As a lender, it is always interesting to hear the answer the income question. Not that my clients are in any way intentionally misrepresenting their compensation, the fraudulent borrower is actually rare. It is more a reflection of the chasm between what a client perceives their income to be and the figure that an underwriter uses.
1. If it cannot be documented, it does not exist
This is the most important income rule. There are a lot of borrowers with whom I deal who say to me I make X, but report Y. This is very common for cash heavy businesses, such as bartending, where selective income reporting can occur and Uncle Sugar may not be getting his fair share. This may be a good strategy to maximize cash flow, but not necessarily for loan approval. Just remember that if it does not show up on your 1040, a lender cannot use it and in the end your purchasing power will suffer.
2. History provides precedent
Underwriters like a strong income history. Two years is the gold standard in the industry. This is less of an issue for salaried employees with a simple base compensation than it is for any type of variable pay, such as overtime, bonus and commission. With bonuses, for example, you cannot count the income without a documentation for two-years. If you have two or more years, but the figure is declining, expect to use an average or the lower of the two. This can be devastating to both your deal and your ego if it is completely unexpected, so I recommend that borrowers take a very conservative view from the outset.
3. Continuance is key
As I stated above, history is important, but if the income will drop to zero then even decades of history does not matter. For continuance, expect to be held to a three-year test. Take, for example, a retirement situation under which the borrower is retiring at the end of the year. The borrower could be a captain of industry earning seven figures, but, since they are retiring, that portion of their income will disappear and will be invalid for the loan approval. This can also affect professionals such as athletes, who have a finite number of years guaranteed compensation. Again, the key to avoiding unpleasant surprises is to think conservatively.
4. Business expenses can cost you
Unreimbursed business expenses can be a great tool for you to squeeze the most out of a tax return by lowering your taxable income, but any time you lower your taxable income you affect your borrowing power for a mortgage. The underwriter will analyze your tax returns and subtract these expenses. After all, it is part of your income that is committed to something other than your mortgage payment. So, if you were able to turn $150,000 gross income into $50,000 taxable income, you may be looking at a bungalow and not a mcmansion.
5. Assets do not replace income
This does not directly relate to income, but it is often the logical question from my clients who have a lot of assets. The conversation usually centers on the ability of the borrower to pay their mortgage with the assets they have on hand. This practice, often called asset liquidation, used to be acceptable but has all but disappeared in this time of rapidly shrinking portfolios. Some niche lenders still allow it, but they are mostly in ultra-high net worth scenarios. Under general lending guidelines, it is not allowable even if the value of the assets exceed the loan amount.
So there you have it. Calculating income for mortgage loans is basically an exercise in conservative thinking. Underwriters do not like risk. Undocumented income, income that does not have a historical precedence or income not likely to continue adds risk. If you think like an underwriter going into your transaction, you will be better mentally prepared for the road ahead.
Whether you are with just getting started or are well in to your home search, it’s always good to know what to anticipate throughout the home buying process. Let me know how I can help you get the best loan for your home buying needs