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Debt to Income Ratio

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DTI Meaning

The definition of debt-to-income (DTI) ratio, is a term and/or a calculation used by institutional and private lenders to identify a borrower’s overall financial situation pertaining to debt and the income that comes in on a monthly basis. Simply put, a borrower’s debt-to-income ratio is the relation between what you owe and what you make.

Types of DTI Ratios

The two main types of Debt-to-Income (DTI) ratios are:

  • Front-end DTI Ratio: This focuses on housing costs. It calculates the percentage of your gross monthly income that goes towards housing expenses, including your mortgage payment, property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, and homeowner’s association (HOA) fees, if applicable.
  • Back-end DTI Ratio: This is more comprehensive, taking into account not just your housing expenses, but all monthly debt obligations. This includes credit card payments, car loans, student loans, personal loans, and other debts in addition to your housing costs, divided by your gross monthly income.

How to Calculate the DTI Ratio

To calculate a borrower’s DTI ratio, a lender or underwriter would take the borrower’s monthly debt payments (such as house, credit card, and payments) and divide it by your monthly take-home income.

Example of a Debt-to-Income Calculation

Let’s assume a borrower earns $6,000/month which would be considered their over-all gross monthly income. If that same borrower have a car payment of $600/month and a house payment of $1,500/month, total credit card payments of $175/month and a motorcycle payment of $375/month, when you add these monthly amounts together, the end result is your monthly debt/fixed expenses.

To establish a borrower’s debt-to-income ratio, divide their monthly debt payment by their monthly income. The end result is your debt-to-income ratio.

Monthly Income: $6,000
Total Monthly Debt Payment: $2,650
Debt to Income Ration = $2,650 / $6,000 = 44%

What's a Good Debt-to-income Ratio?

After the lender calculates the borrower’s debt-to-income ratio, it’s time to discover what the ratio is showing us. If a ratio of 10% to 20% or less, it means the borrower has an excellent debt-to-income ratio. This means that the borrower’s over-all monthly income is significantly higher than what they owe in outstanding debt.

That being said, if the borrower has a debt-to-income ratio of 35% to 39% or higher, it means that the borrower is taking on too much debt in relation to their income, in the eyes of most traditional lending institutions.

After the Sept 2008 banking crash and national capital freeze, anything over 35% to 39% is considered risky since it will be difficult to continue to cover your monthly debt obligations with your current income (pertaining to residential mortgage loans).

Prior to the 2008 banking melt-down the average accepted DTI was 45% to 55% (a huge difference).

Most lenders and banks are even more stringent when deciding a commercial mortgage loan which typically requires a 27% to 32% DTI according to most national chain-banks such as: Wells Fargo, Chase, etc.

DTI Requirements for Different Loan Types

Different loans have different DTI limits, reflecting the lender’s perception of risk. Below is a brief overview of the preferred debt-to-income ratios for different loan types. 

  • Conventional loans: Typically, lenders prefer a DTI ratio of 36% or lower for conventional loans, though it’s possible to get approved with a DTI as high as 43%. This type of loan often requires a higher credit score and a larger down payment but offers flexibility in terms of mortgage insurance.
  • FHA loans: Loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration are a bit more lenient, allowing a DTI ratio up to 43% as a standard, but you can still get approved with a DTI ratio as high as 50% in some cases. FHA loans are popular among first-time homebuyers due to their lower minimum down payment and credit score requirements.
  • VA loans: These loans, guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, are for veterans, active-duty service members, and some surviving spouses. VA loans are quite flexible regarding the DTI ratio, with many lenders looking for a DTI ratio of 41% or lower, although exceptions can be made based on the overall strength of your financial profile.
  • USDA loans: Aimed at rural homebuyers and backed by the United States Department of Agriculture, USDA loans sometimes prefer a DTI ratio of 29%/41% (29% for housing costs and 41% for total debt payments). However, higher DTI ratios can be approved with strong credit scores or when the borrower has stable and dependable income.

While these DTI ratios are guidelines, lenders often consider the entire financial picture, including credit scores, savings, assets, and the amount of the down payment. Flexibility in one area can sometimes offset a higher DTI ratio, so it’s always worth discussing your specific situation with a lender.

Why is the Debt-to-income Ratio Important?

Most institutional lenders as well as some private lending sources calculate and analyze a borrower’s debt-to-income ratio to determine the size mortgage that the borrower can afford. In fact, a borrower’s DTI, credit score and the borrower’s loan-to-value (LTV) are frequently the most important numbers that any lender looks at when quoting a mortgage amount and interest rate (for loan origination or loan refinance).

How the DTI Ratio Affects Note Sellers

This is why it is highly suggested to always pull the borrower’s credit report when creating a mortgage note or creating a business note for resale to a note investor. In addition, this also pertains to note sellers that have included a balloon payment (which we do not suggest in this economy) when structuring a note for resale to a buyer.

Keep in mind that if you as the note seller are relying on a balloon payment to be made after creating a note, the bulk of the return on investment hinges on the borrower being able to be refinanced by a regular bank or lending institution. In this sad economy, this is unlikely to happen if the borrower’s DTI is higher than 30% to 40% depending on the loan amount credit score and loan terms.

How to Lower Your DTI Ratio

Lowering your Debt-to-Income (DTI) ratio is a smart move if you’re looking to improve your financial health or prepare for a major purchase, like a home. Here’s how you can tackle it:

  • Increase your income: Easier said than done, but boosting your income will lower your DTI ratio. This could mean asking for a raise, finding a higher-paying job, or picking up side gigs.
  • Pay down debt: Focus on reducing your debt, especially high-interest credit cards or loans. You can tackle the ones with the highest interest rates first or the smallest balances to quickly see progress.
  • Avoid taking on new debt: Resist the urge to open new credit accounts or make large purchases on credit. More debt means a higher DTI ratio.
  • Refinance existing loans: If you have loans with high interest rates, see if you can refinance to a lower rate. This can reduce your monthly payments and, as a result, your DTI ratio.
  • Consolidate debts: Debt consolidation can combine multiple high-interest debts into a single, lower-interest loan, reducing your monthly debt payments.
  • Budget wisely: Review your spending habits and budget. Cutting back on non-essential expenses frees up more money to pay down debt.
  • Use windfalls wisely: Any unexpected financial gains, like tax refunds, bonuses, or inheritances, should be directed towards paying down debt rather than spending.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Debt-to-income Ratio

Is a 20% debt-to-income ratio bad?

A 20% debt-to-income (DTI) ratio is actually quite good and is considered lower than the average acceptable DTI ratio by most lending standards. This low DTI indicates that you are using only a fifth of your gross monthly income to pay off debt, leaving you in a strong position to manage your finances effectively. It suggests that you have a healthy balance between debt and income, which can make you an attractive candidate for lenders if you’re looking to apply for credit or a loan.

What is the average debt-to-income ratio?

The average debt-to-income (DTI) ratio can vary widely depending on factors like age, income level, and economic conditions. Generally speaking, for individuals and households, a common benchmark for a “healthy” DTI ratio is around 36% or lower. This means your total monthly debt payments ideally should not exceed 36% of your gross monthly income.

However, this average can fluctuate. For example, younger individuals might have higher DTI ratios due to student loans, whereas older individuals might have lower DTI ratios if they’ve paid down debts over time. The economic environment also plays a role. During times of economic hardship or high inflation, average DTI ratios might increase as people rely more on credit to manage their expenses.

Keep in mind that the “average” DTI ratio is a broad concept and doesn’t necessarily reflect what’s best for your personal financial situation. Striving for a lower DTI ratio can give you more financial flexibility and better prepare you for future financial goals.

Is rent included in the debt-to-income ratio?

No, rent is not typically included in the calculation of the debt-to-income (DTI) ratio. Rent is considered a living expense rather than a debt obligation. However, when applying for a mortgage, lenders will consider your housing expenses, including future mortgage payments, property taxes, and homeowners’ insurance, as part of your front-end DTI ratio to ensure you can afford the new housing payment in addition to your existing debts.