If you’re a single parent, it’s arguably more challenging to buy a home than for those in a partnership with dual incomes. Yet it’s easy to see why so many single parents are eager to purchase a house. Beyond finding a perfect kitchen and playroom, owning a home is an integral part of building a healthy financial future.
And while homeownership may seem like an increasingly out-of-reach dream for single moms and dads, buying a house is definitely an achievable reality for most folks. To help inform you on this journey, we reached out to experts for tips on how to land a great mortgage as a single parent.
1. Leverage benefits
When applying for a mortgage, be sure to include any alimony and child benefit payments you receive.
“The most significant leverage a single parent has against lenders is his or her benefits,” says David Clark, a lawyer and executive partner at the Clark Law Office in Lansing, MI. “As a borrower, it’s essential to establish your capability to pay. So highlight the monetary amount you receive from child benefits, tax credits, and maintenance fees as all of these can be taken into account.”
2. Remember the 25% rule
Single parents have to carry a mortgage by themselves. With that in mind, it’s wise to leave plenty of financial wiggle room when shopping for a home. (An affordability calculator can help you determine what monthly payments you can swing.)
“As a single parent, you also have more ‘what ifs’ to worry about, so it’s important to give your budget breathing room for emergencies and extra child care costs,” says consumer finance expert Andrea Woroch, who’s based in Bakersfield, CA. “You should aim for your monthly mortgage—including taxes and insurance—to be around 25% of your income. This way, you have enough to cover house costs, child costs, and still reach savings goals, such as saving for retirement and college.”
3. Make a significant down payment if you can
No matter who you are or your financial and life situation, making a substantial down payment on a house will pay off.
“Getting a good mortgage rate can be a challenge for a single person,” acknowledges Kevin Miles, a finance analyst for Loan Advisor. “Making a big down payment will not only improve your chances of getting a good lender but also getting a better deal on your mortgage. It will also lower your monthly payments moving forward.”
Miles adds that having a good credit score (740-plus is considered optimal) will improve your odds of getting a reasonable mortgage rate, because good credit lets lenders know you can keep up with financial commitments.
4. Consider specialty loans or down payment assistance
Can’t swing a large down payment? That’s OK. As a single parent, you may be able to qualify for loans that require much less than the standard 20% down payment.
“A conforming, aka conventional, loan may only require a down payment as low as 3%, with a mortgage insurance add-on,” says Andrina Valdes, chief operating officer of Cornerstone Home Lending, in San Antonio, TX.
One of the best loans for single parents is from the United States Department of Agriculture, says Stephen Keighery, CEO and founder of Home Buyer Louisiana.
“The USDA loans are particularly helpful because most feature low-interest rates and do not require a down payment,” says Keighery.
The catch? “You have to ensure that the property is within the USDA-eligible area. It also requires you to pay a mortgage insurance premium upfront, but it’s significantly lower than many other premiums,” he adds.
And if you’re a teacher, firefighter, EMT, or member of law enforcement, Valdes says, the Good Neighbor Next Door program can get you up to 50% off on a foreclosed home.
5. Look for local loans
No matter what type of loan you ultimately try to secure, try to find a local lender.
“Working with a mortgage professional who is local to your market can be a huge asset,” says Michael Belfor, a mortgage banker and branch manager at American Pacific Mortgage in San Francisco.
“There are so many online platforms offering seemingly great deals, but that utilize loan officers out of the area or in call centers that may be completely out of the market,” Belfor adds. “This can make sorting out market-specific details very challenging.”
6. Beware of adjustable rates and multiple applications
The Federal Reserve may hike interest rates soon, so getting a mortgage with a fixed rate is critical.
“A 30-year fixed mortgage will allow a single person with kids to accurately forecast their monthly expenses,” says Nick Janovsky, global real estate adviser at Premier Sotheby’s International Realty in St. Petersburg, FL. “You should also watch out for pre-payment penalties. These are penalties the lender would charge you for selling the home within a set period of time.”
And beware of applying for multiple mortgages with different companies in a quest for the best offer.
“Each time you apply, they pull your credit, which reduces your credit score,” says Janovsky.