As a mortgage professional for almost 20 years, I know just about every gotcha that can cause an underwriter to deny your loan. We look at monthly minimum obligations you pay on your debts. We take those minimum payments, including your proposed total mortgage payment (principal, interest, taxes, insurance, and private mortgage insurance), and then divide this by your gross income. This debt-to-income ratio is the barometer we use to determine your ability to repay the mortgage.
My wife, a college professor, texted me:
“My friend, who is a business/finance professor and contract attorney is insisting that leasing a car will not affect buying a home because it’s not debt… He says he also teaches Mortgage people this stuff.”
WIFE: “Can I tell him he’s wrong?”
ME: “Yes, he’s wrong. It’s debt!”
WIFE: “LOL, I knew it! He is generally full of crap, but when he said that’s what he teaches in his classes, it made me pause.”
Imagine you have a $375/month car payment, which is nearly equivalent to $75,000 in spending power when buying a home. Or imagine you are a 2-car family spending $750/month on car loans. This reduces your buying power by $150,000. So instead of affording that charming $500,000 home, you have had your eye on, your max is only $350,000. As my clients know too well, this could hinder getting into that perfect neighborhood with the right schools and the short commute you so desperately want.
And here is the rub – a leased vehicle is even worse. Are you listening, Mr. Professor? Most of us know that when your lease period expires; you either lease again, or keep the leased vehicle with a large buyout (this could be money you need for your down payment or closing costs for a new home). Whereas with a conventional car loan, when you make your last scheduled payment, you own the car free and clear (aka no debt).
Also, in some circumstances, if you are a few months shy of paying off your auto loan, an underwriter will not hit you with the monthly auto debt and will not hold it against your ratios. You can see why the hair on the back of my neck jump to attention hearing this professor tell his many students that a car lease is not debt and will not affect their ability to buy a home. Rubbish!
This one financial decision can be the reason you miss that opportunity to get into your dream home. When something sounds too good to be true, it genuinely is too good to be true. My best advice is to sit down with a trusted mortgage professional before paying off any debt, or restructuring those credit card balances, and work through your debt-to-income ratios with someone who does this every day.