The Complete Guide to Buying a Home when You Have Student Loan Debt

Student loan debt has been a huge topic of conversation the past couple years. And it's no wonder. The average 2016 graduated has $37,172 in student loan debt. That's about $9,000 less than you'd need for a down payment on the average existing home in the U.S. at the end of 2016 and the thought of saving all that money while paying off between $219 and $389 on student loans a month can be pretty intimidating. But buying your first home can be about more than having a place to call your own--it's also a great way to build wealth. And there are steps you can take to make your dreams a reality. 

Set a goal

Chances are you don't have a huge nest egg right out of college, so the first step in buying a home is setting a goal and then making a plan to achieve it. Take a look at sites like Zillow or Truilia to see how much homes in your area cost.  Caclulate how much you would need for a 20% down payment, then use our mortgage calculator to see what your monthly payments would be and how much house you can really afford. Once you find a sale price and monthly mortgage payment you would be comfortable with, figure out how much you need to save each month in order to save for that down payment. 

Improve your credit

Bet you never thought having student loans would be a good thing. Well, your credit score is one area of your life that might actually benefit from your student loans. When you pay them on time, you’re proving to lenders that you can pay back your debts so it's a great way to raise your credit score. There aren't any quick fixes when it comes to good credit, but there are a few things you can do to improve your credit score, including: 

  • Check your credit score annually
  • Fix any errors
  • Pay all your bills on time 

Decrease your debt

This number’s pretty easy to calculate. Just add up all your monthly debts (credit cards, student loan payments, car payments, etc.) and divide that by your monthly income before tax. A good number is 36 percent, but a lender might be willing to work with you up to 43 percent. There are two ways you can lower your ratio: decrease your monthly payments or increase your income. Short of taking on a second job or asking for a raise, you don’t have a lot of control over your income. So how do you reduce your monthly payments? Challenge every expense and see where you can save. Refinance or consolidate your loans 

Save your money

Getting on a budget isn't just a good idea when you're saving for a home--it's something every person should do when they get their first job. Your budget will help you prioritize your bills, your fun, and your savings and help you see where you can cut your spending and save more each month. Eating out every day and weekly happy hours are tempting, but trust us, crockpots are your best friend and that beer tastes just as good at home.

Be realistic about your budget

You might have a picture your mind that looks like the home you grew up in. Or something that's the "after" picture in an episode of Love it or List it. But those homes might be out of your price range right now. And, you know what? That's ok. Make a list of your must-haves and nice-to-haves and then sit down with your real estate agent and ask her to help you understand what you can afford to spend on a home and what that price will get you in the neighborhoods you're looking in. Once you have a more realistic idea what to expect, you can really focus in on deal-breakers, things you can fix or upgrade yourself, and how you can see yourself growing in this home. 

Look for programs that can help

When it comes to helping first-time home buyers reach their goals, there are a lot of programs out there--and you don't need to have student loan debt to take advantage of them. One of the biggest hurdles for first-time buyers is the initial down payment. Many of the federal programs reduce the amount you need to put down on your home from 20% to as little as 3.5 percent. If the average cost of a home is $232,000, you'd be responsible for $8,120 on your down payment. That's $38,280 less than you'd need if you were paying the full 20%. 

There are lots of other programs out there that focus on everything from helping teachers and police officers buy a home to encouraging people to move to rural parts of the state. Check out our list of first-time buyer loan programs to find one that works for you. 

Move to Maryland?

Maryland recently launched Maryland SmartBuy, an innovative program to help young people become homeowners and wipe out their student loan debt at the same time. The program is open to anyone who has student loan debt that ranges from $1,000 up to 15% of the purchase price of the new home. So, if you're carrying the average student loan debt that would make you eligible for a $247,813 home. 

 The program will give you up to 15% of the home purchase price to pay off your student loan debt and ask you to agree to agree to:

If you already live in Maryland, or are considering moving there, this program could be a great opportunity for you. 

The takeaway

Student loan debt can be a big burden, but that doesn't mean you have to put off buying a home while you pay it off.