Study: Student Debt Holds Buyers Back, But Doesn’t Need To


Rising student loan debt continues to take blame for curtailing the number of young Americans who are able to break into home ownership, but lenders and real estate professionals say it doesn’t have to necessarily be a deal killer in qualifying for a mortgage.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York reported last week that student loan debt rose more than 5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013, now exceeding $1 trillion.

Young college graduates say they are delaying home ownership due to student loan debt chipping away at their finances, according to a new study by the real estate brokerage Redfin.

Sixteen percent of the 965 first-time buyers the brokerage surveyed said that student debt had previously kept them from buying a home. Of nearly 2,000 buyers surveyed, 33 percent said that student debt had led them to put off a home purchase for one to two years, while 31 percent said four years or more.

Still, home ownership is possible for buyers saddled with student loan debt, says John Wheaton, Redfin Open Book lender. “Many young people with student loans delay buying a home because they don’t think they can’t qualify for a mortgage,” Wheaton says. “Yet, many of them actually can. Underwriters generally treat student debt in a more positive light than credit card or auto loan debt.”

For example, Wheaton says that a person with $45,000 in student loans and a FICO score of 741 with an income of about $75,000 per year would likely qualify for a property starting at around $375,000 with a 5 percent down payment.

“For my homebuying clients, student debt hasn’t prevented them from buying a home, it has prevented them from buying the home they want,” says Alex Haried, a Redfin real estate professional. “Instead of buying a $350,000 home, they would rather rent for a few more years as they pay down their student debt and then buy a $500,000 home.”

The National Association of REALTORS® recently reported that the share of existing home purchases by first-time home buyers has fallen to 26 percent of sales. Last year, the percentage stood at 30 percent.

Source: “Higher Education or a House: Can Young Americans Have Both?” Redfin Research Center (Feb. 24, 2014)