Mortgage payments at lowest level in decades

@Money April 23, 2012: 11:24 AM ET

(Money Magazine) -- For today's homebuyers, the weight of the monthly mortgage bill is the lightest it's been in decades.

Put 20% down on a median-priced ($154,400) existing home, and your payment will come to $616 a month, only 12.1% of the median U.S. family income.

In 98 of the top 100 metro areas, it's now cheaper to buy than rent.

"If you have good credit," says IHS Global Insight economist Patrick Newport, "this is the best time in 40 years to buy."

Want to trade up? You may think the buyer of your current home is getting a deal, but you might get an even better one on your next place.

Prices for bottom-tier properties have improved since 2011, reports Zillow, while top-tier prices keep falling.

Want to invest? To get the best rate (a quarter to a half point higher than for your primary residence), you'll have to put at least 25% down, according to federal guidelines.

Work with a real estate agent who specializes in investment properties.

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