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Why I’m Grown-Up and Employed, but Still Need Mom to Co-Sign on My Home

August 20, 2020

cosign lease

Jillian Pretzel

When I got my first apartment after college, I needed my mom to co-sign my lease.

The landlord required proof that I made three times the rent, but since I wasn’t making nearly enough, I called Mom to sign on that second dotted line.

Then, in my mid-20s, when I bought my first condo, I needed a co-signer again. Once again, my mom was there for me.

Now I’m almost 30, married, and expecting our first child. Both my husband and I are gainfully employed and have good credit histories, so you’d think we wouldn’t need any parent co-signing for us to rent a home! But alas, we’d recently moved to New York City, where rents were so high, snagging a half-way decent apartment would require Mom to co-sign once again.

What’s going on? Would I need my mother to co-sign forever?

Of course, I feel lucky to have a parent who’s so supportive. But I can’t help but think that there’s something wrong with me, where I was choosing to live, or perhaps the housing system in general.

So, I started looking into why co-signing is so often required, even in cases where it seems unnecessary. Here’s what I learned, and some words of wisdom from experts that could help you get through the inconvenient (and embarrassing) cycle.

Why co-signers are required

What bothered me most about needing a co-signer was that I felt like I wasn’t being taken seriously as a tenant. I had a good job and a college degree, why couldn’t I be trusted to pay my rent?

As it turns out, many people face this problem.

While landlords may have differing requirements, the industry standard is that your take-home income must be three times what you pay in rent. So if you make $3,000 a month, your monthly rent should not exceed $1,000.

But is this realistic with today’s runaway rent prices?

For instance, in 2013, as a fresh college graduate, I paid $1,600 a month for a one-bedroom, third-floor walk-up in Los Angeles. So based on the three-times rule, I should have been earning $4,800 a month, or $57,600 a year.

A salary that size was an unattainable dream for me right out of college. Even though I had a great sales job and a minimum-wage side hustle, I was making only about twice the annual rent, or $40,000.

And I was one of the lucky ones. The minimum wage in California is $12 an hour, but in 2013 it was $8. To afford a monthly rent of $1,600 in 2013, a minimum-wage worker would have needed to put in 150 hours a week.

Is the three-times rent rule realistic?

Because I needed a co-signer, I couldn’t help but wonder about the three-times rent rule, and the reason for it. Did this mean I’d overextended myself?

As it turns out, I had no reason for worry. With a monthly rent of $1,600, I had another $1,600 left for other expenses, and it was more than enough.

So I started wondering: If twice my income worked just fine for my bills, why do landlords want proof that renters make three times their rent?

“The exact origins of the three-times rule is unknown,” says Michael Dinich of Your Money Geek. Nonetheless, this rule has remained the industry standard—for renters and home buyers alike.

“Mortgage lenders have often used the guideline that housing costs should be no more than 30% of income,” Dinich says. “The three-times rule is likely a handy approximation based on those old guidelines.”

This guideline may even contribute to younger generations’ low rates of homeownership.

“The income of many people, particularly younger adults, has not kept up with home prices in many areas,” says Andrew Lantham, managing editor of Super Money. “This is why millennials have lower homeownership rates than previous generations.”

Plus, experts say that most landlords (even the nice ones) don’t necessarily care if people aren’t making as much money as they used to. They care more about finding a renter who will be able to pay their rent on time. And if that means sticking to the tried-and-true method of renting to those who can prove they have plenty of income to spare, or can at least get a co-signer, they’ll do it.

How I pay my rent without a co-signer today

While it’s tough for young renters and home buyers almost everywhere to cover their housing costs, it’s even worse in New York City.

Sure, my mom agreed to co-sign the lease, as always. Yet with a baby on the way, my husband and I decided that, rather than taking my mom up on her kind offer, I’d try to find an apartment with a rent that fell comfortably within the three-times rule.

We started crossing things off our wish list. We moved our search from Manhattan to Brooklyn. We stopped looking at homes near subway stations and cute cafes and started touring apartments that were a bit farther out. In the end, we found a studio we liked, and the low rent didn’t require a co-signer.

The post Why I’m Grown-Up and Employed, but Still Need Mom to Co-Sign on My Home appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.

Need a Mortgage Co-Signer? Here’s What It Means and What to Watch Out For

August 15, 2018

Need a mortgage co-signer? This may indeed be the case if you’ve found that perfect house, only to have lenders inform you that you don’t qualify for a mortgage.

Enter the co-signer.

What does having a co-signer mean for you as a home buyer, and what are the benefits and risks? Read on!

Why a buyer might need a mortgage co-signer

That property you’re eyeing may be just out of your price range, or perhaps you have either a poor or no credit history. Even if you know how to scrimp and save to make your monthly mortgage payments, the bank doesn’t know how well you pinch pennies. And being a financial institution, it needs a guarantee that the money it lends a potentially risky borrower will be paid back. And that’s where a co-signer comes in.

What is co-signing exactly?

When you apply for a mortgage, you become what’s known as the “occupying borrower.” A co-signer—usually a relative or friend—is someone who typically doesn’t live at the property (aka a “nonoccupant co-borrower.” This person physically co-signs the mortgage or deed of trust note with you, adding the security of their income and credit history against the loan.

Both parties then become co-credit applicants, taking on the financial risk of the mortgage together. That also means the co-signer essentially owns the home right along with you, whether they live in it or not.

How debt-to-income ratio is calculated with a co-signer

Mortgage approval (and how large a mortgage you can get) hinges on your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio, which is essentially how much money you have coming in (income) compared with going out (aka your debts, including college loans, car loans, and otherwise).

So how is the DTI ratio calculated with a co-signer? In this case, it is usually calculated by combining your income with that of your co-signer, which should hopefully boost your overall DTI to a number the bank will approve.

Just keep in mind that lenders will also examine your co-signer’s debts, and factor that into the picture as well to create what’s called a “blended debt-to-income ratio.” So make sure you choose a mortgage co-signer with high income and little debt to help offset your own numbers.

What is a co-signer’s liability?

A co-signer is a person who is taking on the financial risk of buying a home right along with you. If something unforeseen happens and you’re no longer able to make mortgage payments, the co-signer will be contacted to pay up.

“When co-signing a loan, the risk falls on the co-signer,” says Ray Rodriguez, regional sales manager at TD Bank. If anything happens to the occupying borrower that affects their financial health—think loss of job or severe medical problems—”the co-signer is responsible for the payments.”

And if you fall behind on your loan, the full amount of the mortgage payments are reported on both of your credit reports, according to Rodriguez. Those late payments also “get reported on the co-signer’s credit report and could drop their credit score, impacting their ability to obtain new loans for an auto or mortgage of their own.”

Whom you shouldn’t ask to co-sign your loan

Co-signers should be people rooting for you to pay off the loan without a hitch, not someone with an interest in owning the house—a possibility if they take over paying off the property. The co-signers to avoid are those who could make a buck by facilitating this real estate transaction—think the home seller or the builder/developer.

Warning: A co-signer doesn’t solve everything

Sure, a co-signer’s income can offset certain weaknesses in the occupant borrower’s loan application. But no co-signer can wipe away significant hiccups in your credit history. And before you put a co-signer at risk, make sure you as the occupant borrower truly have the ability and willingness to make the mortgage payments and maintain homeownership. In other words, don’t take your co-signer for granted, and lean on them only in the worst-case scenario.

The post Need a Mortgage Co-Signer? Here’s What It Means and What to Watch Out For appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.