Property Ownership: The 45% Rule in Mortgage Lending + IBR’s Saving Grace

So I know that we WERE in the process of refinancing our student loans in the Spring, which we announced on zee blog prior to an Oregon trip. Now that we are returning to Oregon once again in a week, I wanted to say that we STILL have yet to finalize the refinancing. And no, we did not wuss out. Don’t fret, refinance is still in our near future plans. If anything, we manned up a bit more. How? It was at that time that we decided to tackle property ownership as well! So why did refinancing have to be put on hold?

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There were two moving parts that we were balancing at the same time. Firstly, we decided that we can tackle student debt quicker by refinancing to a lower rate than our current 6.7%. Secondly, we also agreed that a sure heck of a lot of money was going towards rent, and then disappearing into thin air. After much consideration, we decided that tackling property ownership was yet another financial challenge we wanted to pursue.

Here’s the catch. Both actions would affect the results of the other.

The 40% Rule and the 45% Rule in House Buying

The general rule with mortgages is that lenders will want to see that your property’s monthly mortgage payments do not exceed 40% of your monthly gross income. For example, if you’re monthly take home pay was $5,000 a month, then the monthly mortgage cannot exceed $2,000. Which is fine, because we chose a home that would be a close equivalent to what we were already paying for in rent, and it is nowhere near 40% of our monthly gross income.

The problem lies in the second general rule. General rule number two states that your monthly housing expense and monthly repayment of non-housing debts, can total up to, but generally be no more than, 45%. By non-housing debts, I mean car payments, credit card payments, and yes, student loans. Uh-oh! Do you remember when I told you that 100% of my income was going towards paying down student loans? How in the world were we able to get a mortgage loan with a rule like this? Well, IBR is our saving grace.

IBR is a Saving Grace

When you are under the IBR program and are applying for a mortgage, they consider only your minimum monthly payment, which is a small percentage of your income. This is regardless of whether you are funneling more than the minimal payment towards the loans in hopes to reach financial freedom faster, or not. So buying a property while under IBR is “easy”! Because no one assumes that you would be crazy enough to pay down your student loans, when you can wait for loan forgiveness instead.

If we had refinanced prior to getting a property, the monthly payment of the refinanced loan would be $5,500/month. When you add that towards the monthly mortgage payments, then we get very close to exceeding the 45% rule. Even though we would still fit the rule, the tightness in the budget does not allow enough breathing room for emergencies, or whatever life chooses to throw our way. We all know I need breathing room! And once you refinance, there is no turning back. IBR is lost for good. There goes your saving grace.

So refinancing would have likely swept away all hopes of property ownership in the upcoming few years. Which means more money spent on rent and not funneled towards building wealth. Now you can see why we had to put our refinance on hold. We do not wish to refinance until after we close escrow on a property. Refinancing student loans first would have put us much farther behind on our financial goal of owning property. But buying a home first does not put us much farther behind on our financial goal of paying down student debt.

Mortgage’s Effects on Refinancing

Unfortunately, there ARE effects of a mortgage on student loan refinancing. Owning a property can affect the refinanced loan rate of the student loan. Since the loan company will now see that we have a mortgage to pay on top of the student loans, they may apply a higher loan rate to our refinanced loan than the originally quoted 5.5%. But the chances of refinancing at a rate lower than 6.7% is still present! Now in our particular case, a student loan company may think that $500,000 in student debt is crazy. They may not trust in our ability to pay them back in ten years, on top of having a home. And we don’t blame them. It is a scary thought, after all, and they know nothing about our personalities or financial story. So if a loan DOES deny refinancing the full $500,000, here is what you do. Refinance part of your loan. For example, get $250,000 refinanced at a lower rate. That seems more doable to the refinancing company. Then pay only the minimum amount towards the refinanced loan, and funnel the rest into the loan at 6.7%. Why? You want to pay down the loan with the higher percentage first, since the interest rate will be charging you like crazy. Meanwhile, you’ve cut part of the interest that you would be paying under IBR. As the numbers dwindle, consider refinancing again in the future, this time the loan in its entirety. Since we still plan to keep up with our $6,500 payments per month towards student debt, a lowered interest rate will help us out, no matter what. If they do not approve the loan in its entirety, we take baby steps. Even if only a portion of the loan is refinanced, it still doesn’t deter us or set us back from our plan to be free from student debt in less than ten years!

In the end, our choices were this:

Refinance first, and have a very difficult time securing a mortgage.


Pursue property ownership first, and refinance at a slightly higher rate, but still at a lower rate than the current loan.

As you can see, we went with the latter.

And I am pleased to say that we are almost there! Once we’ve secured the property portion of our game plan, we ARE going to refinance. And I will share with you guys THAT process as well!


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