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How to Figure Out If You Can Afford a House As Mortgage Rates Continue to Rise

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Mortgage rates have been going up, up and up in 2022, making homeownership more costly — even if house prices level off. In fact, consumers may be in for serious sticker shock when preparing to buy: In June, mortgage rates posted the biggest weekly increase in 35 years.

With high rates and skyrocketing home prices painting a gloomy picture of home affordability, many consumers may assume homeownership is out of reach. But, a look back at historical mortgage rates may shed some light on “high” rates — and put some pep back in their homebuying step.

What rate is considered ‘too high’ to afford a mortgage?

“There is no one set rate that is considered ‘too high’ when you’re buying a home,” says Jacob Channel, LendingTree senior economic analyst. “Instead, the answer will depend on how much money an individual homebuyer can afford to spend on their monthly housing payments.”

Rather than focusing solely on mortgage rates, homebuyers should explore their budget to see if there’s enough room to cover all expenses after adding a mortgage payment. If the rate and payment leave you with the money needed to maintain your lifestyle and financial goals each month, then the rate may be acceptable.

Things to know: Don’t rely on a mortgage preapproval to decide how much you can afford. Some loan programs allow you to borrow up to 50% of your gross income — known as your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio — and lenders often preapprove you up to the maximum. Keep in mind: Lenders don’t consider monthly expenses like utilities, car insurance, groceries, home repairs, cable or cellphone bills. As such, a maxed-out preapproval could result in you owning a home that puts the squeeze on your monthly spending.

Have mortgage rates been this high before?

The quick answer is yes — and they’ve been much higher throughout history.

Today’s rates are certainly much steeper than they were a year ago, when they ranged between 2.70% and just over 3%. They’re also higher than they were throughout most of the 2010s, when rates for 30-year fixed mortgages generally hovered between 3.45% and 4.87%.

Getting a mortgage rate in the mid-5% range may be jarring after the nonstop news about interest rates below 3% for most of 2020. But before the Great Recession of 2007-09, rates close to 6% were the norm.

Things to know: It might be difficult to believe, but in the early 1980s, the average interest rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage rose to a record high of 18.63%. At first glance, that might look like a credit card rate, but it was the rate homeowners paid during an unusual period of high inflation.

How do consumers decide if homebuying is worth it now?

“Would-be buyers should make their homebuying choices based on whether they can afford a monthly payment at today’s rates and whether they’re ready for all the responsibilities of becoming a homeowner,” Channel says.

Those responsibilities include paying for a late-night plumber visit or repairs on a leaky roof, or replacing an air-conditioning system that fails on a hot summer day.

One thing to remember about high mortgage rates, however: What goes up eventually comes down, and you probably won’t be stuck with that 30-year mortgage rate forever.

If — and more than likely when — rates eventually fall in the future, you can always refinance your mortgage to a lower rate.

Is it better to rent and wait until rates drop again?

Predicting mortgage rates is like predicting stock prices — they often rise and fall based on factors no one can see coming or going. And you might miss out on a great home at a good rate if you wait too long, Channel says.

It’s worth it to keep renting if you’re not ready to leap into homeownership responsibilities. A bonus: It may cost less to rent in some cases.

“Renting is also typically cheaper than homeownership — at least in the short term — and you shouldn’t feel like you’re necessarily missing out or wasting money if you chose to continue renting instead of buying,” Channel says.

 

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