Q: My wife and I would like to buy a new home within the next year. We currently live in a condo that my wife bought before we were married.

The problem is my income has been very erratic over the last three years. Last year my income was very low because I started my own law firm and we had built up a significant amount of credit card debt paying for our wedding. She is a school teacher and her income is steady but also low.

During the past five months my income has been good and I have all but eliminated our credit card debt – it was more than $20,000. The only other monthly payments we have are my school loans. I have one government loan that is about $55,000, and one private loan that is $16,000.

Should I start building up cash for the down payment or should I first try and pay off the $16,000 private school loan.

A: If you are planning to use your income to help qualify for a mortgage, you’re going to have to wait until you have been self-employed for at least one full year and preferably two years.

Lenders typically require self-employed people to produce between 1 to 2 years of tax returns, plus account statements, a current profit and loss for the business and other items that help verify income that employed workers don’t have to provide.

I think you should spend the time concentrating on paying down your debt and building up a down payment fund. The amount that you pay in debt service each month will be subtracted from the total amount you can pay for your mortgage, taxes and insurance. So you want that debt service number to be as low as possible to maximize the amount you can afford.