student loans has taken their student loans out of income based repayment and got on a fixed 25-30 year repayment plan instead and was successful in lowering their DTI. I’ve thought about but I have not seen such “advice” or “suggestions” websites trying to advise those with student loans to get a mortgage.

    Any comments?

  15. Cleonice R. says:

    Get on an “Income Contingent” repayment plan. It is based on how much you can really afford based on your income so it can never be anymore than what you can actually afford. You have the decision of deciding just how much this is. If you read your loan Document in complete, it is located at the end of the Loan Promise for Student Federal Loans. Of you can just call Student Federal Loans or whoever is carrying your loan and ask them. Hopefully you “do” have a Student Federal Loan as they offer the best plans for paying all your student loans off. Then report that amount (it should be considerable smaller now) to the Mortgage company in proof that that is your monthly student loan payment. Hope that helps. If that’s not the case maybe you can get someone else to consolidate them (maybe Nelnet) and see if you can get the same options. Student Federal Loans are the best you can get, and have the best affordable payments options in the end. Never go with private loans they are the worst. Just Student Federal Loans. Look into it. It will be worth your while!!

  16. Maria V. says:

    Well…to be honest, it was so discouraging to read all these previous comments where more than one writer is struggling to become a home owner. I’ve too found it stressful and difficult to become a home owner for the past years. As a single mother of two and recent university graduate with a student loan and a sole income earner, it has not been easy for me to save up for a down payment. I am currently working on improving my poor credit score to now know that is not just about a good score and low debt-to- income ratio (mine at this time is 29%), but all those laws that make more difficult….ufff…don’t know what to expect and much less…what to do now!!! :'(

  17. Teri H. says:

    How can these loan companies expect you to do your best when you can hardly get a job without good credit? That’s so bass akwards to me, like taking a father’s drivers license away when he can’t make child support. Well duh, how is he to get a job now when he doesn’t even have a car to get to one? This country really needs to rethink their priorities and start cutting some slack for those who are honestly trying to better their situation. So dang frustrated,
    Teri H.

  18. Dar says:

    fha loan we have had the rug pulled from up under us at the last minute we qualified for a Fha loan but now the is some new rule out that if we can’t prove that are student loan was discharged we can’t get the loan because I’m disabled that just agreed to discharge the loan thay reported it to the credit bureau on 8/30/15 as a 0 balance but it still shows up as me owing 20k the department of Ed is sending a mortgage letter to U.S. But are lender says that if the students loan account number don’t Mach the account number that’s reported at the credit bureau thay can’t do the loan.
    So long story short I qualify for fha lone I been forgiven for the student loan I just don’t know how to get it to show a 0 balance and I have 20 days under contract to show I qualify for the loan,can any one help me pls

    • DonnaB says:

      Dar…how we’re you able to get student loan forgiveness? I am also disabled and need my student loans forgiven. What can I do?

      • Andrea says:

        Did you get help with your question?

      • Katy says:

        You have to contact the office handling your student loan & tell them u would like to have an application sent to you that will get rid of your loan(s) due to being disabled. I to am disabled & in my mid life. I was going to fill out the app & return it until I read the fine print which in a nutshell states that if approved, the money will be considered “earned income” & you will be responsible for paying taxes to the irs for that amt of money for that yr your student loan(s) was paid in full. You will also have to get a doctor to state that u r permanently disabled. Even after that, they will decide if you r truly fully disabled & unable to work again. It wouldnt surprise me if the people who make that decision has not one day of medical experience.
        I’d like to know how they figure a low income person can afford to pay back taxes on money they couldn’t afford to pay back in the first place.
        Oh well, good luck.

  19. Katie says:

    I have a staggering amount of student loan debt, due to graduate school. My monthly payments are high because of private loans. Is it taken into account that I have 0 credit card debt and a well paying job? There’s very little I can do to lower monthly
    Payments that are set in stone.

    • Babs says:

      Katie, consilidate all of your loans into one low, single payment! That removes all of the high, single payments for each loan, thus bettering your debt to income ratio in terms of monthly payments.

  20. Dangitgirl says:

    call the dept of ed. student loans are supposed to automatically be discharged upon full and permanent disability… with that said, may of mine were… I am still fighting to get the last few 3 or 4 thousand discharged, they like to play with your mind too… I guess they hope you will just go away like most people who have wrong information on your report… good luck

    • Katy says:

      I was going to do this until I read the part (in the fine print) that the money the amt of your student loan(s) would be considered “earned income” & I would be responsible for it to the irs so I just didnt do it. It’s either get into debt w/the student loans & fill out a form every year to keep my loans in the income contingency plan or get into trouble w/the irs for not being able to pay them for money I never had in hand.

  21. Meredith says:

    To those folks who have student loan debt AND have a job:
    Please consider this!
    I know it may not seem fair that you are struggling to get a home, but this is a blessing in disguise! Maintaining a home is always shockingly more expensive than you first anticipated. You WANT to be out of school debt first so that you have plenty, and I mean PLENTY of disposable income to throw at roof repairs, new washer-dryers, window leaks, pest control, rising HOA fees, major plumbing issues and the list goes on.

    These are your building years – don’t wish them away! A cheap rental is KEY to getting out of debt. Your expenses are fixed while the Landlord pays for repairs. Yes, rent increases do occur but they are usually limited. If you are a good tenant, negotiate your rent & increases – Yes you CAN do this! Hunker down, try to lower your cable bill, stop eating out, don’t buy that soda or chips at the gas station, wear your old clothes, repair your shoes and don’t buy new ones, cut your vacation frequency in half, buy an OLD lower mileage car that you can pay for with cash and find a good and fair mechanic, and lastly, eat more rice & beans and stop buying every type of food & beverage you feel like! Reduce reduce reduce! Throw money at your student loans like you are throwing water on a fire. Do the tiny purchases on a credit card thing ONLY for the score – but don’t carry a balance and never throw away money on interest. When you are done, YOU will be that shiny happy person with NO debt and a good income. You will have so many options your head will spin.

    Take it from me, my spouse and I, with a combined income of 55K annually, paid off $26,000 in student loans in 18 months. We kept up our habits, and in one more year had $20k just sitting in the bank. That was a few years ago. Don’t even ask about the enormous wealth we’ve accumulated now! We were patient, and now we enjoy the plentiful fruits of our patience – a home, vacations, and peace of mind. Don’t be discouraged, YOU CAN DO THIS! Don’t buy a house now – wait until you’re debt free and you will be truly happy.

    • Avery says:

      Yes, what worked for you will absolutely work for everyone else. There are affordable rentals available in every single city in the U.S. No one has more debt than they could ever hope to pay off on their own within a few years, and if they do it’s their own fault for getting a college degree in an economy that demands one to get any kind of decent-paying job. Everyone finds a spouse before 30. Nobody struggles to make even the “income-based” repayment amount while also paying rent and other expenses. Thanks for clearing all this up for us. I’m sure no one has ever, EVER thought of repaying their student loans before buying a house.

      • Karen says:

        Lol. Avery, Meredith is well-intentioned but disillusioned. I am an attorney, in my 40s, living in a major city, with about a quarter of a million dollars of student loan debt. So none of her advice applies to me, and I have resigned to the fact that I will probably never be a home owner, unless I win the lottery. It’s a sad truth for me.

  22. Babs says:

    Meredith, great advice!

  23. Marcus says:

    I did e everything right to get my score higher and the lender rejected me due to my 100 thousand dollars student loan. I have a 680 score and 68 thousand yearly income. I can’t get an FHA due to me having one already. How can I get pass this student loan issue?

  24. Karen says:

    Mia D. – I think it is important to point out that forbearance is not the same as forgiveness. Forbearance is simply another type of deferment, which is why one’s balance still appears on his/her credit, because he/she still owes it, the payments are simply derferred. And if one is getting a 30 year mortgage, those payments will come into play at some point during the life of the mortgage.

  25. CJ says:

    Student Loans for me have been a hindrance. Ever since FHA changed their guidelines requiring that the student loan debt be counted towards your overall DTI this has put me in a bind. I’m on a IBR plan with a 0 payment amount, but they cant use a IBR amount of 0 any longer so I was told, there must be a actual dollar value above 0. I feel like you get penalized for furthering your education so many people have student loans. I don’t qualify for a USDA because of the student loans, although I am a first time homebuyer, I want to throw in the towel because its nothing but road blocks left and right. I make good money with little debt but add the actual student loan amount in and bam, everything goes out the window!

  26. Vanessa O. says:

    Hi I was wondering if I can check my husband cerdit on the credit site without have to set h he own acct

  27. EY says:

    I need help and any advice is appreciated.my credit score is poor and I need to get it higher by at least 150 points..I have 2 collections and couple of negative items.what can I do to boost my score

  28. Allison M. says:

    I work for the department of education and is pursuing a masters degree. I have leeway until I complete the full course. This loan still seems to show as a negative aspect on my credit score. What do I do as it is hindering me from purchasing property?

  29. BB says:

    The opportunity to own a house with student loan debt truly feels next to impossible. I strongly believe in the coming years, the home ownership requirements will be less stringent; otherwise, we can anticipate another housing bubble in 5-10 years’ time. I am predicting that more of the Baby Boomer generation will want to sell their homes in 5-10 years to fund their retirement since some did not save for retirement. As a result, various agencies (government and private) will have no choice but to make the rules less stringent for Millenials. It’s basically supply and demand.

    We may just be lucky “Luck is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity”
    Don’t give up on preparing and planning! Good Luck!!!

  30. Barbara says:

    All thes comments sounds all too familiar, yes I’m trying to get a Home Loan, and my loans are in forbearance/forgiveness status I’m unable to get a Home Loan, as well as a divorce. All I want is too make a better life for my remaining two children. This sounds so common, what can be put in place for consumer like myself and others in similar situation that don’t see and end to the unfortunate situation we face daily.

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