How Payment Standards Work


If you have a Housing Voucher and you are looking for a place to live, the first thing you need to know is how much your voucher will pay for rent. This is called “Payment Standard.”

Some Housing Authorities are extremely confusing in the way they give you this information. As a result, some of our readers report that they spent weeks or months looking in the wrong price range.

Figuring out your payment standard yourself can come in handy.

What Is a Payment Standard?

Payment standards are the amount your voucher will pay. You will pay some of that amount, and your Housing Authority will pay the rest.

For example: Jane’s payment standard is $1,000. Jane pays $100 and the Housing Authority pays $900. The landlord gets $1,000.

How Much Is My Payment Standard?

Ideally, your payment standard will be written on the paperwork the Housing Authority gives you. Some Housing Authorities don’t use the words “payment standard.” They will write “proposed amount” or “shopping range” or some other confusing terminology.

If you feel unsure, you can request a copy of their payment standard chart. Or look on their website to see if it is listed there. Some charts are simpler than others. Here’s an example: Sample payment standard chart.

Hint #1: In some Housing Authorities, “Fair Market Rent” and “Payment Standard” are the same thing.

Hint #2: In other Housing Authorities, they are not the same thing at all! The HUD website has a database for “fair market rent.” This may or may not be the same numbers your Housing Authority uses. Payment standard can be set at 90%-110% of fair market rent.

How to Figure Out What Place You Can Rent

Below are three ways to figure out payment standards:

  1. Easy way: takes no work, but also gives you no information
  2. Medium way: Works sometimes
  3. Hard way: Learn all the nitty gritty details and get an exact number

Payment Standards the Easy Way

If you don’t want to figure out payment standards, just find a place you like that appears to be within whatever number the Housing Authority gave you. Have the landlord fill out the paperwork. Send the paperwork to your housing authority.

Your Housing Authority will do all the math tell you if it’s in payment standard and if you are allowed to rent it. Done!

Payment Standards the Medium Way

The easy way sounds great, but does not always work out so great. Some readers find that all their rentals get rejected and they have no idea why. If you want to get a rough estimate what to expect, you can try this:

Step One

Find out your payment standard. You can find this by looking on your housing paperwork, or requesting a copy of the payment standard chart, or checking your Housing Authority website.

Step Two

Ask your new landlord who will pay for utilities: Heat, gas, water, sewer, electric. (Ignore cable and internet)

Step Three

If you find a place where you pay all or most utilities, subtract roughly $100-$200.

If you find a place where the landlord pays utilities, skip this step.

Example: Susan’s voucher is for $800. She looks for a place where rent is $600 plus utilities.

Step Four (Optional)

If you you want to rent a place that is too expensive, the Housing Authority will allow you to pay more in some cases. You pay this money yourself. Learn more: How to Go Up to 40% of Income

Step Five 

Done! That’s it.

Tip: Some people think it’s a better to find a place with utilities paid by the landlord, but this is not true. Both ways are equally good or equally bad. It depends on the situation. See below for more details.

Payment Standards The Hard Way

The hard way will force you to do math, but it will give you a more exact number, plus give you more options:

Step One: Get Payment Standard Chart

You can request one from your housing worker. Some Housing Authorities post this chart on their website.

Step Two: Figure Out Approved Bedrooms

You will need to know how many bedrooms you are approved for so you can look up the correct number on the payment standard chart.

The number of bedrooms should be written on your voucher or on the paperwork you were given at your briefing meeting. It may be called “bedrooms” or “units”.

Step Three: Adjust Bedrooms (Optional)

If you are happy with your number of bedrooms you are approved for, skip step three. If you want to rent a place with more or less bedrooms, look here: How Bedrooms Work

Step Four: Get Utility Allowance Chart

Ask for a copy of the utility allowance chart or look to see if it’s on the website. It might look something like this: Sample Utility Allowance.

Step Five: Subtract Utilities

Start with your payment standard

Then subtract all utilities you pay

Then ignore all utilities your landlord pays

That’s it! If you wish to learn more: How Utility Allowances Work

Step Six: Pay More (Optional)

If you you want to rent a place that is too expensive, the Housing Authority will allow you to pay more in some cases.

How much extra are you allowed to pay? You can get a rough estimate by adding up your household income. Then figure out 10%. That’s the amount extra you can pay, if you want to. Learn more: How to Go Up to 40% of Income

Step Seven: Explore More Options (Optional)

There are a few other legal ways that you can rent a place that is more expensive than your payment standard: How to Use Your Voucher When the Rent is Too High

Step Eight: Done!

Landlord fills out paperwork and you submit it. Should work this time!


Some people think it’s a better to find a place with utilities included, but this is not necessarily true. If utilities are included:

  • Your monthly tenant payment will be higher
  • Your food stamps might go down
  • You might not be eligible for local utility assistance programs

Depending on your circumstances, it may be better to have utilities in the rent, or it may be better not to. So what way best for you?

It doesn’t really matter. It’s super hard to find a place that is a good match and takes a voucher. So the best thing to do is just explore all possible options no matter what the utility arrangement is.

Tip Two

Unfortunately, the housing authority won’t always tell you when they move you to 40% of income. If you submit a request to rent a place that’s too expensive, they will just adjust how much you pay. Later you may wonder why your rent is so high.

If you feel unsure, you can always ask, or request a copy of the calculations, or read the rest of this page and do the math yourself.

Special Exceptions

🌷If you are already in a house and the landlord raises the rent above the payment standard, your Housing Authority will allow you to stay there if you pay the extra amount.

🌷Some Housing Authorities participate in a program called Moving to Work Housing Authority. If you are in a moving to work agency, some of the rules above will not apply. Your rent will be different, and may be higher, or may raise over time.

Tools For Troublemakers

Guide to Use a Housing Voucher to Actually Find Housing

How to Use Your Voucher When the Rent is Too High

My Housing Worker Said: “No More Voucher Extensions”

The Sleepy Girl Affordable Housing Survival Guide

HUD and Section 8 for People with Disabilities (and family)

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🌷 Art on this page by Robin Mead and Elizabeth D’Angelo.

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21 thoughts on “How Payment Standards Work”

  1. Thank you for the information. I have a question.
    I live with my mom and sister, and I’m the only one working. Is the 30% will be on me only? Do the have any credit that can be taken from the total amount of rent?


    1. It will be 30% of all the income in your household. They do not care who pays it. You or your mom or your sister can pay as long as somebody pays it. I hope it goes great for you.


  2. I was approved for a 1 bd with payment standard as $716. I have income so how much am I expected to pay myself if I rent an apt for $860?


    1. It depends if utilities are included in the rent. If utilities are not included, you probably will not be able to rent this apartment, unless you are approved for a reasonable accommodation for an exception to payment standard.

      If utilities are included, you will have to pay the regular tenant portion of rent plus an additional $150 per month. You would also need to have income of at least $1500 in order for this to be approved.


  3. Our voucher size was reduced from a 4bdrm to 3bdrm. Our landlord agreed to allow us to stay in the 4bdrm but will rent as a 3bdrm. The 3bdrm payment standard increased to $1670. Now, we went from having 0 tenant rent to $178.00 rent because instead of looking at the $1670 as the new payment standard they assumed it is because we are staying in the 4bdrm instead of the 3bdrm. How would I go about explaining or correcting this so that the payment standard increase is covered by our voucher?


    1. I’m not certain I understand, but if the bedrooms on your voucher went down, your tenant rent will go up. The 1670 includes utilities, so if utilities are not included in your rent, they may have done it correctly.

      If someone in your home is disabled, and this causes a need for an extra bedroom, you can request a larger voucher in some circumstances….


  4. hello! just curious if the payment standard is what the housing authority will actually pay up to? ive heard many times they pay the payment standard minus 30% of your total adjusted gross income, which would make it much less than the payment standard. have you heard of this formula?

    example payment standard $1,830
    income $783
    total they will pay $1,595


  5. Hi Sleepygirl. I am struggling to get help through my HUD agent. This is my first experience and I am frightened to sign anything as I cannot get an idea on how much I’m going to pay. Would you have an estimate based on the below info?: Thank you!
    Contract Rent $850
    Prospective Utilities $300

    My TTP $528.00
    40% Adj Monthly $704.00

    Utility Allowance $375.00
    Pay standard $1,038.00


  6. So happy I came across this page you have given me a lot of information. I’m located in Northern Kentucky I have shared it on my Facebook page and also in a section a group I am involved in that has people from all over the United States in it. I hope this can help others as much as it has helped me


  7. Hi sleepygirl, thanks for making this site, it has so much helpful info! I’m on a home aide program and one of my workers told me that my caretaker could be compensated for driving me to doctor appointments and such through a company called Logisticare. I couldn’t find anything on this site about that, just wanted to ask if you’ve heard about something similar or maybe had some info? Thanks!


  8. Outstanding information! Answered many of my questions and made me aware of many things that I was never told by my housing worker. Sometimes they are not as helpful or upfront about information as they should be. Which leads me to my question.
    I see much about if the rent is too high and how to deal with that, but what if your rent is too low? What I mean is I have been renting the same place for 10 years now and my total rent amount was raised-but so was income limits for my housing agency. Therefore, my rent amount is now 1450, while housing payment standard went up to 1500 for a 2 bedroom, which is what I have.
    I am the payee for my disabled son, who recieves a monthly amount of 850. I am unemployed and have no income. My worker says my portion of the rent is still 164 as his income counts toward income limits. However, I remember filling out a paper claiming zero income which set my rent at zero a few years back. And although I do pay my own PG&E, a utility allowance is never mentioned or factored in at all!?
    I am definately not complaining about the portion I pay: its more about what is correct in this situation. If I can claim zero income I need to because even with the rent set so low, it is hard for me to make ends meet and many times we go without things because there just isnt enough.
    I am on the self sufficiency program and am desperately looking for work, but as of right now have none. Who can I find out the truth from on how much I should be paying? I do not exactly trust my worker as she acts as though its coming straight out of her pocket. Any help or guidance would be appreciated very much.


    1. Hi Michelle,

      Having rent that is too low won’t change the amount you pay.

      I don’t think you can claim zero income if your child receives a check.

      I’m sorry I don’t have better news.

      Utility allowance should be deducted from your monthly payment, but….

      I am wondering if you might be in a “moving to work” housing authority? Sadly, they don’t play by all the same rules 😦 If that’s the case, unfortunately, I don’t know how it works in your area.


  9. I find it extremely angering that my Housing Authority is trying to raise my rent $51 due to receiving a Pell grant to go to school! They are trying to take advantage of me, in that they don’t even know the IRS/HUD Annual Income laws regarding Pell Grants, and how to calculate it!
    I have all the actual Federal documentation, and yet STILL the Housing Authority is still trying to tell me I’m wrong, while they haven’t even properly done my actual income calculations! – I’ve also come to learn that they never asked about any further deductions I might have, as I have had an assisted animal since 2003! – I’m curious how I can get reimbursed for this, as this was a major monthly expense!


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