Are You House Poor?
Being house poor is no joke. It means you can’t afford the home you’re living in and therefore are probably relying too heavily on credit to stay afloat which means you’re racking up even more debt that you can’t afford to pay back. See what we mean, being house poor is not good. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel; you have full control of your finances which means you can change your house poor status.
We want you to own a great home but we don’t want you to borrow more than you can handle. So let’s take a look at what being house poor means and what you can do to prevent or fix it.
How to Tell if You’re House Poor?
As we discussed above being house poor basically means that you can’t afford the home you’re living in. This means something different for everyone, but if any or all of the following situations describes what you’re currently dealing with then it may be time to re-evaluate your current living circumstances.
- Do you carry large balances on several credit cards?
- Are you relying heavily on those credit cards to pay for necessities like groceries?
- Have you given up family vacations or other travel opportunities because you need to make a mortgage payment?
- Do you have to scrimp and save for months leading up to paying your property and school tax?
- Are you spending more than 30-35% of your income on housing costs?
- Are you constantly worried about the cost of the home you’re living in?
Again, everyone’s financial circumstances are different so it’s important that you evaluate yours based solely on what you are currently dealing with and what you want for your future.
What to do if You’re House Poor?
If you find you are already in this situation, the key is to get back into financial balance. Each case is different, so do your homework and consider these actions:
Sell your house and buy (or rent) something smaller. Sounds drastic, but it frees up assets and is particularly relevant if you are close to retirement.
Refinance your current mortgage (when mortgage rates are down). Talk to a loan expert to see if this option would be beneficial to you.
Look into a reverse mortgage (if you’re 62 or older). This lets you access your equity but there are up-front costs and you’ll want to remain in your house for the rest of your life. Talk to a financial planner to fully understand this option.
Common Causes of Becoming House Poor
Choosing to purchase a house that is simply too expensive is definitely the most common reason why you might become house poor, but there are of course countless other reasons as well. Let’s take a look at a few of the other reasons and how they can be solved or avoided.
Letting your lender decide how much house your can afford
This goes hand in hand with purchasing a house that’s too expensive but it’s still an important point to make. When you apply for a mortgage you get approved for a certain amount of money but there is no rule that says you need to purchase a house that uses up your entire mortgage. If you have a steady job with a high income or are a two income family then chances are you’ll be approved for a large mortgage. Just because the bank will give you the money doesn’t mean you need to spend it.
Decide on a budget you can comfortably afford then look for a house that fits that budget. Purchasing a $500,000 house simply because your lending will give you $500,000 is not a good idea.
Job loss or reduction in income
No one wants to think about losing their job but it happens. So when you decide to purchase a house you need to take into consideration whether or not you’ll be able to afford to live in it if you lose your job.
Unfortunately, we can’t predict the future but we can be prepared for it. Making sure you have enough savings to live off of for at least a few months will help you to continue to make your mortgage payments while you look for a new job.
No emergency fund or savings
Living in a house is expensive no matter how you look at it. Aside from your mortgage payments, there are countless other expenses that you might not have taken into consideration. Having an emergency fund will help you deal with any unexpected expenses.
Too much consumer debt
If you already have a significant amount of consumer debt before you take on a mortgage you could be looking at a seriously unstable financial future. Unfortunately, it is very likely that you’ll become house poor if all of your available income in going toward debt repayment.
To fix this issue you’ll need to consider paying off your debts before you purchase a house. While this may not fit into your plans for the future, purchasing a house when the rest of your finances are in order is without a doubt the best option.
How to Avoid Becoming House Poor?
The logical answer to this question is obviously to only purchase a house you can afford. But we understand that’s easier said than done and that often you may not even know how much house you can afford. Here are a few of the most important steps you can take to avoid becoming house poor:
- The Government of Canada suggests that you spend no more than 30% of your income on housing costs. The first thing you should do is figure out what 30% of your income actually is. (P.s. 30% is a good place to start but aiming lower is even better)
- Next, you need you figure out what your housing costs will actually be, here’s a hint it’s more than just your mortgage payment. Think property taxes and school taxes, utilities, insurance, snow removal, lawn upkeep, emergencies, repairs and of course your mortgage payments.
- Now you need to figure out how much you can afford to add to your monthly budget. Let’s say you’ve decided you can comfortably afford to allocate $3000 of your monthly budget to your housing costs. This means that all those expensive we listed above need to come to $3000 or less every month. Don’t even look at houses that are out of your price range.
- You’ll also need to save up for those onetime expenses associated with moving into a house. This would be a down payment, closing costs, moving costs and potentially any repairs that need to be made before you move in.
- It would also be advantageous for you to consider all those other costs that might not fall into the housing category. Car payments or public transportation costs, gas, car insurance, groceries, health care, cell phone bill, etc.
- Finally, try living with your new budget before you purchase a house. This will not only allow you to get used to living with a potentially more strict budget but will give you time to make adjustments if you need to.
The most important thing to remember is that everyone’s budgets, incomes, and debt loads are different. And while the government suggests that you can spend 30% of your income on housing and still be in good financial standing, not everyone should take this advice. Owning a house is expensive and if you want to stay afloat you need to tailor your budget and savings to your unique situation.
If you have any questions, give me a call 306-441-6420 Susan Kramm
Adapted from https://loanscanada.ca/debt/are-you-house-poor/