What Is the Front-End Debt-to-Income Ratio (DTI)?

The front-end debt-to-income ratio (DTI) is a variation of the DTI that calculates how much of a person's gross income is going toward housing costs. If a homeowner has a mortgage, the front-end DTI is typically calculated as housing expenses (such as mortgage payments, mortgage insurance, etc.) divided by gross income. By contrast, a back-end DTI calculates the percentage of gross income going toward other debt types, such as credit cards or car loans. You may also hear these ratios referred to as "Housing 1" and "Housing 2," or "Basic" and "Broad," respectively.

Key Takeaways:

  • The front-end debt-to-income ratio (DTI), or the housing ratio, calculates how much of a person's gross income is spent on housing costs.
  • The front-end DTI is typically calculated as housing expenses (such as mortgage payments, mortgage insurance, etc.) divided by gross income.
  • A back-end DTI calculates the percentage of gross income spent on other debt types, such as credit cards or car loans.
  • Lenders usually prefer a front-end DTI of no more than 28%. 

Front-End Debt-to-Income Ratio (DTI) Formula and Calculation

The DTI is also known as the mortgage-to-income ratio or the housing ratio. It may be contrasted with the back-end ratio. There's a specific formula for calculating front-end debt-to-income ratio.

Calculating front-end debt-to-income ratio (DTI)

Front-End DTI = ( Housing Expenses Gross Monthly Income ) 100 \text{Front-End DTI}=\left(\frac{\text{Housing Expenses}}{\text{Gross Monthly Income}}\right)*100 Front-End DTI=(Gross Monthly IncomeHousing Expenses)100

To calculate the front-end DTI, add up your expected housing expenses and divide it by how much you earn each month before taxes (your gross monthly income). Multiply the result by 100, and that is your front-end DTI ratio. For instance, if all your housing-related expenses total $1,000 and your monthly income is $3,000, your DTI is 33%.

What is a desirable front-end debt-to-income ratio (DTI)?

To qualify for a mortgage, the borrower often must have a front-end debt-to-income ratio of less than an indicated level. Paying bills on time, a stable income, and a good credit score won't necessarily qualify you for a mortgage loan. In the mortgage lending world, how far you are from financial ruin is measured by your DTI. Simply put, this is a comparison of your housing expenses and your monthly debt obligations versus how much you earn.

Higher ratios tend to increase the likelihood of default on a mortgage. For example, in 2009, many homeowners had front-end DTIs that were significantly higher than average, and consequently, mortgage defaults began to rise. In 2009, the government introduced loan modification programs in an attempt to get front-end DTIs below 31%.

Lenders usually prefer a front-end DTI of no more than 28%. In reality, depending on your credit score, savings, and down payment, lenders may accept higher ratios, although it depends on the type of mortgage loan. However, the back-end DTI is actually considered more important by many financial professionals for mortgage loan applications.

Note

The maximum acceptable DTI for qualified mortgages is 43%.

Front-End Debt-to-Income Ratio (DTI) vs. Back-End DTI Ratio

The main difference between front-end debt-to-income ratio and debt-to-income ratio is how the two are calculated. With the front-end DTI, calculations are based solely on your housing expenses. The back-end DTI, however, takes into account other financial obligations, including:

  • Monthly payments on installment debts
  • Monthly payments on revolving debts, such as credit cards or lines of credit
  • Monthly student loan payments
  • Monthly lease payments
  • Monthly alimony and child support payments
  • Monthly payments for rental properties you own

Back-end debt-to-income ratio is more comprehensive in that it takes into all of your debt payments beyond housing. A good back-end DTI ratio is typically no more than 33% to 36%.

Important

Back-end debt-to-income ratio can be used to qualify borrowers for other loans beyond mortgages, including personal loans, auto loans, and private student loans.

How Do Lenders Use Front-End Debt-to-Income Ratio?

Lenders use both front-end and back-end debt-to-income ratios to determine your ability to repay a home mortgage loan. A higher DTI can signal to lenders that you might be stretched thin financially, while a lower DTI suggests that you have more disposable income each month that isn't going to debt repayment.

Debt-to-income ratio is just one part of the puzzle, however. Lenders can also look at your income, assets, and employment history to gauge your ability to repay a mortgage loan. Debt-to-income ratios can play a part in decision-making for purchase loans as well as mortgage refinancing.

Tip

Paying off credit cards, student loans, or other debts can improve your back-end debt-to-income ratio and potentially increase the amount of home you're able to afford.

Special Considerations

When preparing for a mortgage application, the most obvious of strategies for lowering the front-end DTI is to pay off debt. However, most people don’t have the money to do so when they are in the process of getting a mortgage—most of their savings are going toward the down payment and closing costs. If you think you can afford the mortgage, but your DTI is over the limit, a cosigner might help. Keep in mind, however, that if you're unable to meet your mortgage obligations, your credit score as well as your cosigner's could suffer.

Front-End Debt-to-Income Ratio FAQs

What Is Front-End Debt-to-Income Ratio?

Front-end debt-to-income ratio is a measure of how much of monthly income goes toward housing costs. That includes mortgage payments, property taxes, homeowners insurance premiums, and homeowners association fees, if applicable.

What Is a Good Debt-to-Income Ratio to Buy a Home?

Generally, lenders look for a debt-to-income ratio of between 28% and 36% when qualifying a borrower for a mortgage. Qualified mortgage loans, however, may allow a DTI of up to 43%.

How Can I Improve My Debt-to-Income Ratio for a Mortgage?

Some of the best ways to improve debt-to-income ratio include paying down revolving or installment debts, reducing housing costs, and increasing income. A lower DTI can increase the amount of home you may be able to afford when qualifying to mortgage a property.