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Throughout the country, stubborn inflation has raised the overall cost of living dramatically. At the same time, the housing market remains volatile, with home prices high, inventory low and mortgage rates through the roof. When every dollar counts, many are examining the affordability of their housing situation. So which is cheaper: living single, or cohabiting as part of a married couple?
- Overall, the cost of living as a single person is higher than living with a spouse. Married couples share many basic expenses, including housing, while a single individual must cover those costs alone.
- Getting a mortgage can be simpler as an individual than as a married couple, as there is only one person’s financial history to consider. When applying for a mortgage as a couple, the lender will analyze both spouses’ finances and typically use the lower of the two credit scores to base their lending decision off of.
- More than 57 percent of single homeowners are women, according to Census data.
2022 single vs. married living statistics
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2021 Consumer Expenditure Survey, the average single person spends about $48,000 annually, of which $17,899 is spent on housing. In comparison, the average married couple spends about $76,000 annually, of which $24,811 is spent on housing — $12,405.50 each. So married people living together are spending nearly $5,500 less on housing expenses each year than single people are.
Is being single bad for your financial health?
Financially, single people who shoulder living costs on their own can have a rougher go of it than married couples, who can share costs. But that doesn’t mean being unmarried is a negative — actually, it can simplify things.
The concept that you need to be married to buy a house is outdated and toxic.
— Jennifer BeestonSVP of Mortgage Lending, Guaranteed Rate
“Whereas a partner may split mortgage payments or utility payments, single people are generally more likely to cover all bills themselves, and to do so with one income,” says Rachel Bennett, a broker and senior manager of sales training with Orchard in Austin, Texas. “However, that does not necessarily mean married couples have an advantage. Many people bring debt and poor credit history into their relationships, making finances difficult for their partner.”
“Being single is not bad for your financial health,” says Jennifer Beeston, senior vice president of mortgage lending with Guaranteed Rate Mortgages. “The concept that you need to be married to buy a house is outdated and toxic. Single people buy houses every single day with zero trouble.”
And in fact, more and more people are choosing to stay single these days. Census data shows that in 2021, 50.4 percent of adults lived with a spouse. That number is down from 55.8 percent in 2001, and 52.4 percent in 2011. The U.S. marriage rate in 2020 was 5.1 marriages for every 1,000 people — the lowest in at least 20 years.
How much should you spend on housing?
Conventional wisdom states that you should spend no more than 30 percent of your income on housing. A similar concept is posited by the common 28/36 percent rule, which states that you should spend no more than 28 percent of your income on housing and 36 percent on total debt. These guidelines apply to all housing costs, whether they be mortgage payments or monthly rent.
According to a Rent.com analysis, the median monthly rent in the U.S. in September 2022 was $2,002. Using that figure, a single person would have to earn more than $80,000 a year to afford a rental on their own and keep their housing costs under 30 percent of their income.
Here is a breakdown of October 2022 rent prices in five major cities, according to the Zumper National Rent Report.
|Median monthly rent on a 1-bedroom unit
|New York City
Rent prices have generally increased with the rise of inflation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average increase in rent for a new tenant in the first half of 2022 was 12.2 percent.
Buying a house: single vs. married
At the end of 2021, Census data showed the overall homeownership rate in the U.S. at 65.5 percent. Of those homeowners, 46.6 percent were married couples, 22.7 percent were single men and 30.7 percent were single women.
Buying a house as a single person
Purchasing a home as a single person can be harder or easier than as part of a married couple, depending on your income and credit profile.
“When getting a mortgage as a single person, the total amount of the loan may be less, giving you less overall buying power,” says Bennett. “However, single people need only consider their own unique financial situation and debt obligations, and they have full control over their home if they later decide to sell.”
Buying a house as a married couple
Two incomes will likely mean more buying power than one, and if both parties in a married couple are qualified borrowers, they may have an easier time of it. But that changes if only one spouse is viewed as a safe bet by lenders.
“If both spouses are in good shape financially, then applying for a joint mortgage can result in a bigger loan and better rates,” Bennett says. “However, for married couples where one spouse has low income, high debt or a mark on their credit report, it may be preferred to put just one person’s name on the mortgage. That will ensure a better rate, and protect the house from creditors.”
There’s not a lot you can do to change the cost of living in your area — but you can employ strategies to make it more manageable. The most obvious way is to up the amount of money you earn, either by seeking a raise or a higher-paying position or by taking on a side gig or part-time job. A recent Bankrate survey found that 41 percent of adults with a side job need the extra income it provides to make ends meet. You can also try lowering your housing costs by taking on a roommate or downsizing. Finally, if you live in a very expensive area, consider relocating — Bankrate’s cost of living calculator can help you crunch the numbers to see how far your salary can go in other cities.
The cost of living increased by 9.1 percent from June 2021 to June 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index, which measures prices for basics like food, energy, shelter, health care and more. It was the largest increase in 40 years, since the early 1980s.
Couples who are married or in legal domestic partnerships often enjoy financial benefits that single folks do not. In addition to letting you share housing costs, being married can qualify your household for tax breaks, spousal benefits from Social Security and often employer-sponsored health insurance, among other things. Plus, if you both work, you have double the income.
Being single means you aren’t legally tied to anyone else’s financial standing — you are in control of your own destiny, with no one else’s poor credit score, student loan debt or car payments to affect you. It can often mean you are able to squirrel away more savings as well, since you don’t have to cover expenses for anyone but yourself. Bankrate’s Financial Guide for Singles can help you make the most of your solo status.