Mortgage Advice for Lawyers, Doctors, and Young Professionals with High Student Debt

In today's mortgage world, doctors, lawyers, and other professionals can find that getting a mortgage after graduation can be very difficult if they have high student debt and lack significant job history. We ask the experts for some tips on what these graduates can do to improve their chances of being approved for a mortgage.

Many doctors, lawyers, and other graduate degreed professionals finish school in their late twenties to early thirties with a good, steady paycheck and a desire to upgrade their living conditions after many years on a student budget. Part of the plan often includes purchasing a home. Most young professionals assume that with their high salaries and great future job prospects, they should have no trouble receiving a mortgage. In today's mortgage world though, doctors, lawyers, and other professionals can find that buying a home after graduation can be very difficult if they have high student debt and lack significant job history.

While doctors, lawyers, and other professionals often graduate into jobs with high salaries, have great credit histories, and may even have money for a down payment, high student debt is often a huge obstacle to securing a mortgage. When determining whether to give a loan, a key metric used by lenders is the debt to income ratio, calculating by taking all of a borrowers monthly debt payments (student loan, credit card, auto loan, etc.) and dividing it by their gross income. Thus, a doctor with $3,000 in debt payments and with a gross salary of $10,000 would have a debt to income ratio of 30%. In general, borrowers with ratios over 45% will not quality for a mortgage. Gloria Shulman, the founder of Centek Capital Group in Beverly Hills stated that "even if deferred, student loan debt is a huge issue for young borrowers... medical or other graduate school debt can be a killer if you don't go into buying property with a debt management plan." Doctors and lawyers because of the number of years of graduate school required, often have the highest amount of debt.

The second reason young doctors and lawyers may find it difficult to get a mortgage is that many mortgage lenders require two years of stable work history before providing a mortgage. A new graduate doesn't have the work history required by many lenders.

But difficult doesn't mean impossible. Here are some tips provided by lending experts from around the country:

Get a Co-Signer

Ms. Shulman recently helped a young neurosurgeon find a loan product after multiple bank denials by working a deal where his parents were co-signers in name only. Having parents server as co-signers places risk on your parents and is often not advised by financial planners, but if you have a great relationship with your parents, and are confident in your future earnings, if might be a sensible step to consider.

Buy a Starter Home

Don't have your sight set on the McMansion down the street, start with more modest aspirations. Look to buy a home with a mortgage of less than $417,000 (a conforming mortgage). Roy Sperr from Equity Source Mortgage in Minneapolis provided the following guideline:

If you have your first pay stub as a new professional employee, are borrowing less than $417K and have a Debt ratio of less than 45% (divide your total monthly base income into your monthly debts to calculate) If you are .45 or less you can most likely buy a home.

If you are buying a home that will result in a Mortgage Loan higher than $417K you are considered a “Jumbo” borrower. This loan is not sold on the secondary market (Fannie and Freddie) and is subject to higher scrutiny.

Look for HUD/FHA Loans

Jason Bonarrigo from Residential Mortgage Services in Braintree, MA says that "with a HUD/FHA loan, "if the lender can document student loans are deferred for more then 12 months, then the person does not have to use the student loan debt in the qualifying ratio's." HUD/FHA loans are popular government sponsored loans that often require lower down payments when purchasing a home. In general, HUD/FHA loans are only for conforming mortgages (less than $417,000) and often have expensive fees, but they are worth investigating.

Consolidate and Pay Down Debt Where Possible

The cleaner you can make your debt situation, the better. Mr. Sperr also offered the following advice:

Before applying make sure you do everything you can as a borrower to understand your student loan debt and its repayment terms. Make sure you know your other outstanding debts.

a.) Consolidate all separate student loans if possible into one payment.

b.) Pay down credit cards, car loans and other smaller debt that can be
controlled to improve ratios.

Malcolm Hollensteiner, Director of Lending Sales and Products at TD Bank advised borrowers to see if a family member can provide a gift and use it to "to eliminate consumer debt, rather than putting family money directly towards a house. In certain cases, eliminating or reducing consumer debt helps to increase buying power more than a higher down payment would."

Buy With a Friend or a Significant Other

Mr. Hollensteiner also advised that pairing up with a friend can increase a buyer's chances of obtaining a mortgage, "assuming both do not have considerable college debt." He advised that individuals considering this route "be cautious and thoroughly think the decision through. Future plans – including marriage and job relocations - could make this kind of partnership inconvenient down the road."

Another option is to purchase a house with a significant other, especially if the relationship is headed towards marriage. Once again, the borrower should carefully weight the pros and cons and think through what happens if the relationship does not work out.

Explore mortgage rates here.

Sol Nasisi
Sol Nasisi: Sol Nasisi is the co-founder and a past president of BestCashCow, an online resource for comprehensive bank rate information. In this capacity, he closely followed rate trends for all savings-related and loan products and the impact of rate fluctuations on the economy. He specifically focused on how rates impact consumers' ability to borrow and save. He also has authored a wee

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