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What Percentage of Income Should Go to Rent and Utilities?

By Rebecca Lake · June 30, 2022 · 8 minute read

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What Percentage of Income Should Go to Rent and Utilities?

A common rule of thumb for renters states that no more than 30% of your income should go to rent and utility payments each month. This guideline dates back to housing initiatives introduced by the federal government in the 1960s.

Deciding what percentage of income should go to rent and utilities is central to making a realistic budget as a renter. The less you can spend on these items each month, the more money you’ll have to fund your financial goals. Read on for more about calculating a housing budget that’s right for you, as well as creative ways to cut your housing costs.

What Is the 30% Rule?

The 30% rule says that households should spend no more than 30% of their income on housing costs, including rent and utilities. This housing affordability advice dates back to the 1969 Brooke Amendment, which was passed in response to rental price increases and complaints about public housing services.

The Brooke Amendment capped rent for public housing at 25% of residents’ income. This measure was designed to offer financial relief to low income households participating in public housing programs. In 1981, Congress increased the 25% threshold to 30%, where it has remained to the present day.

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What Is 30% Based on?

The 30% rule for housing affordability considers two distinct categories of costs: housing and utilities. For renters, this generally means rental payments and basic utilities such as electric, water, and heating. Collectively, these expenses should total no more than 30% of a renter’s gross monthly income.

Gross income is what someone earns before taxes and other deductions are taken out. Net income, on the other hand, is what they actually take home in their paychecks. Basing the 30% rule on someone’s gross income versus their net income will result in a higher dollar amount that should be allocated to rent and utilities.

It’s also important to remember that the 30% rule isn’t set in stone. The average monthly expenses for one person will vary depending on your location’s cost of living, optional costs like renter’s insurance, and whether you have a very low or high income.

Calculating the Percentage to Go to Rent and Utilities

Figuring out what percentage of income should go to rent and utilities using the 30% rule is a fairly simple calculation. You’d multiply your gross monthly income by 0.30 to figure out the maximum amount you should be budgeting for rent and utility costs. How complicated this calculation is can depend on how often you’re paid and whether your paychecks are always the same amount.

If You Are Paid the Same Amount Every Two Weeks

If you’re paid biweekly and your paychecks are the same, you can calculate your target rent and utilities in one of two ways. First, you take the gross amount reported on one of your paychecks and multiply it by 0.30. You then double that result to find the monthly amount.

So, say your biweekly gross income is $2,500. Thirty percent of that number is $750 ($2,500 x 0.30). If you double it, then your rent and utilities budget should be no more than $1,500 per month.

This strategy doesn’t take into account the two months in a year that there are three biweekly paychecks, however. If you want to find the average amount to spend on rent and utilities each month, you can multiply your biweekly gross paycheck amount by 26 (for 26 paychecks in one year), divide by 12 (for 12 months), then find 30% of that amount.

So using the $2,500 figure once again, if you multiply that by 26, you’d get $65,000. Divide that by 12 to get $5,417 (rounded up), your monthly pay. Thirty percent of that is $1,625, the amount you’d allocate to rent and utilities per month.

If You Are Paid Varying Amounts Every Paycheck

Pinpointing what percentage of income should go to rent and utilities can be a little more challenging if your paychecks aren’t the same from one pay period to the next. That might happen if you’re paid hourly and work different hours each week, receive vacation or sick pay, or part of your income is based on commissions.

In that scenario, you’d want to look at your annual income in its entirety. You can do that by looking at all of your pay stubs for the previous 12 months or checking your most recent W2 form. Again, you’re looking at gross income, not net pay.

You’d take the gross income for the year, then multiply it by 0.30 to figure out how much of your pay should go to rent and utilities overall. If your gross annual income was $70,000, then your target number would be $21,000 for the year. Divide that by 12 and you’ll find that you should be spending no more than $1,750 per month on rent and utilities using the 30% rule.

How to Reduce Your Rent to 30% or Less of Your Income

Rising inflation and a strong real estate market can send rent prices soaring. As of May 2022, nationwide rent prices were 5.2% higher year over year, according to Census Bureau data. If you’ve done the calculations and you’re spending more than 30% of your income on rent and utilities, there are some things you may be able to do to reduce those costs.

Split the Rent With Roommates

Taking on one or more roommates could ease some of the financial load. Remember, it’s important to have a written agreement in place specifying what percentage of rent and utilities each roommate is responsible for.

Also, determine who will pay the rent and utility bills when everyone is chipping in. For example, one person may volunteer to collect payments from everyone else and then cut a check to the landlord or utility company. Consider using an online budget planner to keep track of household bills and payments.

Recommended: 25 Tips for Sharing Expenses With Roommates

Consider a New Location

Moving is another possibility for lowering rent and utility costs if you’re relocating to an area with a lower cost of living. Rent in rural areas may be cheaper than in a trendy urban center, for example. There can even be significant variation in rents in different neighborhoods within the same city.

Keep in mind that relocating can have its trade-offs. For instance, living in a less expensive area may mean giving up certain amenities you enjoyed in your old neighborhood, like walkability or convenient access to stores and restaurants. And of course, you’ll also have to budget for the costs of moving, which can average $1,250 for a local move or $4,890 for a long-distance move.

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Work Remotely

Working remotely can have its advantages, including saving money on certain expenses. For example, you may spend less on gas, meals out with coworkers, or office attire.

That said, if you are on a computer all day, you’ll want to take steps to lower your energy bill, such as unplugging at the end of the day and buying energy-efficient lights.

Opting for remote work could also save you money on rent if you’re able to become location-independent. When you’re not tied to a particular city, that frees you up to seek out cheaper areas to live. You could even forgo renting altogether and become a digital nomad. That has its own costs, but you’re not locked in to paying rent to a landlord or utility payments long-term.

Negotiate With Your Landlord

The most effective way to reduce your rent may be to go straight to the landlord and negotiate your rent. Your landlord may be willing to offer a discount or reduced rental rate under certain conditions.

For example, your landlord might agree to reduce your rent by 10% or 15% if you pay six months in advance or agree to a longer lease term. The prospect of guaranteed rental income might be attractive enough for them to offer you a better deal.

You may also be able to get a rate discount by offering to take care of certain maintenance and upkeep tasks yourself. If your landlord normally pays for lawn care, for example, they may be willing to let you pay less in rent if you’re working off the difference by cutting the grass and maintaining the property’s landscaping.

Ask for a Promotion or Find a New Job

Instead of attempting to reduce your costs, you could try a different tactic: Making more money means you can budget more for rent and utility costs.

Asking your boss for a raise or promotion might boost your paycheck. If you hit a dead end, you may consider a more drastic move and look for a higher-paying job. Taking on a part-time job or starting a side hustle can also help you bring in more money to cover rent and utility payments.

What to Consider if 30% Doesn’t Work for You

As noted above, the 30% rule for housing is a somewhat arbitrary number and may not work for everyone. Spending more than 30% of your income on rent and utilities doesn’t automatically mean that you’re living beyond your means, for a variety of reasons.

There are, however, a few actions you can take to streamline your finances and determine what percentage of income should go to rent and utilities.

Try the 50/30/20 Rule

The 50/30/20 budget rule recommends spending 50% of your income on needs, 30% on wants, and the remaining 20% on savings and debt repayment. This budgeting method doesn’t specify an exact percentage or dollar amount to spend on rent and utilities. Instead, those expenses get grouped into the 50% of income allocated to “needs”.

You still need to keep track of your spending to make sure you’re staying within the 50% limit. Using an online budget planner can help you figure out if the 50/30/20 rule is realistic based on your income and expenses.

Pay Down Loans and Debt

Total U.S. household debt reached $15.84 trillion in the first quarter of 2022, according to Federal Reserve data. While a big chunk of that is mortgage debt, Americans also pay a sizable amount of money to credit cards, student loans, personal loans, auto loans, and other debts.

Working to pay off debts can free up more money to allocate to rent and utilities. There are different methods you can use, including the debt snowball method and the debt avalanche.

Look for Cost Savings in Recurring Expenses

One more way to make shouldering higher rent costs easier is to lower your other expenses. Making small changes at home can lead to lower electricity and water bills. Cutting out subscriptions you don’t use, looking for a better deal on car insurance, and eating more meals at home instead of dining out are all simple ways to lower your expenses.

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The Takeaway

If you’re spending 30% of your gross (before tax) income or less on rent and utilities, pat yourself on the back. You may spend up to 50% on housing if you have no debt and a healthy savings balance. The important thing is to look at your entire financial picture, including your income, debts, and goals, to decide the figure that’s right for you.

Using a money tracker tool like SoFi’s in-app Relay makes it easy to gain financial insight right from your mobile device. You can see spending breakdowns, monitor your credit, and track debts at no cost.

SoFi Relay displays all of your accounts on one dashboard, so you never lose sight of your financial big picture.

FAQ

What is a good percentage of income to spend on rent?

The 30% rule says that renters should spend no more than a third of their gross income on rent and utility payments. The less you can spend on rent and utilities, the more money you’ll have to fund other financial goals, like saving for emergencies, paying off debt, and planning for retirement.

Is 30% of income on rent too much?

Spending 30% of income on rent may be too much if a significant part of your income is also going toward debt repayment. That may leave you with little money to cover other necessary expenses or discretionary spending.

How much of your monthly income should go to rent?

A common rule of thumb says that roughly one-third of your monthly gross income can go to rent. But if you have substantial savings and no debt, you may be OK with spending a larger percentage of income on rent. On the other hand, if you’re trying to pay off debt or build savings, you may prefer to spend less on rent payments.


Photo credit: iStock/deliormanli

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.
SoFi’s Relay tool offers users the ability to connect both in-house accounts and external accounts using Plaid, Inc’s service. When you use the service to connect an account, you authorize SoFi to obtain account information from any external accounts as set forth in SoFi’s Terms of Use. SoFi assumes no responsibility for the timeliness, accuracy, deletion, non-delivery or failure to store any user data, loss of user data, communications, or personalization settings. You shall confirm the accuracy of Plaid data through sources independent of SoFi. The credit score provided to you is a Vantage Score® based on TransUnion™ (the “Processing Agent”) data.
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