If you’ve been shopping around for a mortgage, then you’ve probably run into the term “debt-to-income ratio”. This can be a confusing term for someone with limited knowledge when it comes to finance. But, when you apply for a major loan, your debt-to-income ratio can have a significant impact on whether or not a lender approves your application.
So knowing what a debt-to-income ratio is, and how to calculate it, is essential if you plan on taking out a mortgage or any other major loans in the near future. In this article, we’ll cover the following questions and topics:
- What is a Debt-to-Income Ratio?
- How to Calculate Your Debt-to-Income Ratio
- What is an Ideal Debt-to-Income Ratio?
- What is the 43% Rule?
- Does Your DTI Ratio Impact Your Credit?
- How to Improve Your DTI Ratio
What is a Debt-to-Income Ratio?
A debt-to-income ratio, or DTI ratio, is a metric that measures an individual’s gross monthly income against their total monthly debt payments. What your DTI ratio ultimately represents is the percentage of your monthly income that is used to pay off your outstanding debts.
This ratio is commonly used by lenders to evaluate potential borrowers, determine whether or not they’re able to take on additional debt, and assess the likelihood that they will be able to repay a loan. While a low DTI ratio indicates that you have been able to manage a healthy balance between debt and income, a high DTI ratio indicates the opposite—namely, that you owe a high amount of debt relative to your income, likely aren’t able to save much money each month, and are essentially living paycheck to paycheck.
What Factors Make Up Your DTI Ratio?
The sum of your monthly debt payments includes credit card payments, your mortgage, child support, alimony, and any other loans you may have taken out. However, some recurring monthly payments aren’t included in your DTI ratio. According to moneyfit.org, you shouldn’t factor in non-debt payments such as:
- Insurance premiums
- Phone bill
- Childcare expenses
- Home utilities, such as your electric, heating, water, sewer, and trash bills
- Gym membership
- Music, cable, and streaming subscriptions
- Internet bill
- Landscaping costs
- Storage unit rent
- Income tax
Your gross monthly income is just your monthly pay before things like taxes and other deductions are taken out. Some common types of income that are factored into your DTI ratio, are as follows:
- Gross income, whether hourly or salaried
- Tips and bonuses
- Any income earned from a side gig
- Pension income
- Rental property income
- Self-employment income
- Social Security benefits
- Alimony received
- Child support received
How to Calculate Your Debt-to-Income Ratio
You can calculate your debt-to-income ratio by dividing the sum of your monthly debt payments by your gross monthly income. Once you figure out your total monthly debts payments and add up your gross monthly income, you’ll be ready to divide those numbers and calculate your DTI ratio.
Dividing your monthly debt payments by your gross monthly income will give you a decimal number. In order to view your DTI as a percentage, you’ll have to multiply the decimal outcome by 100.
To get a better understanding of how to calculate your DTI ratio, let’s take a look at a fictional example.
Here’s the situation: Mike has a gross monthly income of $5,000. He pays $1,000 on his mortgage, $400 for his car, $400 in child support, and $200 for other debts.
So, following the equation above to calculate Mike’s DTI ratio, we end up with:
$1,000 + $400 + $400 + $200 = $2,000
Therefore, Mike’s DTI ratio = $2,000 / $5,000 = 0.4 x 100 = 40%
What is an Ideal Debt-to-Income Ratio?
In general the lower your debt-to-income ratio is, the more likely it is that you’ll be approved for a loan you’re applying for. According to incharge.org, DTI ratios that fall between zero to 35% are considered healthy according to the standards of most major lenders, since they indicate that your debt is at a manageable level relative to your monthly income.
So what is a bad DTI ratio? Having a DTI ratio of 50% and above is considered an unhealthy level of debt in most cases, and can severely limit the kinds of loans you qualify for. Such a high ratio indicates that you likely don’t have much money to save or spend each month after making your current debt payments.
What is the 43% Rule?
The 43% rule is a rule of thumb used by banks and lenders to determine who is able to be approved for a Qualified Mortgage. Generally speaking, 43% is the highest DTI ratio you can have in order to be approved for a Qualified Mortgage by a lender.
If you’re unfamiliar with what a Qualified Mortgage is, it’s a category of loans that meet a particular set of standards and certain safety features that protect both the borrower and the lender. In order for a lender to offer you a Qualified Mortgage, they must adhere to certain requirements and make a good faith effort to evaluate your finances and determine whether you’ll be able to repay the loan or not.
The upside of a Qualified Mortgage is that it has a number of parameters in place that are supposed to help prevent you from taking out a loan you can’t afford. Some of the requirements for a Qualified Mortgage include:
- The restriction of risky loan features, such as interest-only periods and balloon payments
- A limit on your debt-to-income ratio, the maximum typically being 43%
- Caps—dependent on the size of your loan—on the amount of upfront points and fees a lender is able to charge
- Legal protections for lenders, since it’s assumed that they did their due diligence to ensure you had the ability to pay back your loan
- Maximum loan term is required to be no longer than 30 years
All of this isn’t to say that you can’t take out a mortgage at all if your DTI ratio exceeds 43%. You may still qualify for other mortgages with a high DTI ratio, but you generally won’t be able to get approved for a Qualified Mortgage.
Does Your DTI Ratio Impact Your Credit?
While your DTI ratio has no direct impact on your credit score, it can affect your ability to secure loans from banks and other lenders. A low DTI ratio increases the likelihood that you will be approved for the loans you apply for. That’s because lenders take a low DTI ratio as a sign that you are competent when it comes to money management and they can rely on you to pay back any debt you accrue according to the agreed-upon terms. Lenders also take a loan applicant’s DTI ratio into consideration because they want to ensure that borrowers aren’t taking out more debt than they can realistically pay back.
Although a lower DTI ratio typically makes it easier to get approved for a loan, keep in mind that it’s only one out of many factors that lenders take into consideration. When evaluating a mortgage loan application, lenders will also take a look at a potential borrower’s gross monthly income, the amount they can afford on a down payment, their credit history, and their credit score.
How to Improve Your DTI Ratio
There are two variables that go into calculating your DTI ratio—your total monthly debt payments and your gross monthly income. Therefore, to improve your DTI ratio you’ll need to either reduce your total monthly debt payments or increase your gross monthly income.
Reduce Your Monthly Debt Payments
Completely paying off debts is a great way to lower your monthly debts payments, but of course this is much easier said than done. Your first step should be to take a look at any loans you’ve already taken out and come up with a comprehensive repayment plan. For example, check out our money tips for recent college grads to get some advice on how to formulate a repayment plan for your student loans.
To avoid going further into debt, you should also make an effort to work on your personal finance skills. Try creating a monthly budget for yourself that can help you prioritize essentials, track your spending, and save money, made easy when you use the Mint app.
If you’ve already done some research on how to lower your monthly debt payments, you may be asking yourself, “Is debt consolidation a good idea?” Debt consolidation is when you combine all of your various debts together into one monthly payment with a fixed interest rate, and it may be a good idea depending on your circumstances.
If you don’t think you’ll be able to make a payment on one or several debts, then you can potentially avoid a late payment by consolidating that debt. However, you must have good credit to get approved for a debt consolidation loan and you should be certain that your financial situation will improve in the near future. If you don’t think you’ll be able to pay back your debts, even with debt consolidation, then you’d likely be better off trying to settle the debts directly with your creditors.
Increase Your Gross Monthly Income
Just like reducing your monthly debt payments, increasing your gross monthly income is a lot easier said than done. After all, it’s not every day that you’re given a raise or offered a job with a high-paying salary. Nevertheless, there are still ways to potentially increase your gross monthly income. Research passive income ideas or check out these examples of things you can do to make a little extra money:
- Take up a side hustle, such as driving for a ride share company, taking on freelance writing projects, babysitting, etc.
- Rent out an extra room in your home (if you have more than one property, consider turning one of them into a vacation rental)
- Get a relevant certification or license that would either increase the salary of your current position or help you find a new, higher-paying job
- If possible, try to pick up more shifts or get extra hours at work
If you’re in the market for a sizable loan, such as a mortgage loan, you’ll have an easier time securing financing with a lower debt-to-income ratio. If your DTI ratio is higher than 43%, then you might consider waiting to purchase a home until you can lower that number and qualify for a better loan. You should generally try to keep your DTI ratio as low as possible even when you aren’t shopping around for loans. This means minimizing your monthly debt payments and maximizing your gross monthly income—two things that can be hard to achieve, but not impossible. Having a well-thought-out personal finance strategy will make it easier to achieve these goals, keep your DTI ratio consistently low, and provide both you and potential lenders with a sense of financial security.