What Is a Debt-to-Income Ratio?


A Debt-to-Income (DTI) Ratio is a financial tool used to evaluate an individual or business’s current level of financial stress. The ratio is calculated by dividing total debt by total income, and is expressed as a percentage. It is a key measure of financial health and indicates an individual or business's capacity to take on additional debt.

Generally speaking, the higher the debt-to-income ratio, the more risk an individual or business carries in regards to their financial situation. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, creditors consider a debt-to-income ratio of over 43% to be too high to qualify for a loan.

Understanding the Components of the DTI Ratio

  • Total Debt - all loan payments including housing, car payments, credit cards and any other debt an individual or business has including student loans.
  • Total Income - All monies, from wages, investments and other sources of income that an individual or business has.

Overview of Factors Used to Calculate Debt-to-Income Ratio

Debt-to-Income ratios are used by banks and lenders to evaluate a borrower’s creditworthiness, and to set their terms for loan repayment. This calculation compares a borrower’s monthly debt commitments against their monthly income. These are the main factors used to calculate a Debt-to-Income ratio:

Personal Income

The first factor considered is a borrower’s personal income. A lender will take into account all sources of income, such as salaries and wages, investment income and any other income from a business or rental property. In certain cases, factors such as overtime or bonus income will be included as well.

Credit Use and Open Loans

The other major factor used to calculate a Debt-to-Income ratio is a borrower’s existing debt load. Lenders review the amount of money a borrower owes each month for open loans, credit cards or other debts. This includes any current or delinquent payments that a borrower has for mortgages, student loans, and car loans, as well as other forms of debt.

The total amount of monthly debt payments is then compared to the borrower’s total monthly income. This monthly debt-to-income ratio will help a lender to determine whether a borrower has the ability to take on the added financial burden of a new loan or credit line.

Practical Example

To get a better grasp of a debt-to-income ratio and the calculation behind it, let's walk through a practical example. The example will include an illustration and a detailed walk-through step-by-step.

Illustration of How to Calculate Debt-to-Income Ratio

To illustrate a debt-to-income ratio calculation, let's take the example of a person with a gross annual income of $50,000. Their monthly gross income is $4,166.67. Additionally, this person has $2,000 worth of credit card debt, $1,000 student loan debt with a $3,000 car loan. To calculate their debt-to-income ratio, one must add up all total debt payments for the month. In this example, the total debt is $700 (($2,000/$12) + ($1,000/$12) + ($3,000/$12)). To calculate their debt-to-income ratio, one must divide the total debt payments by their gross monthly income. In this example, the debt-to-income ratio totals at 17% ( $700/($4,166.67)).

Detailed Walk-Through

To walk through the debt-to-income ratio example in detail, a better understanding of the calculation is provided. All debts to be considered are listed in the first step. This should include any existing loans, credit card payments, and other debts. In this example, the individual provides $2,000 in credit card debt, $1,000 in student loan debt, and $3,000 in car loan (totaling $6,000).

Step two requires taking the total of all debts and dividing them by 12, which is the number of months in one year. This is done in order to calculate the debt payments in relation to one month. For example, the person in this example has a total of $6,000 in debts as outlined above. When divided by 12, the total debt payments for the month would be $500 ($6,000/12).

The final step is to take the total monthly debt payments from step two and divide them by the person’s gross monthly income. In the example provided, the individual has a gross monthly income of $4,166.67. The debt-to-income ratio is then 17% ($500/($4,166.67)).

Common Misconceptions of Debt-to-Income Ratio

The debt-to-income ratio is an important metric that can affect the kind of financial product you can apply for and the interest rate you will pay. As such, it's important to have a good understanding of this ratio, and to address some of the common misconceptions surrounding it.

Not Necessarily Reflected in Credit Score

It is not uncommon for people to think that their debt-to-income ratio is reflected in their credit score, but this is not the case. While having a large amount of debt can lower your credit score, it does not necessarily mean that you have a high debt-to-income ratio. This is because the debt-to-income ratio takes into account your total debt payments compared to your total income, and this is not reflected in your credit score.

Does Not Account for Investment Properties

Another misconception of the debt-to-income ratio is that it takes into account investment properties, such as rental properties and other related expenses. However, this is not the case, as the debt-to-income ratio only looks at your total debt payments regarding consumer debt and mortgages, and not any investment accounts. This means that any costs related to an investment property are not taken into account when calculating your debt-to-income ratio.

Benefits of Knowing and Utilizing Debt-to-Income Ratio

A debt-to-income ratio, or DTI, is a key metric used in personal finance. It’s a comparison of how much debt you owe compared to your income. Knowing your DTI can help you understand your financial health better and make better decisions.

Better Understanding of Financial Health

The debt-to-income ratio is a key indicator of your financial health. It’s an important measure that can help you assess what kind of loan options you qualify for and if you’re on track to reach your financial goals. Knowing your DTI can help you understand where you stand and make better decisions about your finances.

Eligibility Qualifications

Financial institutions such as banks and lenders use the DTI ratio to determine whether to approve you for a loan. Generally, lenders prefer borrowers with a lower DTI, as a high DTI is seen as a riskier loan candidate. Working to lower your DTI can help you qualify for better loans with lower interest rates and better terms.

  • A lower DTI ratio demonstrates that you’re a responsible borrower, able to handle your existing debts.
  • Improving your DTI can give you access to better loan options and better interest rates.
  • Knowing your DTI can help you understand where you stand financially and make better decisions.

Disadvantages of Having an Unfavorable Debt-to-Income Ratio

Having an unfavorable debt-to-income ratio can have serious consequences. In addition to increased interest rates and high monthly payments, there are other potential disadvantages you can face with a low debt-to-income ratio.

Low Credit Score

Your debt-to-income ratio strongly correlates to your credit score. If your debt-to-income ratio is too high, your credit score will drop. This could mean higher interest rates on loans or even being denied for a loan. Moreover, having a low credit score can further increase your debt-to-income ratio, trapping you in a vicious cycle.

Difficult Approval for Loans

When you have an unfavorable debt-to-income ratio, lenders may be less willing to approve your loan request. This is because it shows the lenders that you may not have the capacity to make all your payments. As a result, lenders may require additional documentation or increase the amount of interest you have to pay.

  • A high debt-to-income ratio can result in a lower credit score.
  • It may become difficult to secure loans or receive favorable rates or terms.


A debt-to-income (DTI) ratio is a valuable tool that consumers can use when considering their financial health and capabilities. It allows you to compare your total debt to your total income, providing an indication of the amount of money you need to cover your debt obligations. DTI ratios can be helpful in understanding where a person stands in terms of their financial standing and what steps need to be taken to improve it.

Summary of the Purposes and Evaluations of a Debt-to-Income Ratio

Debt-to-income ratio is an important factor when it comes to evaluating and managing financial matters in your household. It is used to compare your total debt to your total income, allowing you to assess how much of your seemingly-limited income is going towards debt obligations. It is also used to determine creditworthiness when applying for loans and mortgages. The higher the DTI, the more difficult it could be to receive an approval. Evaluating DTI ratio and understanding how it impacts your financial standing is an essential step to improving your financial health.

Impact on Financial Standing

When considering your financial standing, it is beneficial to understand the impact of your debt-to-income ratio. DTI can determine whether you qualify for a loan or mortgage and can potentially affect the amount of money you can borrow. It also provides an indication of how much of your income is necessary to cover debt obligations. The higher the DTI ratio, the higher the amount of debt relative to total income and the more difficult it may be to obtain a loan.

By monitoring, evaluating, and understanding your debt-to-income ratio, you can make strategic decisions on how to free up your income and pay off debt. Ultimately, having a grasp of your DTI can help you improve your overall financial standing and set yourself up for future success.

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