House rich, cash poor. It may sound like a cliche, but many Americans are living that particular nightmare.

The cost of buying a house has risen more than 30 percent in the past five years, according to new Census data. In some places, like Southern California, the Northeast, Northern California, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, and South Florida, prices have risen even faster.

In San Diego, median home prices jumped 127 percent from 2000 to 2005. In Los Angeles, they rose 110 percent and in New York, prices are up 79 percent, according to the data.

That makes for an expensive mortgage — particularly since incomes haven’t risen as quickly as home values. The median income adjusted for inflation was $47,599 in 2000, according to Census data. It fell to $46,326 in 2005.

As a result, more homeowners are putting a higher percentage of their annual income toward their housing costs. In 2005, the average homeowner spent 20 percent of his or her income on housing costs, which was up from 18 percent in 2000.

But that number doesn’t tell the whole story. In the Chicago metropolitan area, 28 percent of residents are spending more than 35 percent of their income on housing costs, up from 17 percent in 2000. In parts of California, a larger number of lower-income households are spending more than 50 percent of their income on housing costs.

(Renters are also paying a higher percentage of their income for housing costs. In New York City, half of all renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs. In some areas of Southern California, 74 percent of renters spend more than 30 percent on housing costs. In Boulder, Co., and College Station, Tx, more than half of all renters spend half of their income on housing costs.)

Thanks to rising property values, your mortgage bill is higher. Thanks to hurricanes, floods, wildfires and terrorism, the cost for homeowners insurance has risen as well. And property taxes have jumped dramatically in many metropolitan areas.

Your house may now be worth $1 million, from $50,000 when you bought it 40 years ago, but the $10,000 property tax bill you paid this year blew a huge hole in your budget.

According to the Tax Foundation (, a non-partisian education organization based in Washington, D.C., Passaic County, NJ, residents paid 8.5 percent of their income in property taxes, the highest level in the nation.

In terms of sheer dollars shelled out, New Jersey and New York counties take the top 14 spots, with residents paying a median property tax bill ranging from $5,472 in Hudson County to $7,337 in Westchester County.

Lake County, Ill., ranks 15th on the list with a median property tax bill of $5,393, which is 6.6 percent of the median income for homeowners.

Adding to the pressure on households are rising utility bills, including a significantly higher cost to heat and cool your home.

The danger of higher housing costs, is that families who don’t have enough cash to pay their bills at the end of the month will start playing games with the money in order to make ends meet, says Steve Katz, a spokesman for, an information website published by Chicago-based TransUnion, one of the three major credit reporting bureaus.

“Someone might miss a mortgage payment or some other sort of payment and that may severely damage their credit history and credit score,” Katz said, noting that a late payment stays on your credit history for 7 years.

“It will affect your credit to some degree for the entire 7 years, but the impact will be less over time. A 30-day late payment made 60 days ago will have more impact than one made 4 years ago,” he explained.

Once your credit is damaged, your financial options become more limited. It’s a lot harder to refinance your mortgage, for example, which can be extremely costly if you’re trapped in an upward-adjusting adjustable rate mortgage (ARM).

“It comes down to the fact that when people get into a financial jam, something suffers. The danger is that if people are not well informed how to properly manage their credit health, they may choose to not pay something now that would impact them down the road,” Katz said. “We don’t want you to open up a lot of credit cards, and we don’t want you to miss payments. We want you to continue to act in a responsible fashion, so when you do want to buy a new car, or refinance your mortgage, your score is as high as can be.”