Foundation #7: Live Almost Debt Free

We have had a little bit of a hiatus on the 10 foundations of personal finance that I started writing about last year but I wanted to finish it off. So here is #7!

I started listening to Dave Ramsey in 2006 but followed many of his principles before I had ever heard of him or the daily radio show. Dave’s view of debt is spot on: You will never find financial freedom or success if you continue to have “payments”. Credit is so easy to come by today, (although it has tightened up recently) that it is easy to pile up all kinds of stuff on credit from cars to clothes to even air conditioners (heard that on the radio today!)

Like Dave Ramsey, I subscribe to there being only one kind of debt that is part of a solid financial plan: mortgage debt. This is the “almost” part of living debt free. With that said, you need to be smart about your mortgage debt. The banks will approve you for well over what you can afford. Remember, the banks are looking to maximize profit not look out for your best interests. It takes a lot of discipline to not spend what the bank will approve you for but in the long run it is one of the most important financial decisions you can make. In my view your mortgage should not exceed 2.5 times your house hold income. Why does that number work?

Household income: $50k
Purchase Price: $150k
Downpayment: $25k
Mortgage: $125k
15 year Mortgage Payment + Taxes ($1250) & Insurance ($500) @ 6% ~ $1200 month
Monthly Take home ~$2900
Housing to Income ratio 40%.

You might balk at the 15 year mortgage but I can’t emphasize how important that is. Forget the interest savings for a minute, the number one reason to go with a 15 year mortgage is it will force you to keep your housing purchase within your means! I have had a mortgage for 5 years now on two different houses and both have been 15 year notes. If you start out with a 15 you will never miss the 30 :)

The 40% housing to income is on the high side but if you have yourself on a budget you should be able to swing that. Dave Ramsey recommends 25% and that should be the goal but up to 40% is ok with a household income of $50k

If you double the numbers they look like this:

Household income: $100k
Purchase Price: $250k
Downpayment: $50k
Mortgage: $200k
15 year Mortgage Payment + Taxes ($2500) & Insurance ($1000) @ 6% ~ $2000 month
Monthly Take home ~$5400
Housing to Income ratio 35%.

In addition to the 2.5 times rule I also like to use the rule that your down payment should be half of your household income. Again, it forces you to make a housing purchase you can afford.

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