What Is Debt to Income Ratio (DTI)? How Does It Affect Mortgages?

ledger, calculator, and bank notes, indicating a person calculating debt to income ratio

When you apply for a home loan with a mortgage broker in the US, one factor they use when determining your eligibility is your debt-to-income ratio (DTI). Most lenders will evaluate your financial health, and this number represents your ability to repay the money you plan to borrow.

If it’s your first time taking out a mortgage to buy a home, you might be wondering what is DTI. How does it work? And, how does it affect mortgages?

Well, you’re in luck! Here, the Mortgage Shop will answer all these questions and more to empower you with useful information to make your loan application process smoother.

What Is Debt to Income Ratio?

The debt to income ratio is a crucial metric that lenders use to assess your financial well-being and determine your eligibility for a mortgage. Essentially, it is the percentage of your monthly pre-tax income that goes toward paying your monthly debt obligations, including the projected payment on a new home loan.

Generally, there are two primary types of DTIs.

Front-End DTI

This ratio focuses solely on housing-related expenses. It is calculated by dividing your monthly housing costs, which include your current mortgage or rent payment, homeowners insurance, property taxes, and any applicable homeowner’s association dues, by your gross monthly income.

While lenders might not heavily emphasize the front-end DTI during the mortgage application process, it can be particularly relevant for certain loan types, such as Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans.

Back-End DTI

This ratio provides a broader view of your financial obligations. It includes all your housing-related expenses along with other minimum required monthly debt payments found on your credit report, such as car loans, credit card payments, student loans, and personal loans.

The back-end DTI is the figure that most lenders focus on because it offers a comprehensive look at your overall debt burden. It helps them evaluate your ability to manage additional debt and make timely mortgage payments.

By understanding both types of DTI ratios, you can better prepare for the mortgage application process and make informed decisions about your borrowing capacity.

How to Calculate Your DTI?

To calculate your DTI, you can use this formula:

Total Monthly Debt Payments / Gross Income = DTI Ratio

So, for example, you have total monthly debt payments of $2,500:

  • Mortgage – $1,000
  • Car Loan – $1,000
  • Credit Card – $500

Then, you have a gross income of $6,500.

Given these numbers, you can calculate your DTI by dividing your monthly debts by your income.

$2,500 / $6,500 = 38%

How Does Debt to Income Ratio Affect Mortgages?

Your DTI plays a significant role in your ability to qualify for a mortgage. Generally, the lower your DTI, the more favorable you appear to lenders. It indicates that you have a manageable level of debt relative to your income, which suggests that you are less likely to default on your mortgage payments.

Lenders use the DTI ratio to assess your risk as a borrower. If your DTI is high, it signals that a substantial portion of your income is already committed to debt repayment, which could make it challenging to keep up with additional mortgage payments. Consequently, lenders may view you as a higher-risk borrower, which can affect your chances for loan approval. And, if you get pre-approved, it can affect the terms, such as the loan amount and interest rate.

On the other hand, a lower DTI ratio demonstrates financial stability and a higher capacity to take on new debt. This makes you a more attractive candidate for mortgage approval.

What Is a Good Debt-to-Income Ratio?

So, what is a good debt-to-income ratio?

According to a report by U.S. News, the highest allowable DTI ratio for most lenders is 43%. While some lenders are stricter with their guidelines and expect to see a DTI of 36% or lower, others may have more flexible requirements.

Lenders generally prefer a DTI ratio that indicates financial prudence and stability. For instance, a DTI ratio below 36% is often seen as a sign of good financial health, suggesting that you will be able to manage your debts well. It does not only increase your chances of mortgage approval but will also lead to better loan terms.

Different lenders have varying criteria, but consistently maintaining a low DTI ratio shows them that you are a reliable borrower.

DTI Ratio: Real-World Example

To give a real-world example of DTI ratios, let us take a look at Wells Fargo & Co., which is one of the largest lenders in the country and provides a wide range of banking and lending products. Below are the guidelines the Wells Fargo uses to assess the creditworthiness of different DTI ratios:

  • 35% or less – This is generally viewed as favorable. Your debt is manageable, and you likely have money left after paying monthly bills, indicating strong financial well-being.
  • 36% to 49% – This range means your DTI ratio is adequate, but there is room for improvement. Lenders might require additional eligibility criteria or compensating factors to approve your mortgage.
  • 50% or higher – A DTI ratio in this range indicates limited financial flexibility. You need more money for savings or unexpected expenses, making it challenging to qualify for a mortgage and other financing options.

While DTI categories can vary from lender to lender, these numbers will give you a general idea of how your debt-to-income ratio might impact your mortgage application.

How to Lower Your DTI Ratio?

a person paying off debt to improve debt to income ratio

Lowering your DTI is crucial to increasing your chances of qualifying for a mortgage with better terms. Here are some effective strategies that you can use.

Pay Off Debt

Start by tackling your existing debts, such as credit card balances, student loans, and car loans. Paying off these debts will decrease your monthly debt obligations.

Increase Income

Consider ways to boost your monthly gross income. This could involve negotiating a higher salary, taking on a part-time job or freelance work, or renting out a room in your home. Increasing your income will offset your debt payments.

Refinance or Consolidate Debt

Explore options to refinance or consolidate debts into a single, more manageable loan. This can also bring down your monthly payments.

Avoid Taking on New Debt

While you work on lowering your DTI ratio, avoid taking on any new debt that could increase your monthly financial obligations. This includes avoiding new credit card purchases or other loans.

By implementing these strategies, you can effectively lower your DTI ratio and strengthen your financial profile, making you a more attractive candidate for mortgage lenders.