Renters Blow More Than A Third Of Their Paycheck On Housing

Rent sign

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A 2.2% inflation-adjusted slump in household incomes is putting the clampdown on renters, who squander 30% or more of their paycheck on housing costs, USA Today reports. This amount is way past the government’s threshold for what determines affordable housing.Based on 2010 Census data released yesterday, these numbers reflect the sorry state of housing today: The share of renters paying more than 30% of their income rose to 53% last year from 51.5% in 2009, and 50% in 2008. Likewise the share of renters spending half or more of their incomes jumped from 26.4% in 2009 to 27.4% last year–this despite median rents holding at $855 a month.

Nationwide, rents are expected to rise 4%, Stan Humphries, a Zillow economist, tells USA Today, as wary consumers and a glut of foreclosed homes continue scaring off prospective buyers, driving rentals’ demand. Compared with last year, the share of rented and occupied housing units rose to 34.6% from 34.1%, according to the Census data.

As homeownership drops–65.4% to 65.9% last year–and Humphries’ prediction plays out, renters ought to think twice before frittering a third or more of their paycheck on housing.

There are no hard and fast rules for deciding how much to budget for, but most finance experts agree that a quarter to a third of one’s take-home pay is a decent number to target. If your monthly take-home pay is around $4,000, for example, then plan to set aside $1,200, notes

Over at CBS Moneywatch, personal finance expert Farnoosh Torabi recommends making your rent budget even tighter–25% of your take-home pay, with 3% to 4% factored in for housing add-ons such as utilities (cable, Internet, phone).

Living expenses in cities like New York and San Francisco are exorbitant, so keep your local market and taxes in mind when budgeting.

Torabi recommends taking on a roommate, trying a sublet, which tends to offer flexible arrangements and lower fees, and/or searching for rental locations near schools like elementary buildings and colleges.

“The accommodations may not be as fancy, and you may have to shack up with a few roommates, but you’ll make up for it savings,” Torabi says.

Of course this logically applies to a certain lifestyle (singletons and post-grads), so if the arrangement doesn’t fit, consider sitting down with a realtor or searching for no-fee apartments to find more palatable options.