In a relationship, you count on your significant other to be there with you through the good and the bad. They are your best friend, your confident and your closest ally. And you count on being able to have important conversations with them as well.
One of those important conversations every couple should have focuses on money and each person’s respective financial goals, especially if you are planning to purchase a home. However, 33 percent of married or partnered adults have difficulty discussing money with their significant other, according to a Wells Fargo survey. “I think money is one of those topics most couples put off discussing because it can be sensitive,” says Arlene Maloney, senior vice president, Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. “However, if you don’t discuss money before entering into a major credit purchase, like homeownership, you open yourself up for potential problems down the road.”
Purchasing a home is one of the largest investments most people make in their lifetime. When two people decide to achieve the goal of homeownership together, it’s important to understand not only your own finances and credit profile but your partner’s finances and goals as well.
To help you broach this conversation with your partner, here are some things you should discuss before you move forward:
Where you will live and what you want to purchase. Do you want to live in the city or the suburbs? Are you set on a single-family home or a condo? Do you want to build your home or purchase an established property? Having answers to these questions will help you speak to a lender and learn more about how the type of home you choose may affect loan approval requirements or what options exist if you want to build your home. You’ll also learn if any bond or down payment assistance programs may be offered in the municipalities you are considering.
Your partner’s credit score. Lenders use customers’ credit profiles to help determine your ability to repay a loan. When purchasing a home with someone else, both of your credit scores are considered. In most cases the lowest middle score between the two of you will be used. If you or your significant other has a very low score this may not only impact the loan amount you receive but also the interest rate. It may even prevent approval. If one of the credit scores is very low, as a couple you might discuss only one person applying for the mortgage loan.
Have an honest conversation about debt. An important factor that lenders evaluate is your debt-to-income ratio. This varies by mortgage program but a good rule of thumb is to ensure your debt level is at or below 36 percent of your gross monthly income. Having an overabundance of debt could impact the amount of the loan or whether you receive mortgage approval.
How much money can you put toward the purchase? It isn’t necessary for you to put 20 percent down, but most loan options require some sort of down payment. In many cases, lower down payment options require mortgage insurance, which will increase your monthly payment.
Will one or both of you be on the note? If purchasing a home with someone else, each of you must qualify in order to be on the note, and both of you are responsible for the debt. If only one person is on the note, the other may not engage in any transactions regarding the loan, including refinancing, or application for modification. If one of you has less desirable credit, you may decide that only one of you will apply for the mortgage. You should also consult your state’s attorney general’s office to see if any community property laws exist in your state. Such laws could make a spouse legally responsible for any debt acquired by the other spouse after marriage. If such a law exists in your state, it’s important you are aware of it.
Purchasing your first home is an exciting time and, for many people, a sign of success. But while you may want to rush out and start the shopping process now, take your time. Having a conversation with your significant other about the topics above beforehand will ensure you’re both on the same page and set you up to make the most of your future and the home it includes. To find answers to your other questions about credit and homeownership, visit Wells Fargo’s Smarter Credit Center or WellsFargo.com/mortgage.