Owning a home is not only the American Dream, it is considered the strategic piece of a personal financial portfolio. According to the Federal Reserve Bank VIP Forum, people who own homes have greater net worth than those who rent.
As they grow older, kids often assume they will own a home without giving it much consideration. Sometimes they imagine they will own a home just like Mom and Dad’s, not realizing it took their parents many years of hard work and financial discipline to become homeowners.
Homeownership requires discipline, effort, commitment, responsibility, and accountability, and yet our educational system does not always provide our children with the knowledge and skills necessary to navigate the process, much less lay the groundwork in advance so they are mortgage-ready when the time comes. This begs the question: What can we, as parents, do to help our kids avoid some of our own mistakes and prepare them for the largest financial transaction in their adult life?
The Latin derivative of the word “education” means “to bring forth from within,” which is predicated on the idea that we all have it within us to learn and grow. But where do we start helping our children learn and grow in the area of homeownership? What exactly do our children need to know now, especially as teenagers and college students, so they’ll be prepared and financially-able when they want to buy a home?
The following suggestions will help you start a dialogue with your children, and provide them with the tools they need to get a jump-start on the path to “mortgage-readiness.”
- Think about the timing. Tell your children to really be sure about when they want to own a home, and then advise them to work toward it. If they’re not intentional about getting there someday, they won’t. Simple as that.
- Get a job. Tell your children to consider getting a job during school, even a part-time job. They will need money to buy a house, but they also need a steady employment history, so they should start building up their resume as soon as possible. This will also be helpful when the time comes to secure a permanent position in their field of study. FHA loans, in many circumstances, will accept a college transcript as a component of employment history. However, your children will need the “ability to repay” which comes from steady fulltime employment.
- Create a budget. And stick to it! Explain that their budget should be detailed enough to account for all the income and outflow each month…even the Friday night date or pizza night with friends. Also, remind them to be careful with the debit card and don’t forget to record the entries into their log. The challenge with using a debit card is that we feel good since we are paying with “cash.” However the convenience of the plastic cash leads to temptation to spend money you might not otherwise spend. Last, tell them to include an emergency cash fund in their budget for unforeseen expenses. Many people fail to do this and it is a great practice to begin early in adult life. The key here is for your children to be conscious of their spending.
- Build up your credit score. Suggest that your child get a credit card or two, but no more than that, and stick to a Visa or Mastercard. Also suggest that they avoid department store cards as they can be hazardous! They often carry higher interest rates and tempt people to buy things they don’t really need. Your children should routinely charge small transactions on their Visa or Mastercard to keep the account reporting as “active.” However, stress to them the importance of paying off the balance monthly when possible, and being cautious in carrying a balance over an extended period of time. Other advice to pass on: Strive to keep your balances below 18% of the credit limit at all times. Maintain tight control over your spending and your accounts. When you make your payments, be sure they are on time as a late payment can hurt you. Ignoring your financial obligations will always get you into trouble and will lower your credit score. The purpose of the cards is not to build up debt–that’s the opposite of what you want. Your goal is to create a history that will indicate to creditors your degree of responsibility in managing your debt. Responsible use of the cards over time will provide you with a healthy credit score, which is critical if you plan to purchase a home.
- Minimize student loan borrowing, if possible. If it is necessary for your children to obtain student loans for their education, borrow the smallest amount you can get by with. Paying back student loans can help build their credit as well, but the monthly payments (which are initially deferred) will come due when they graduate. The monthly payments will be calculated as liabilities when qualifying for a mortgage, which will reduce their purchasing power. Also, remind your children not to use their loan money to buy a laptop, new phone, or pizza. They should keep themselves financially lightweight.
- Learn about home finance and real estate. Obtaining a mortgage and purchasing a home are not simple things and can be emotional and stressful. There’s a lot to learn and many questions will arise, such as: What is involved in qualifying for a mortgage? What kind of down payment is required? What other money is needed for the transaction? How long should I keep the house before I sell it? Are property values increasing or decreasing in my area? Tell your children to learn about the process and the lingo. You could even suggest they talk to your mortgage professional to learn some great things they can do now so they’re in a good position when they are ready to buy a home. You could even work with your children to stay up-to-date on the industry, and consider reading a book or two on the subject together. It will help them immensely down the road.
- Learn basic maintenance. One of the costs associated with homeownership is maintenance. Keeping a home well maintained is vital to keeping expenses down in the long term and will make it easier to sell later. Help your children learn how to make minor home repairs, which will save them a hefty amount of money as a homeowner.
And last but not least…tell your children to save, save, save! Whether they buy used books, drive an older car, or skip spring break, they should save a percentage of what they earn (for instance, save one out of every three dollars). Also, be sure to model that savings behavior for your children, as kids often mimic what they see rather than just do what they’re told.
A great guideline for saving can be found in one of the greatest financial books of all time, The Richest Man in Babylon. Author George S. Clason says, “Gold cometh gladly and in increasing quantity to any man who will put by not less than one-tenth of his earnings to create an estate for his future and that of his family.” This timeless classic reminds us to pay ourselves first and sock away ten percent of our earnings for the future.
The bottom line is that the American Dream is still alive and well. There is no secret recipe. It’s a matter of spending and saving wisely and learning the necessary steps to mortgage readiness.