How Much House Can You Afford When Paying Off Student Loans?

By Janet Siroto · November 01, 2023 · 9 minute read

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How Much House Can You Afford When Paying Off Student Loans?

If you’re like many Americans, you may have student loans, and you may also hope to own your home at some point. You may worry that carrying student debt and buying your own place are mutually exclusive, but that’s not necessarily the case.

Yes, it can be true those with higher student loan balances may be less likely to be homeowners than peers with lower amounts of debt. However, understanding your debt-to-income ratio and other aspects of your financial profile can be vital. This insight can both inform how much room there is in your budget for a home loan payment and highlight how to improve your odds of being approved for a mortgage.

With this guide, you’ll learn the ropes, such as:

•   Understanding how mortgage lenders evaluate your finances

•   How your student loans impact your profile

•   Steps you can take that may boost your chances of getting a home loan application approved when you have student debt.

Getting a Mortgage When You Have Student Loans

Student loans are a familiar financial burden. Currently, Americans hold in excess of $1.7 trillion in student loan debt. A significant 70% of undergraduates finish school with an average sum of $37,000 or more in student loans.

You may wonder how having student loans can impact your eligibility for a mortgage. Here’s what you should know: When a lender is considering offering you a home loan, they want to feel confident that you will pay them back on time. A key factor is whether they think you can afford the mortgage payment with everything else on your plate. To assess this, a lender will consider your debt-to-income (or DTI) ratio, or how high your total monthly debt payments are relative to your income.

For the debt component, the institution will look at all your liabilities. These can include:

•   Car loans

•   Credit card payments

•   Student loans.

In the case of student loans (other than those forgiven by Biden administration), banks know that you’re likely to be responsible for that debt. It usually can’t be discharged in a bankruptcy and it’s not secured to an asset that a lender can recover.

Many industry professionals say that your debt-to-income ratio should ideally be below 36%, with 43% the maximum. If you have a high student loan payment or a relatively low income, that can affect your debt-to-income ratio and your chances of qualifying for a mortgage.

💡 Quick Tip: When house hunting, don’t forget to lock in your home mortgage loan rate so there are no surprises if your offer is accepted.

Can You Get a Mortgage With Student Loan Debts?

Are you wondering, “How much house can I afford with student loans?” Here are some important facts. Having student loan debt doesn’t disqualify you from getting a mortgage, but it can make it harder. So here’s how student loans are calculated for a mortgage: That student loan debt will increase your DTI ratio, which can make it harder to qualify for funds from lenders.

For example, here’s a hypothetical situation: Say you earn an annual salary of $60,000, making your gross monthly income $5,000. Say you owe $650 per month on a car loan and have a credit card balance with a $500 monthly minimum payment.

And let’s say you have student loans with a minimum payment of $650 a month. All your debt payments add up to $1,800 a month. So your debt-to-income ratio is $1,800/$5,000 = 0.36, or 36%. That’s right at the limit that some conventional lenders allow. So you can see how having a high student loan payment can affect your ability to qualify for a mortgage.

Another way that student loans can affect your chances of buying a home is if you have a history of missed payments. If you don’t make your minimum student loan payments each month, that gets recorded in your credit history.

When you fail to make payments consistently, your loans can become delinquent or go into default. Skipping payments is a red flag to your potential mortgage lender: Since you haven’t met your obligations on other loans in the past, they may fear you’re at risk of failing to pay a new one as well.

That said, if you have an acceptable DTI ratio and a history of on-time payments on your student loans, you likely have a good shot at being approved for a mortgage. It’s not a matter of having to make a choice between paying off student loans or buying a house.

Estimate How Much House You Can Afford

Taking into account the debt-to-income ratio you just learned about, use this home affordability calculator to get a general idea of how much you can afford. This tool is one you can use to help estimate the cost of purchasing a home and the monthly payment.

How Student Loan Debt Affects Your DTI Ratio

As mentioned above, student loan debt can increase your DTI ratio. How much it will increase your DTI number will depend on how big your loan debt is. Currently, the average federal student loan debt is $37,338 per borrower. The figure for private student loan debt is $54,921.

Obviously, to get that average figure, many different amounts are factored in. Consider these two scenarios:

•   Person A earns $120,000 and has $80,000 in student loan debt, plus a car payment, plus $15,00 in credit card debt.

•   Person B earns $80,000, and has $10,000 in student loan debt, no car payment, and $3,000 in credit card debt.

It’s likely that Person B will have an easier time qualifying for a home loan than Person A. It boils down to one having a higher DTI ratio.

Recommended: Strategies to Pay Off Student Debt

Improving Your Chances of Qualifying for a Mortgage

Are you wondering how to buy a house with student debt? Your student loan debt is just one part of the picture when you go shopping for a home loan. Lenders look at many other aspects of your financial situation to assess your trustworthiness as a borrower. By focusing on improving these factors, you may be able to increase your chances of getting a mortgage.

•   Credit score: One of the most important things to address is your credit score, since this is a key measure lenders use to evaluate how risky it would be to lend to you. Your credit score is determined by many factors, including whether you’ve missed payments on bills in the past, how much debt you have relative to your credit limits, the length of your credit history, and whether you’ve declared bankruptcy.

If your credit score is below 650 or 700, you may want to work on building it. Starting by consistently making your payments on time, paying off debt, or responsibly opening a new credit line may help.

•   Automate your payments. If keeping up with payments has been challenging in the past, setting up automatic payments to your credit card. You might also establish automatic payments to, say, your utilities through your providers or your bank to help you stay on track without having to memorize due dates. In the case of a bankruptcy, you’ll typically have to wait 10 years for it to disappear from your record.

•   Strengthen your work history. Your employment matters to a lender because, if you’re at risk of losing your job, your ability to pay back the loan could change as well. Gaps in employment, frequent job changes, or lack of work experience can all be red flags for a financial institution.

If employment history is a weakness in your application, perhaps you can focus on finding a more stable role than you’ve had in the past as you are saving for a house. This could also be a matter of waiting until you’ve been in a new job for a couple of years before applying for a mortgage.

•   Save up for a bigger down payment. Another way to improve your prospects is to save more money for your down payment. If you have enough to put at least 20% down on a home, your student loans may become less of a factor for the lender.

You can save for a down payment by putting funds in an interest-bearing savings account or CD, asking wedding guests (if you’re getting hitched) to contribute to a “house fund,” earning more income, or even asking a family member for a gift or loan.

•   Focus on your DTI ratio. Another key area you could focus on is your debt-to-income ratio. Tackling some of your debts — whether student loans, credit card balances, or a car loan — could help lower that ratio. Another strategy is to increase your income, perhaps by asking for a raise, getting a new job, or taking on a side hustle. This can help you pay down debt and improve your DTI ratio.

First-time homebuyers can
prequalify for a SoFi mortgage loan,
with as little as 3% down.

How Student Loan Refinancing May Help

If you’re buying a home with student loans, another way to potentially improve your debt-to-income ratio is to look into student loan refinancing. When you refinance your student loans with a private lender, you replace your existing loans — whether federal, private, or a mix of the two — with a new one that comes with fresh terms.

Refinancing can help borrowers obtain a lower interest rate than they previously had, which may translate to meaningful savings over the life of the loan. You may also be able to lower your monthly payments through refinancing, which can reduce your debt-to-income ratio.

Refinancing isn’t for everyone, since you can lose benefits associated with federal loans, such as access to deferment, forbearance, loan forgiveness, and income-based repayment plans.

But for many borrowers, especially those with a solid credit and employment history, it can be an effective way to reduce debt more quickly and improve the chances of getting a mortgage.

💡 Quick Tip: Not to be confused with prequalification, preapproval involves a longer application, documentation, and hard credit pulls. Ideally, you want to keep your applications for preapproval to within the same 14- to 45-day period, since many hard credit pulls outside the given time period can adversely affect your credit score, which in turn affects the mortgage terms you’ll be offered.

Don’t Let Student Loans Hold You Back

With many Americans holding student loan debt, it’s understandable that this financial burden could pose a hurdle for some would-be homeowners. But can you get a mortgage with student loans? Yes, student loans and a mortgage aren’t mutually exclusive. Paying for your education doesn’t have to cost you your dream of owning a home.

If you’ve been making payments on time and your debt is manageable relative to your income, your loans might not be an issue at all. If your student loans do become a factor, you can take steps to get them under control, potentially improving your chances of qualifying for a mortgage. One option could be refinancing those loans.

Looking to lower your monthly student loan payment? Refinancing may be one way to do it — by extending your loan term, getting a lower interest rate than what you currently have, or both. (Please note that refinancing federal loans makes them ineligible for federal forgiveness and protections. Also, lengthening your loan term may mean paying more in interest over the life of the loan.) SoFi student loan refinancing offers flexible terms that fit your budget.

With SoFi, refinancing is fast, easy, and all online. We offer competitive fixed and variable rates.


Can I refinance student loans to improve my mortgage eligibility?

Refinancing student loans might improve your mortgage eligibility. If you obtain a lower rate, you could potentially pay down your student loans more quickly, which could lower your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio. However, refinancing federal loans can mean you are no longer eligible for loan forgiveness and other programs.

Can a cosigner help if I have student loans and want to buy a house?

Having a cosigner on your student loans could help with your mortgage qualification if you are “on the bubble” in terms of qualifying. A cosigner with a strong financial profile and credit history could help tip you into the approval zone.

Will a history of on-time student loan payments positively impact my mortgage application?

A history of on-time loan payments is an asset. It can help build your credit score, which is one of the factors lenders use to assess whether to approve your mortgage application.

SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are a federal student loan borrower, you should consider all of your repayment opportunities including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.

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*SoFi requires Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) for conforming home loans with a loan-to-value (LTV) ratio greater than 80%. As little as 3% down payments are for qualifying first-time homebuyers only. 5% minimum applies to other borrowers. Other loan types may require different fees or insurance (e.g., VA funding fee, FHA Mortgage Insurance Premiums, etc.). Loan requirements may vary depending on your down payment amount, and minimum down payment varies by loan type.


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