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A debt-to-income ratio (DTI) is a personal finance measure that compares the amount of debt you have to your overall income. Lenders, including mortgage lenders, use the debt-to-income ratio as a way to measure your ability to manage the payments you make each month and repay the money you have borrowed.

To calculate your debt-to-income ratio, add up your total recurring monthly debt (such as mortgage, student loans, auto loans, child support and credit card payments) and divide by your gross monthly income (the amount you earn each month before taxes and other deductions are taken out). For example, assume you pay $1,200 for your mortgage, $400 for your car and $400 for the rest of your debts each month. Your monthly debt payments would be $2,000 ($1,200 + $400 + $400 = $2,000). If your gross income for the month is $6,000, your debt-to-income ratio would be 33% ($2,000 / $6,000 = 0.33). If your gross income for the month was lower, say $5,000, your debt-to-income ratio would be 40% ($2,000 / $5,000 = 0.4).

A low debt-to-income ratio demonstrates a good balance between debt and income. Lenders like the number to be low because, according to studies of mortgage loans, borrowers with a lower debt-to-income ratio are more likely to successfully manage monthly debt payments. On the contrary, a high debt-to-income ratio signals that you may have too much debt for the amount of income you have, and lenders view this as a signal that you would be unable to take on any additional debt. In most cases, 43% is the highest ratio a borrower can have and still get a qualified mortgage. A debt-to-income ratio smaller than 36%, however, is preferable, with no more than 28% of that debt going towards servicing your mortgage. In general, the lower the number, the better the chance you will be able to get the loan or line of credit you want.

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