When Kristin and Sean Couch were ready to buy their first home, they feared that one thing would hold them back: Kristin's student loans. Her broadcast journalism master's degree from Syracuse University had left her more than $80,000 in debt.
The Couches are part of a generation that's delaying major life decisions, like whether to buy a home, because of student loan debt. More than half of student loan borrowers say their debt affects their ability or decision to become a homeowner, according to a 2015 survey of 1,934 student loan borrowers by American Student Assistance, a Boston-based nonprofit.
But becoming a homeowner is possible even if you have student loans. The Couches bought their 2,900-square-foot Craftsman home in Gainesville, Georgia, last spring. Here's how you can do it, too.
Shop for a home you can afford
Minimize debt from credit cards and car loans
- Your income.
- Your savings.
- Your credit score.
- Your monthly debt-to-income ratio.
The Couches focused on paying off Sean's truck and their credit cards, which they'd relied on when Kristin was "making less than peanuts" in her first few jobs. When they got their mortgage, their only remaining debt was from Kristin's student loans.
Lower your monthly student loan payments
There are tradeoffs involved with both refinancing and income-driven repayment plans. When you refinance federal student loans, they become private loans and you lose federal protections, including access to income-driven plans and federal forgiveness programs. Income-driven plans, which cap your monthly payment at a percentage of your income, increase the amount of interest you'll pay over time because they extend your term length.
Most mortgage lenders won't mind if your overall student loan debt will increase; they're primarily concerned with your monthly payment, says Kevin Hanson, director of lending at Gate City Bank in Fargo, North Dakota. But you'll save the most money on your student loans if you minimize the amount of interest you'll pay over the life of the loan.
Make your student loan payments on time
"A student loan is never negative," Koss says. "It's just a question of whether you pay it on time."
Save for a down payment and closing costs
A traditional down payment is 20% of the cost of the home, but there are other options for borrowers today, such as putting less down and paying for private mortgage insurance each month until you build 20% equity in your home (though the less you put down, the more you'll pay in interest).
Despite Kristin's student loans, the Couches were able to buy their home with just 3% down through a local bank. But that doesn't mean her student loan payment isn't still a burden. "It's as much as a second mortgage," she says.
Still, to her, owning a home is worth the extra responsibility. "It's yours," she says. "You bought it. It's something tangible that you can see."
This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by USA Today.