Key takeaways

  • There are no specific income requirements to qualify for a mortgage.
  • To determine whether you'll qualify for the loan, lenders use your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio to compare income versus your total debt with the mortgage.
  • Your credit score and down payment size also play heavily into whether you'll qualify for the loan and the interest rate you'll receive.

From conventional to government loans, there are many types of mortgages to suit borrowers with varying credit scores and financial means. While there isn’t a standard baseline income to qualify for a mortgage, you must earn enough to repay the loan. Here’s how to qualify for a mortgage and how your income can impact the decision.

Are there income requirements for a mortgage?

There is no single, universal income requirement to qualify for a mortgage. It all depends on the amount you need to borrow, current interest rates and the type of loan you’re applying for.

Rather than requiring a specific amount of income, mortgage lenders review your credit and financial information to learn two key points:

Lenders evaluate your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio to determine the answers to these questions.

Debt-to-income ratio requirements

Your DTI ratio, also known as the “back-end” ratio, is a measure of gross monthly income against monthly debt payments. To calculate your DTI ratio, divide your monthly debt payments by your gross monthly income.

While there’s no minimum income requirement for a mortgage, there are parameters around the DTI ratio. These vary by loan type:

  • Conventional loans: 36 percent or less, but can go up to 50 percent with “compensating factors,” like a bigger down payment, higher credit score or adequate reserves. This includes jumbo loans.
  • FHA loans: 43 percent or lower
  • VA loans and USDA loans: 41 percent or lower

What sources of income qualify for a mortgage?

You can use many different income sources to qualify for a mortgage, including:

  • Employment income: Base pay or wages, bonuses, commissions, overtime payments and self-employment income
  • Schedule K-1: Income and distributions from partnerships, S corporations and estates
  • Retirement income: Income from retirement accounts (like a 401(k), IRA, 403(b), etc.) and pension income
  • Rental income (including accessory dwelling units or ADUs)
  • Disability payments
  • Social Security payments
  • Dividend or interest income
  • Alimony and child support
  • Trust income

Whichever type of income you have, you’ll need to give your lender documentation to support your claims. Here’s a list of common documents needed for a mortgage.

How much of your income should go toward mortgage payments?

Most financial advisors generally recommend following the 28/36 percent rule. This means your monthly mortgage payment and total monthly debts shouldn’t exceed 28 and 36 percent of your total gross income, respectively. For example, if you earn a gross income of $6,000 per month, your mortgage payment should be no more than $1,680 (28 percent of $6,000), and your total debt payments (including the mortgage) should be a maximum of $2,160 (36 percent of $6,000).

Check out Bankrate’s calculator to see how much house you can afford.

Other factors that impact mortgage qualification

I switched jobs two months before applying for a mortgage. One lender required that I submit multiple extra pay stubs. — Andrew Dehan, Writer, Bankrate

Beyond your income and DTI ratio, lenders also review your:

  • Employment record: Many lenders want to see you’ve had steady employment and income before applying. Requirements vary by lender. 
  • Credit score: For a conventional loan, you’ll need at least a 620 FICO score. If you don’t qualify, you might consider an FHA loan, which allows scores as low as 580. The higher your score, the better the interest rate lenders will offer you.
  • Credit history: Lenders are interested in your credit history in addition to your credit score. This helps them determine whether you routinely make late payments or have any foreclosures or bankruptcies.
  • Down payment: For a conventional loan, the down payment requirement can be as low as 3 percent. FHA loans require 3.5 percent, and VA and USDA loans require no down payment. Like your credit score, the higher your down payment, the more likely the lender will offer you a better rate.
  • Cash reserves: Lenders want to see that you have enough savings and liquid assets to cover mortgage payments for some time if you experience a loss of income. 

“Speaking from personal experience, I switched jobs two months before applying for a mortgage,” says Andrew Dehan, mortgage writer at Bankrate. “One lender required that I submit multiple extra pay stubs. It also pushed my partner to leave me off the mortgage because she had the higher credit score and had been at her job longer. We shopped around and found a lower rate at a bank that didn’t give us nearly as much trouble.”

Low-income loan options for mortgages

A low income doesn’t have to keep you from buying a house. There are a few ways you can get help buying a house with low income:

  • Mortgage assistance programs: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac offer conventional mortgages with low down payments and homeownership education. The minimum down payment is 3 percent.
  • HFA loans: These are loans offered through state housing finance agencies. They come with low down payment requirements, competitive interest rates and often have closing cost and/or down payment assistance.
  • FHA loans: Insured through the Federal Housing Administration, FHA loans have more lenient credit score and DTI ratio requirements than conventional mortgages. The minimum down payment is 3.5 percent.
  • VA and USDA loans: Both of these government-guaranteed loans have no down payment requirement for those who qualify.

FAQ about income and mortgage qualification

  • Increasing your income and improving your credit are two ways to improve your odds of mortgage approval, but there are other strategies, too. You can aim to lower your debt-to-income ratio by paying down your debts, starting with the highest interest rates. Once you reduce your debt, you can work toward saving more for a larger down payment. A larger down payment is more attractive to lenders.
  • While there’s no minimum income requirement for mortgage loans, income ceilings may apply for some loan types. These include Fannie Mae HomeReady loans, Freddie Mac Home Possible loans and government-backed USDA loans.

Bottom line

Since a mortgage doesn’t require a specific income, you don’t need to make a lot of money to buy a house. It’s more about affording the monthly payments based on your loan’s size and interest rate and how much other debt you have. This will be determined largely by your DTI ratio. Other factors—like your credit score and down payment—will affect whether you qualify and the interest rate you’ll get.