I want to buy my first house, but I live in an expensive area and I don’t want to end up house poor. What can I do to lower my monthly mortgage payments?—Frank

The leap into homeownership is a big change, especially on your finances.

Buying a home is likely the biggest purchase you’ll ever make, so it’s important to keep your payments in line with what you can afford.

When your mortgage eats up too much of your budget, it can affect your long-term financial security by limiting your ability to save for retirement, pay down debt or follow other dreams like traveling or starting a business.

The general rule of thumb is to aim to have your monthly housing costs add up to less than 30% of your monthly before-tax income.

No doubt that in the country’s more expensive housing markets that’s hard to do, but buyers can take steps to help reduce their housing payments.

Improve your credit score

Your credit score plays a major role with lenders in deciding the terms of your home loan (or whether they’ll give you one at all).

The better your score, the more likely you are to get a lower interest rate, which means you will be paying less over the life of your loan.

A credit score of 750 and up is generally considered excellent and will make you the most attractive borrower.

Home buyers with credit scores below 620 tend to have very high interest rates and risky features on their home loans, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

But a good credit score doesn’t happen overnight.

“It means that for a couple years before you really want to purchase a house, you start working to get your score as high as possible, said Nicole Theisen Strbich, a certified financial planner and director of financial planning with Buckingham Financial Group. “It’s not a switch you can flip.”

Start by reviewing your credit report to identify outstanding debt and create a game plan on how to reduce it as quickly as possible. Be sure to also look for any errors on your report since they can take time to…