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Are you financially ready to buy a house?

Can you afford the payments?

The bank informs you your monthly mortgage payment will be $1,900 per month. You've worked through your household budget and concluded you have exactly $1,900 a month to put toward your housing costs. Serendipity! Let's sign it!

In fact, if you have exactly enough to cover your mortgage payments, you don't have enough to buy a house. Your mortgage payments are going to be the biggest cost of home ownership, but they're far from the only ones. Just a handful of the other regular costs include homeowner's insurance (and separate flood insurance, if you'll be living in a flood zone), homeowners association (HOA) fees if the community requires them, yearly property taxes, and maintenance costs lest your home slip into disrepair and lose its value.

Your best move when determining whether you can truly afford to buy a home is to listen to your mortgage broker, take the numbers he or she has produced, and then run them again on your own. Online calculators can help, as can not-for-profit organizations set up to help people just like you enter home ownership smartly.

Even with all the preparations, calculations, waiting and saving, you'll probably find it was worth it when you sign on those dozens (and dozens) of dotted lines and take the keys to your first home -- a home you could, in theory, paint neon green on principal alone.

For more information on finances, home buying and related topics, check out the links on the next page.