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Report: Most Markets Still Affordable for Debt-Burdened Grads

debt-burdened gradsIf you're a recent college graduate and feel you can't afford a house, RealtyTrac respectfully begs to differ. The firm's latest report on housing affordability shows that 96 percent of U.S. housing markets are still affordable for recent graduates making the median household income, even those with student loans.

Therein, of course, lies the rub—graduates making the median income.

Exactly how many recent college grads, the vast majority of whom sit firmly within the millennial generation, make the median income is not known. In 2012, the U.S. Census set the median income across the United States at $51,371, and 2013 numbers will be released in December.

But more relevant numbers as they apply specifically to millennials are harder to come by. According to the Wall Street Journal, the median net worth of half of Americans under age 35 is a mere $10,400. Meanwhile, according to a June statement by Wells Fargo, the median income for millennial men is $61,000; millennial women, $45,000. For college-educated millennials, median annual household income is reported to be $83,000 for men and $63,000 for women, Wells reported.

The gulf between male and female salaries in the millennial generation aside, Wells and RealtyTrac agree that student loan debt—which, according to Wells, is the main concern among 42 percent of millennials—is not enough to stand in the way of homeownership.

RealtyTrac found that the minimum amount of income needed to purchase a median-priced home, with and without student loans, was feasible in 475 out of 494 counties with a population of at least 100,000. The firm considered up to 43 percent of income spent on house payment, including taxes and insurance, assuming a 20 percent down payment and a 30-year loan with a 4.13 percent fixed interest rate.

"Contrary to much rampant speculation that student loan debt is holding back homeownership among recent graduates, we found that the vast majority of markets are affordable for recent graduates making the median household income—even many of those recent graduates with student loans," said Daren Blomquist, VP at RealtyTrac. "However, student loans still represent a significant handicap for recent graduates in terms of the minimum income needed to buy a median priced home."

According to Blomquist, recent graduates with student loans need to earn 34 percent (about $9,000) more than recent graduates without student loans to be able to afford a median-priced home. And student loan debt is a worse hindrance in some areas than others.

Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Iowa, and Alabama are less affordable for college grads with debt than anywhere else. Student loan debt has the least percentage impact on income needed to buy a median-priced home in California, where graduates with student loans need to earn 12 percent more than graduates without them. New York, Virginia, Massachusetts, and Wyoming are close behind.

Not surprisingly, the 12 counties that are considered unaffordable for most college graduates, regardless of debt obligations, are in the most expensive markets in the country—mainly coastal California and New York, both near and in Manhattan.

The type of degree someone has seems to play a role as well. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, those with a bachelor's degree earn about 25 percent more than those with a high school diploma, on average. An advanced degree can bring in double the weekly income, but at the price of much higher debt, and real estate agents are noticing.

Chad Ochsner, owner/broker at RE/MAX Alliance near Denver, said he sees more people worried about landing a mortgage and affording a home than ever, and that a lot of the stress circles around the college loan issue.

"People are increasingly more concerned about growing undergraduate debt and the limits it may place on graduates," Ochsner said. "But the same concern doesn't usually extend to graduate students who usually have higher loans to pay off."

About Author: Scott_Morgan

Scott Morgan is a multi-award-winning journalist and editor based out of Texas. During his 11 years as a newspaper journalist, he wrote more than 4,000 published pieces. He's been recognized for his work since 2001, and his creative writing continues to win acclaim from readers and fellow writers alike. He is also a creative writing teacher and the author of several books, from short fiction to written works about writing.
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