Young couple looking at a new house

Say what you will about millennials and their commitment issues, but when it comes to real estate, younger Americans aren’t shying away from homeownership because they refuse to stay put and settle down. Rather, millennials aren’t buying homes at the same pace of previous generous because they feel they just can’t afford it. To further understand this phenomenon, NerdWallet did some digging into why millennial’s have slowed down considerably on the home-buying front, and these are the reasons it uncovered.

"poor" option checked off on credit score options

1. Their credit isn’t good enough

Back before the housing bubble burst in the ugliest way possible, it seemed like almost anyone could get approved for a mortgage. Standards have since gotten stricter, however, and these days, a growing number of millennials feel they can’t take the leap into homeownership because their credit scores just aren’t high enough.

Since length of credit history is one of five key components that goes into determining a credit score, it’s natural for millennials to have a clear disadvantage on that point alone. But what many younger would-be homebuyers don’t realize is that while credit requirements have gotten more rigid, folks with lower credit scores have different avenues to explore. While it’s true that an estimated one-third of millennials don’t have a high enough credit score (620) to meet the industry’s minimum standard requirement, FHA loans require a minimum credit score of just 500.

Furthermore, there are ways to build credit quickly to make homeowner a more feasible option sooner rather than later. Paying off a chunk of existing debt, requesting a higher credit limit, and correcting credit report errors can all work to boost a credit score in a relatively short period of time.

Model house on a pile of dollar bills

2. They don’t have enough saved for a down payment

Many prospective homebuyers of all ages assume they’ll need to put 20% of their property’s value down at closing — a target that, according to Fannie Mae and the Federal Reserve, is well out of reach for the majority of millennials. But what many folks don’t realize is that there are ways to get around that 20% requirement. FHA loans, for example, require as little as 3.5% down. And those who qualify for USDA or VA loans can get away with putting no money down at all.

A big part of overcoming that 20% hump therefore boils down to education. In a 2015 Fannie Mae survey, 73% of millennials had no clue about the aforementioned lower down payment options, but a little research might help more young Americans overcome this particular barrier. Of course, putting more money down at closing means paying less in mortgage costs overall, but those who are really intent on owning should know that they may have other options, especially if their credit is strong.


3. They don’t earn enough to cover their monthly mortgage costs

Americans aged 25 to 34 earn an average income of just over $35,000 a year, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And at first glance, that may not seem like enough to swing a monthly mortgage payment, especially when you consider the peripheral costs of homeownership, like property taxes, insurance, and maintenance. In addition, Trulia reports that there are fewer starter homes on the market these days than in previous years, which means millennials with limited income have even fewer options for finding affordable properties.

But when NerdWallet ran some numbers, it found that in most regions of the country, millennials do earn enough to afford the monthly mortgage payment for a median starter home. Also, taking on that sort of mortgage payment wouldn’t push their debt levels into dangerous territory. And because interest rates are at an all-time low, now is actually a good time for millennials to lock in their home loans, while they’re still reasonably affordable.

While those housing costs might seem daunting on a modest salary, younger Americans who are serious about owning should create a budget and map out their monthly expenses to see what taking on a mortgage might actually look like in practice. Those who are willing to sacrifice in other spending categories, like leisure and restaurant meals, may come to find that they can manage those payments after all.

Debt sign

4. They have too much existing debt

One final reason why millennials are delaying homeownership boils down to existing debt. And it’s a valid concern, especially given the extent to which student debt levels have climbed year after year. Student Loan Hero reports that the average college grad aged 20 to 30 makes a $351 monthly loan payment. Meanwhile, ValuePenguin estimates that the average borrower under 35 has $5,808 in outstanding credit card debt.

Interestingly enough, data shows that college grads have a greater likelihood of buying homesĀ — especially since they typically have higher earning potential than those without a degree. But given that the average Class of 2016 graduate came away with over $37,000 in loans, it’s certainly reasonable that millennials might choose to delay homeownership until they’re able to get their debt levels under control.

Though millennials have several good motives for holding off on homeownership, these reasons, as NerdWallet puts it, may be more a matter of perception than reality. While it’s true that younger Americans have their share of hurdles to overcome, those who are really intent on becoming homeowners have more options than they probably realize. And the sooner they act on those opportunities, the less money they’ll end up throwing away on rent.