Many Americans will be familiar with the 30% rule, which dictates that housing costs should never eat up more than 30% of your household income. But as it turns out, that old rule of thumb has become untenable for apartment dwellers these days.
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For the first time ever, American renters are spending that astronomical percentage — or more. Moody’s Analytics has called it a “rent burden.” Squeezed renters may prefer to call it the equivalent, financially speaking, of living in a walk-in closet.
Meanwhile, high mortgage rates have prevented many Americans from making the leap from renter to homeowner. That in turn has translated into a rental unit shortage, moving landlords to raise prices. And that could spell disaster for the more than 5 million U.S. renter households who are already behind on their rent, owing an average of $2,000 in arrears. All told, they owe an estimated $11 billion in total rent debt, according to the National Equity Atlas.
In some states, residents are already paying a little over a third of their salary on rent alone.
States of desperation
In Massachusetts, Florida and New York, Americans spend 32.9%, 32.6% and 31.2% of their income respectively on rent, according to the Moody's report.
Florida in particular also saw a substantial jump in rental costs: 4.2% over the last three years, according to Moody’s. Blame it in large part on supply and demand, the biggest issues at present for renters and homeowners.
With fewer homes available, rent keeps climbing; as interest rates rise, homes become less affordable — even as in most parts of the nation, the seller’s market continues to dominate.
What’s more, homeowners spooked by the proposition of buying a new home at high interest rates have put the kibosh on moving.
Read more: Your cash is trash: 4 simple ways to protect your money against white-hot inflation (without being a stock market genius)
What can Americans do?
For many renters, staying put may be the best option. If you have a good relationship with your landlord, you may be able to forestall an increase.
One effective way involves bartering, where you agree to take care of minor maintenance needs and thus avoid expensive handyman calls for your landlord.
But if such options aren’t possible and you’re spending more than 30% of your income, consider other accommodations that come at a cheaper price — even if temporarily. If you’re a recent college graduate, you may loathe the idea of moving back in with your folks, but aside from buying yourself some breathing room, you might just be able to save enough money to cover housing costs once you move out again.
Once you’re in your own place, creating room in your budget for renters insurance can help you protect the belongings in your home and act as a safety net in case of emergencies that would add to your already-heavy rent burden.
You can also consider:
Subletting what you have: If you rent in a big city, you could have two options to create cash right away: sublet your storage and parking. If you rent out what you have, even at a slight loss, it’ll help cut your overall housing total. Why stop there? Look into mobile apps to help you rent out other items. Consider services like Turo for your car and Yoodlize for general items.
Leveraging your rewards credit cards: Assuming you can pay off your monthly spending in full, use your credit card as often as possible to earn rewards points that accrue just about any premium from air travel to groceries — or even net cash back.
Paying off high-interest debt: After you use that credit card a bunch, make sure to pay down your balance. Interest paid on credit cards is money thrown away. Period. And if the rates are exorbitant — say in the 20% range — making the minimum payment will amount to bailing water from a leaky boat. If you’re already underwater, one option is to consolidate your existing high-interest debt onto a new loan at a lower interest rate. You can then pay all your debts with one payment and save on that pesky interest.
Putting it all together: Don’t give up
High rents are discouraging — if you feel that you’re working just to afford a place to live, and that your home-owning dreams are on hold, you’re not alone. What to do?
Before financial freedom begins, a wealthy mindset must come first. Worrying about things you can’t control — including a landlord’s decision to make more money from tenants — isn’t going to get you anywhere.
When you concentrate on what you can control — by budgeting, creating passive income or negotiating price breaks — you’ll be on the road to beating the percentages, and finding the one thing money can’t buy, or rent for that matter: hope.
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This article provides information only and should not be construed as advice. It is provided without warranty of any kind.