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12-month plan to buying your first home

Finance 101

A couple drinking coffee with their husky puppy in a house full of moving boxes

Buying a first home can be daunting. And yet, it continues to be a primary goal for many Americans. So, how can you get there? Here are 12 steps you can take to get closer to closing in just 12 months.

12 Months Out – Work on your credit score

No matter how good your credit number is, it can always be better. Pay bills on time and try to pay off as much of your debt as possible. Also, check for any mistakes or inaccuracies in your report. If you find any, contact the credit bureau.

11 Months Out – Take a homebuyer’s course

Completing a homebuyer’s course can help you qualify for a myriad of financial benefits, including down-payment assistance programs, below-market mortgage rates and closing-cost grants.

10 Months Out – Speak to a financial advisor

A financial advisor can help you create a plan that gets you signing on the dotted line sooner than you think. They take a deep look into your finances and can help you organize your money in a way that matches your unique needs.

9 Months Out – Don’t open any new credit cards

Opening a new credit line can affect your chances of getting a mortgage. It increases the number of inquiries on your credit, which affects your credit score. It can also change the amount of debt you carry, and that can put you at risk of not qualifying for a mortgage at all.

8 Months Out – Figure out how much house you can afford

A general rule of thumb is to avoid taking on a monthly mortgage payment that’s more than 28% of your gross monthly income. Lenders use this rule for underwriting.

7 Months Out – Start saving aggressively

Set a goal and cut out the extras—like expensive vacations, shopping sprees and any unnecessary spending—until you meet it. Automate your saving by having a portion of your check deposited directly into a separate savings account (at a different bank than your checking account, if possible).

6 Months Out – Check your debt-to-income ratio

The magic number for lenders is 36%. List every single one of your monthly expenses, including credit card bills, student loans, transportation and other bills. Then divide this sum by your gross monthly income. Then multiply that by 100. That percentage is your debt-to-income ratio.

5 Months Out – Decide on a home with room to grow

It’s easy to buy a home for the impending needs you have today, but if you’re considering starting or expanding your family, whether that means children or possibly a parent moving in, it may be better to invest in a home that will fit your future. It’s also important to decide what type of home works better for you. Whether it’s an apartment closer to public transportation or a house with more space, each has different costs associated with them.

4 Months Out – Preplan for renovations

Will your new home need any renovations before you move in? Start planning how you’ll pay for them. Consider starting a separate savings account just for home repairs and improvements.

3 Months Out – Check the interest rates

Interest rates vary every single day. Your best bet is to check with multiple lenders and shop around to see who has the best interest rate. Once you have an accepted offer, you’ll have the chance to lock in your interest rate and it will remain the same until you close.

2 Months Out – Explore your mortgage options

There are three main types of mortgages: conventional mortgages, FHA loans and VA loans. VA loans sometimes require no down payment at all while FHA loans require down payments as low at 3.5%. Conventional mortgages require a down payment as low as 3% but may be tougher to qualify for. Check with your lender to see which one you qualify for.

1 Month Out – Create your future budget

Start making a budget for what your new home will cost. Consider any homeowner association, maintenance or common fees. Make a note of any difference in your local and federal tax bills. If your new home is bigger, keep in mind your electric or heating bills may increase.

0 Months Out – Get pre-approved by a lender you trust and make an offer

Ask friends and family for recommendations, shop around and compare the benefits each lender offers before you settle. Once you get pre-approved, you’ll be able to make an offer. Depending on how competitive the real estate market is in your area, be prepared to engage in bidding battles. Upping your down-payment amount may give you a better chance of getting the home you want. Happy home buying!

Advisory services offered through John Hancock Personal Financial Services, LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Adviser. Boston, MA 02116. 888-955-5432.