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Will Buying a Home Bankrupt Me?

Homeownership doesn't usually cause you to go into bankruptcy. It's the other things you buy that can get you into trouble. © istockphoto.com/Nicholas Belton Homeownership doesn't usually cause you to go into bankruptcy. It's the other things you buy that can get you into trouble. © istockphoto.com/Nicholas Belton
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By Margaret Crane, Studio One Networks

Buying a new home can be a money pit, or it can be the best investment of your life. It all depends on whether you're smart about how you spend your dollars.

Just because you've bought a new home doesn't mean that other expenses disappear into thin air like smoke. You still have to eat, pay utilities, medical bills, taxes, insurance, keep up your car, and buy clothing.

Budgeting is the key to staying afloat financially. A budget enables you to see on paper the money you need to set aside for fixed expenses such as the mortgage, and variable expenses such as utilities. It also lets you see where that money will come from, such as your salary, bonuses, and savings. It will also tell you if you have money left over each month to invest or make home improvements.

Here's how to run the numbers: Subtract your fixed and variable expenses from your total income. If your income is less than your expenses, you need to do some cutting. If your income exceeds expenses, sock away some money for retirement, emergencies, college tuition, vacations, or for future home maintenance or improvement projects.

Homeownership doesn't usually cause you to go into bankruptcy. It's the other things you buy that can get you into trouble.

Mortgage lenders are required to use strict debt-to-income ratios when qualifying borrowers for home loans. If you get approved for your mortgage, that means your finances matched the lender's formula. You just may not be able to move in and immediately buy furniture, paint, wallpaper, and landscaping all in the first month.

To avoid becoming house poor, ask whether you can make some temporary sacrifices. Can you live without a dining room table for a while, eat out less often, do your own hair, put off a fitness club membership?

If you have to buy some furniture, consider buying something used until you're prepared financially to do something else. Never spend your mortgage money on something frivolous. And watch the plastic. Paying for essentials with a credit card may lead you faster into a financial quagmire.

If you ever find yourself unable to make house payments and are worried about foreclosure, phone your lender to work out an arrangement. Or, turn to a not-for-profit credit counselor or agency (it should be free, or virtually free) to draft a strict debt management routine and put you on a payment plan. You can lump debts into one loan consolidation and pay off a specific amount each month, typically at a lower interest rate than you otherwise could.

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