Free Online Tools to Help You Decide How Much Rent You Can Afford

Young woman paying bills online
Cavan Images/The Image Bank/Getty Images

An important part of any apartment search is knowing up front how much you can afford. If you make appointments to look at available apartments that are out of your range, you'll be disappointed once you apply for one and discover you don't earn enough income. On the flip side, you also don't want to be unnecessarily frustrated if you mistakenly believe you can't afford the type of apartment you really want.

Fortunately, there are some free online tools available that can help you decide how much rent you can afford for an apartment.

Online Rent Calculators

Online rent calculators perform basic financial calculations to suggest how much you can spend on monthly rent. Most calculations are based on your gross monthly income and assume you will spend 20 to 40 percent of your gross income on housing. Here are a few user-friendly calculators to try:

  • Domu's Rent CalculatorThis calculator couldn't be easier to use. Simply enter the amount that you earn each year, before taxes, and you'll immediately see how much rent you can afford. Rather than one number, this calculator presents the low end (20 percent of your gross income), middle of the road (30 percent of your gross income), and high end (40 percent of your gross income), along with a succinct explanation of the pros and cons of pursuing each route.
  • First Apartment Guide's Rent Calculator: Simply enter your weekly, biweekly, or monthly paycheck amount and indicate whether or not you live near a big city. Then, click to see what you can afford. You'll learn the maximum amount for a monthly rental to live comfortably and whether you'll need roommates (and how many) to afford the rent.

    This calculator's formula is based on U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) guidelines that suggest a household should spend no more than 30 percent of gross income on rent and utilities. However, First Apartment Guide also estimates that most people can "live fairly well" allocating as much as 45 percent of their gross income toward rent and utilities. Further down on the page, you'll also find helpful statistics related to your rental situation.
  • Zillow Rent Affordability Calculator: This calculator shows rentals that fit your budget by asking you to input your net (after-tax) income. Property managers often use gross income to qualify applicants, so the tool assumes your net income is taxed at 25 percent.

Understanding Gross vs. Net Income

Simply put, gross income represents your full working wage, before any taxes or any other deductions are taken out. Net income is your gross income minus taxes and all deductions. If you have an employer (you are not self-employed), your net income is usually the actual value of your paycheck. In other words, net income is the actual dollar amount you are able to spend.

Landlords typically look at gross income when approving applicants for apartments. For your own calculation, it's better to look at your net income and decide how much of your money should go toward rent. For example, if your net income is $3,000 per month and you want to spend no more than 30 percent of your money on rent, you should look for an apartment that costs no more than $900 per month.