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  • Don't let a home purchase strain your finances

    For many families, there are very few things as exciting as buying a new home.

    IPaying off your mortgage quickly will save you money down the road.t is also likely to be the most expensive purchase you will ever make. The average American spent nearly $17,000 on housing costs in 2012, making housing the highest single cost for people around the nation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's more money than the second and third highest cost categories - food and transportation - combined.

    But if you've started looking for a house, chances are you know what you're getting into. One of the most important factors that people overlook - or choose to avoid - when buying a home is what they can afford.

    According to Freddie Mac, a good rule of thumb is to multiply your yearly household income by 2.5 times, which will give you a guess on just how expensive a home you should be looking at. So if you and your spouse make a combined $100,000 annually, a home in the $250,000 price range is where you should be looking.

    A good guideline is the rule of 28 percent. A homeowner should aim for a monthly housing expense at or below 28 percent of their gross monthly income.

    Here are a few other tips to remember when buying a home and agreeing on a mortgage:

    1. Have a professional inspect the home.
      If you fall in love with a home, remember to have it professionally inspected before purchasing. The last thing you want is to buy a lemon after thinking you've found your dream home. Angie Hicks of Angie's List told Pittsburgh CBS affiliate KDKA to research and check the qualifications of home inspectors, real estate agents and mortgage lenders before putting your money down.

      Hicks noted the perils of hiring an inspector recommended by a real estate agent or lender.

      "Over the years, the one thing I have learned is people tend to wait until the last minute to make a decision, finding a home inspector, for example," Hicks said. "You want to do that at the beginning of your home search – before you're under the time crunch of having to get the home inspection done in a certain number of days. You know you're going to need a home inspector. Find out who you want to work with before you're under the gun."

    2. Pay your mortgage down as quickly as you can.
      Once you've decided on your home, made your down payment and agreed on the terms of your mortgage, the best thing you can do is pay your mortgage off as fast as you can.

      According to Ronit Rogoszinksi, a wealth adviser at Arch Financial Group, paying off your mortgage at a faster clip will help reduce your housing costs over the long haul. Rogoszinksi said you'll still need to consider property taxes, homeowner insurance and repairs, but the faster you can pay off your mortgage, the less likely you'll be burdened with interest rates down the line. It will also enhance your all-important credit rating.

      "Once that money can remain in your pocket, you control that money," Rogoszinski said. "It's yours. It's not going to someone else."

    3. If you have extra cash, use it.
      Did you hit it big in Las Vegas? Maybe you recently received an inheritance, a bonus from work or an income tax refund. Use that extra cash toward your mortgage payments unless you have other debt with higher interest rates. Pay that off first.

      "You really want to pay off the most expensive debt you have as fast as possible," Rogoszinski said.

      Some items that often have higher-cost debt than mortgages include auto loans, private student loans and revolving credits cards.