Top 10 Financially Stable Cities in America

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The global economic outlook is strong, according to recent information from Goldman Sachs. The firm predicts that global growth will reach 4 percent in the next year. The U.S. economy as we head into the new year is showing strong momentum and the unemployment rate is already below what the Federal Reserve deems as sustainable. Overall, the current economic environment is about “as good as it gets,” according to Jan Hatzius, Goldman Sachs’ chief economist.

Of course there are U.S. cities that are more financially stable than others. Here, we’ll take a look at 10 that are expected to top the list in 2018 based on growth, employment, and business opportunities. This list can help you gauge where you’ll have the best shot at getting your credit and finances in shape, and ideally, getting ahead with your personal finances.

  1. Provo, Utah

    This city was recently ranked as the best-performing city by the Miliken Institute, thanks to its robust high-tech sector and broad-based job and wage growth. The Provo/Orem region added 5,500 high-tech jobs between 2011 and 2016. San Jose, California-based Adobe has a major presence there and the region’s flagship college, Brigham Young University also accounts for a considerable amount of employment opportunities.

  1. Raleigh, North Carolina 

    Thanks to its low business costs and thriving research and development-driven industries, this city presents those looking for a new place to call home with big opportunities. Job growth over the next 10 years is predicted to be 42.66 percent. Raleigh’s competitive business climate continues to attract employers looking to relocate operations away from rising rents in major metro cities.

  1. Fort Collins, Colorado 

    This northern Colorado city is home to Colorado State University and it’s growing fast with many job opportunities in the tech sector. The average annual salary for one of the city’s major tech companies, Agilent Technologies, is $81,050. In fact, the whole of northern Colorado is growing right along with the rest of the state, with expectations of growing its population an additional 30,000 residents by 2040.

  1. Dallas, Texas 

    There are many Texas cities that could also make the list of financially stable cities, including Austin and San Antonio. But the Dallas/Plano/Irving region ranks in the top 10 thanks to its significant employment gains and overall strong economy. The region added 50,000 jobs in the high-skill professional, scientific, and technical service industries between 2011 and 2016. Dallas also has a stronghold in the housing market and is expected to lead in home sales in 2018. The median home price in the region is $339,950.

  1. San Francisco, California 

    The Golden City ranks high thanks to its steady increase in wages over the past seven years. Not surprisingly, the region’s tech growth continues to far outpace the rest of the country at 60 percent higher than the national average. Despite higher-than-average median salaries, extremely high housing prices make this city out of reach when it comes to a place to call home. In 2016, the median sales price for a single-family home was over $1 million.

  1. Bradenton/Sarasota, Florida 

    If you’re looking exclusively for string job growth, the Brandenton/Sarasota/North Port area is the place to be. It tops the chart in 12-month job growth. Last year the state of Florida’s unemployment fell to 3.7 percent, its lowest level in more than a decade. The current median salary is $40,592 and the median home price is $279,000.

  1. Nashville, Tennessee 

    Music City continues to outpace many other major metros in job and wage growth, with wages growing 36 percent from 2010 to 2015. Some 8,000 jobs were added across the professional, scientific, technical services, administration and support services industries in 2015 and 2016. Home to Vanderbilt University, Nashville also produces a large pool of employment talent and itself employs some 60,000 people. The salary average is $50,913.

  1. Charlotte, North Carolina 

    Like its eastern counterpart Raleigh, low business costs continue to attract employers to the Charlotte region. The professional, scientific, and technical services industries grew about 9 percent from 2015 to 2016, adding some 5,800 jobs. Median housing prices in the region — which was so hard hit in the housing crisis a decade ago — rebounded to $245,000 in 2016.

  1. Atlanta, Georgia 

    Known as the Empire City of the South, Atlanta grew its job economy by 45,000 people in 2016, spanning industries including dining, health, construction, and film and television. While salaries in the region aren’t exceptionally high (averaging $58,899), that is balanced by a lower median home price of $218,350 as compared to booming housing markets like those in Denver, Seattle and San Francisco.

  2. Seattle, Washington 

    While the city has always been a popular tourist destination, it has recently gained attention for a consistently strong job market over the past decade. With both Amazon and Microsoft headquartered in the city, software developers continue to flock there where they can earn an average salary of $132,000. For those looking for tech and software opportunities, Seattle presents a much more affordable option than San Francisco. The median sales price for existing single-family homes at the end of 2016 was $468,785, compared to $1,056,561 in the San Francisco Bay area.

If you’re concerned about your credit, you can check your three credit reports for free once a year. To track your credit more regularly, Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card is an easy-to-understand breakdown of your credit report information that uses letter grades—plus you get two free credit scores updated each month.

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7 Monthly Bills Affected by Your Credit

A high credit score helps you in many ways, including by potentially lowering your monthly bills.

You probably know your monthly bills can impact your credit, as late payments or accounts in collections can land on your credit report and bring down your credit score. But are you aware your credit score can affect the payment amount on a number of your monthly bills?

Here are seven monthly bills with payments your credit score can determine.

1. Rent Payments

When you apply for a lease, your landlord might request a background check that includes your credit report. They can’t run a background check without your permission, although refusing may prevent you from moving forward with the lease.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the landlord can take adverse action if they find red flags in your credit report. This action could include denying your rental application or raising your rent higher than they would charge another applicant. The good news is they are legally required to give you written notice if they take adverse action, provide you the report they used (if you request it within 60 days) and give you the chance to dispute the information.

2. Credit Cards

Consumers with good credit tend to qualify for much lower credit card interest rates than those with poor credit. Interest is applied to your credit card balance each month unless you pay it off in full within the monthly grace period. (You can go here to learn more about how credit card interest is calculated.) If you tend to carry a balance month to month, your poor credit could be costing you extra in interest.

3. Mortgages

Your mortgage payment is also directly affected by your credit. Mortgage lenders consider you a riskier borrower if you have a lower credit score. To hedge against that risk, they will charge you a higher interest rate.

4. Auto Loans

Credit scores impact the interest rate lenders offer when you apply for an auto loan. While interest rates vary between lenders, having excellent credit generally results in lower interest and a lower monthly payment. Those 0% financing offers you see on car commercials usually require excellent credit.

5. Student Loans

Your credit score doesn’t generally affect federal loan payments, but if you plan on financing your education through private loans, lenders can use your credit score to determine your interest rate and fees. The worse your credit, the more interest you’ll pay on the loan.

6. Auto Insurance

According to The Zebra’s State of Auto Insurance Report, there’s a correlation between credit and car insurance rates. On a national level, drivers with poor credit can pay more than twice as much as those with excellent credit for insurance. Some states have banned insurance providers from using credit scores to determine rates, but it’s a common practice in the states that allow it.

7. Homeowners Insurance

Insurance companies use credit-based insurance scores to determine what you’ll pay for homeowners insurance. These scores are industry-specific and aren’t exactly the same as your credit score, but they use the information in your credit report to determine your score. The same negative marks that bring down your credit score can impact your insurance score, and affect your payment.

Given your credit’s affect on nearly every bill in your mailbox (among other things, of course), it’s important to regularly monitor your credit for errors (you can go here to learn how to dispute those), identity theft or legitimate negative items that are affecting your score. You can pull your credit reports for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com and view your free credit report snapshot every month on Credit.com. You can generally improve your bad credit by paying down high credit card balances, shoring up accounts in delinquency and limiting new credit inquiries while your credit score rebounds.

Trying to lower your monthly bills. We can help you get started with 9 ways to lower your monthly mortgage payment. 

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The Most Expensive Zip Codes for Renters

When it comes to saving money on rent, ZIP code is everything.

Using data from rental market research firm Yardi Matrix, rental listing service RentCafe analyzed how the cost of renting differs by ZIP code in 125 major U.S. metro areas.

The top 10 most expensive ZIP codes are located in just two cities — New York and San Francisco. In fact, Manhattan and San Francisco took all but one of the top 20 spots in the RentCafe ranking. New York City alone is home to 27 of the top 100 most expensive ZIP codes.

The priciest pads are located in Manhattan’s Battery Park Ball Fields (10282), where renters pay an average $5,924 per month, making it the most expensive ZIP code in the country.

Right behind Battery Park were the Lenox Hill area (average rent: $4,898) and apartments on the Upper West Side near Lincoln Square (average rent: $4,892), which took the No. 2 and No. 3 slots on the most expensive list.

San Francisco had two in the top 10: ritzy neighborhoods Presidio and Main Post (94129), where average rental prices stand at $4,762, and the city’s South Beach area (94105) pulled in ninth at $4,380.

According to the ranking, Boston was the third most expensive city for renters. There, renters can expect to pay $4,227 to live in the city’s most expensive ZIP code, the Black Bay neighborhood (02199).

MagnifyMoney looked at RentCafe’s findings to figure out which cities had the most expensive ZIP codes. Here’s how they stacked up:

Ranking

City State Most Expensive ZIP Code

Average Rent

1 Manhattan NY 10282 $5,924
2 San Francisco CA 94129 $4,762
3 Boston MA 02199 $4,227
4 Palo Alto CA 94301 $3,718
5 Menlo Park CA 94025 $3,657
6 Brooklyn NY 11201 $3,622
7 Los Angeles CA 90401 $3,477
8 Santa Monica CA 90405 $3,423
9 Durham NC 03824 $3,381
10 Playa Vista CA 90094 $3,367

How to save on rent

Always comparison shop.

Comparison shopping is one of the most important things you can do to save money on your next move. Comparing prices in and around the area you want to live is one way to make sure you pay a fair price for your new space.

Back in the day, comparing prices on apartment would have involved calling several different management companies to compare quotes. Even then, you might have missed a good deal. With today’s technology you can (and should) easily search for and compare rent prices all over the world with interactive maps on sites like RentCafe, Apartment Finder, or Cozy.

Fly South for lower rent

Renters looking to pay as little as possible should look toward southern states like Kansas or Alabama. Two Wichita, Kan., ZIP codes (67213 and 67211) priced around $400 per month, while apartments in Decatur, Ala. (35601) will run renters on average $458 per month. So, for what you’d pay for one month of rent in Manhattan, you could rent a place in Kansas for a whole year.

Below are the top ten cities with the least expensive rental listings based on Yardi Matrix data.

Ranking City State Least Expensive

ZIP Code

Average Rent
1 Wichita KS 67213 $407
2 Decatur AL 35601 $458
3 Memphis TN 38106 $464
4 Columbus GA 31903 $482
5 Fort Wayne IN 46809 $495
6 Huntsville AL 35810 $503
7 Louisville TN 37777 $507
8 Gravel Ridge AR 72076 $508
9 West Memphis AR 72301 $508
10 Athens AL 35611 $510

 

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Buying a House? You May Want to Avoid the 30% Rule

The 30% rule is a good place to start, but it’s not always the best gauge of how much should you spend on housing.

Ask someone the question, “How much should I spend on a house?” and there’s a good chance that they will respond with the 30% rule.

The 30% rule, which says not to spend more than 30% of your income on housing, is a good place to start, but it’s not always the best gauge of how much should you spend on housing. You don’t want to base your entire financial situation on it — especially since it’s not exactly clear what that 30% includes.

What Is the 30% Rule?

The 30% rule has been around since the 1930s, according to the Census Bureau. Back then, policymakers were trying to make housing affordable. They came up with the idea that you could spend about 30% of your income on housing and still have enough left for other expenses.

Over time, those numbers started to get used in home loans as well. A rough sketch of what you could afford, in terms of monthly payment, could be obtained by estimating 30% of your income.

Is the 30% Rule Right for You?

When deciding on your own 30% rule, it’s probably a good idea to base it on your take-home pay, rather than your gross income. Let’s say you bring home $3,500 a month. According to the 30% rule, that means you shouldn’t spend more than $1,050 on your housing payment.

Some folks like to use their gross income for this calculation, but that can get you into trouble in the long run. If you base what you spend on housing on an amount that you might not be bringing home, that can stress your budget.

Think about it: If your pre-tax pay is $3,800 a month, that lifts your max housing payment to $1,140. That’s $90 more per month. But the reality is that you are bringing home $300 less than your gross income. Trying to come up with another $90 a month could put a strain on your budget.

Don’t Forget About Extra Costs

You can use a mortgage calculator to figure out how much you should spend on housing. However, such calculators typically just include principal and interest. This doesn’t take into account other monthly homeownership costs.

If you’re thinking of buying an expensive house, don’t forget about other costs like insurance and taxes.

Experts suggest that you base your 30% figure on all your monthly payment costs, not just the principal and interest.

What Percentage of Income Should Be Spent on Housing?

But it goes beyond that for some homebuyers. When looking into buying a home or an affordable place to rent, don’t just base your estimates on your monthly payment. You should also include estimated utility costs and an estimate for maintenance and repairs.

HouseLogic suggests you budget between 1% and 3% of your home’s purchase price annually for repairs and maintenance. I like the idea of budgeting 2%. So, on a $200,000 home, that means you can expect to pay $4,000 for repairs and maintenance — about $333.33 per month.

Once you start adding in all the other aspects of homeownership, suddenly that 30% rule is less cut-and-dry. If you’re more conservative, adding up all the monthly costs of homeownership and keeping it all under 30% makes sense.

You’re less likely to overspend that way. But it might mean a smaller, less expensive home.

Consider the 28/36 Qualifying Ratio

Instead of relying on the 30% rule to answer the question, “How much should I spend on a house?”, consider using the 28/36 qualifying ratio.

According to Re/Max, many lenders use the 28/36 rule to figure out whether your finances can handle your home purchase. The 28 refers to the percentage of your gross monthly income that should be spent on your monthly housing cost. The 36 refers to the percentage of income that goes toward all your debt payments, including your mortgage.

So, if you make $3,800 in take-home pay, your monthly payment should be no more than $1,064. But, things get stickier when you calculate the 36% part of the ratio. Your total debt payments shouldn’t exceed $1,368. That leaves you about $304 for payments of other debts.

Let’s say your credit card and auto loan payments total $500. That means you’re going to have to adjust your expectations for what you can expect to pay for a mortgage. In fact, if your lender insists on the 36 part of the ratio, you have $196 less you can spend on your mortgage payment. And that might mean a less expensive house.

When figuring out what percentage of income you should spend on housing, base the calculations on your take-home pay. Even though Re/Max says many lenders use your gross pay for the 28/36 qualifying ratio, this way you’ll play it safe.

How Much Should I Spend on a House?

Everyone has to answer the “How much should I spend on a house?” question for themselves. However, the biggest reason to ditch the 30% rule is that you might not be comfortable with it.

Are you really comfortable spending 30% of your income each month on your housing? When you consider your other payment obligations, does it makes sense for you to spend so much on housing?

If you aren’t sure about the 30% rule, use your own rule. You might be more comfortable with 25% on all of your housing costs. Or perhaps you modify the rule. Maybe you spend 20% on mortgage and interest and keep your total housing costs to 25% or 28%.

No matter what you decide, the important thing is to be responsible with your finances. Only spend what you feel comfortable with on housing or rent.

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An Entry-Level Salary Is Barely Enough to Make Rent in These Cities

After you land your first job out of college, you’re likely going to be happy about your new steady income and a start to your career. But if you’re in one of the 10 most popular cities for millennials, your starting salary may barely be covering your rent, leaving very little left over for other living expenses, savings and paying off student loan debt.

As major American cities continue to boom, rent costs are skyrocketing. And with the expected more than 1.8 million students graduating with a bachelor’s degree this month, the competition for affordable housing is only getting fiercer.

The mobile apartment and rent payment provider, RadPad, analyzed more than 150,000 apartment listings posted from September 2015 to April 2016. From there, they established what percentage of a monthly, entry-level salary college grads can expect to pay in rent for a one-bedroom apartment in 10 of the most popular American cities.

In New York, for example, the median rent for a one bedroom is $3,000/month. The average entry level employee has to budget rent on an annual salary of $47,000/year, accounting for 77% of their income, RadPad found. In San Francisco — the most expensive city in the study — an entry level employee can expect to pay an astounding 79% of their income.

Just one of the 10 most expensive cities — Houston — comes in under the 30% threshold income rule of thumb for rental spending. Paying less of a percentage of income on rent can help you maintain better control of your finances and establish better savings and spending habits. Austin and Atlanta are also on the end of more affordable cities on the list, but both have rents with an average of 6% above the recommended 30% of average income.

Here’s how each of the 10 cities measured up, ranked from highest percentage to lowest percentage of starting monthly income.

  1. San Francisco — 79%
  2. New York City — 77%
  3. LA — 61%
  4. Boston — 56%
  5. Seattle — 51%
  6. Chicago — 47%
  7. Orlando — 44%
  8. Atlanta — 36%
  9. Austin — 36%
  10. Houston — 29%

Aside from proving proof of income, potential landlords will want to run a credit check. Addressing any inaccuracies or knowing any areas that need improvement can help renters better prepare for their apartment search. To get started, you can view two of your credit scores for free each month on Credit.com. You can also find a list of the most affordable cities in the U.S. here.

[Offer: If you’re trying to rent an apartment, worried about errors on your credit reports, and you don’t want to go it alone, you can hire companies – like our partner Lexington Law – to manage the credit repair process for you. Learn more about them here or call them at (844) 346-3296 for a free consultation.]

More on Managing Debt:

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Why You Can’t Afford All the Cool, New Rental Properties

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More and more apartment buildings are popping up in cities around the country, but that doesn’t mean they’re getting more affordable. A large number of these developments are very upscale, aimed at people who can afford some serious luxury.

That’s the finding of a recent study conducted by RENTCafé, a nationwide apartment search website.

The study found that 3-in-4 new apartment developments built in 2015 were high-end rentals, and that luxury construction was up 63% overall from 2012. In absolute numbers, that translates to 896 luxury multi-family projects of 50+ units (out of a total of 1,188 total projects) completed in 2015, according to RENTCafé, compared to 382 luxury multi-family projects of 50+ units completed three years prior.

Early 2016 data shows no slowdown in luxury apartment development, with 79% of all apartment buildings finalized in the first quarter of 2016 being categorized as luxury.

Renting: The New American Dream?

A 2015 report by the Urban Institute projected that even after the housing crash and the Great Recession are a distant memory, homeownership rates in America will continue to decline.

The report estimated that between 2010 and 2030, the majority (59%) of the 22 million new households that will form will rent, while just 41% will buy their homes.

The homeownership rate has been falling since 2006, when the housing bubble began pricing out many would-be homeowners — and the recession furthered that trend. In 2006, the homeownership rate was 67.3%; it now sits at 63.6%, even lower than it was in 1990, according the U.S. Census’ most recent American Community Survey.

Where Luxury Grows Fastest

Given those statistics, it’s no wonder developers are focusing on rentals with amenities that typically far surpass those available in starter homes. The highest percentages of high-end rentals were registered in the Southwest and the Mid-Atlantic (88% of the total number of large rental developments), and in the South and Southeast (78%), the study showed. The lowest numbers were registered in the Pacific Northwest (61%), in California (65%) and in the Northeast (65%), where the leading metro markets are more mature.

high_end_rentals

Luxury apartment construction is on the uptick in all regions in recent years, however. The most significant increase from 2012 to 2015 in the ratio of high-end to total new apartments was in the Southeast, up by 119%. Over the same period of time, in the Pacific Northwest the numbers went up 90%, and in California 82%, the study showed. The lowest increase in luxury construction was registered in the Northeast – only 23% up from 2012, and in the Mid-Atlantic – 26% up from 2012.

Even with the spike in luxury apartment development, there are still cities where renting is becoming more affordable. Check out our roundup of 9 cities where rent is getting cheaper this year. Six metro areas that aren’t on that list, however, really stood out when it comes to luxury developments:

  • San Antonio, Texas, where 17 out of 17 properties that completed construction in 2015 were luxury.
  • Kansas City, Missouri, where 14 out of 14 properties completed were luxury, with an average monthly rent of $1,055, versus the metro average of $850.
  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where 10 out of 10 large properties opened in 2015 were all classified as high-end with the average rental rate of $1,367 per month.
  • Midland-Odessa, Texas, where 9 high-end properties were completed, charging an average monthly rent of $1,501, which is $402 more than the overall average rent.
  • Jacksonville, Florida, with 7 of 7 properties completed were high-end, with average rents of $1,055.
  • Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, also with 7 out of 7 properties completed in 2015 being high-end rentals with average rents of $1,090.

Finding a home or apartment to rent can sometimes be complicated, especially if you have no credit or a bad credit history. Before you start searching for a new place, get an idea of where you stand — you can get a free credit report summary every 30 days on Credit.com — and consider trying to improve your credit before you look for a new home. If that’s not an option, you may be able to find a broker or apartment-finding agency that can help you find landlords willing to work with bad-credit applicants.

More Money-Saving Reads:

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10 Jobs That Make it Hard to Cover Your Rent

Financial Stress: What You Can Do to Ease the Tension

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The True Cost of Living in America: Kansas City

When the Kansas City Royals won baseball’s World Series in November, much of small-town America was rooting for them. The small-market Royals had been terrible for decades, unable to compete with big-money teams like the New York Yankees. So while rivals from Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., watched from home, the young team from the heart of America became world champions.

More evidence that you don’t have to be in a big coastal city to be a winner.

Kansas City is in the middle of a lot of things — it’s basically the geographic center of the United States, and, in fact, North America. It’s close to the population center, too. Often called the eastern-most western city, it’s where the Ford F-150 is built. Where Hallmark makes its headquarters. Where Garmin helps us all get where we are going. Where modern jazz was born. Where barbecue was perfected (for those with a sweet tooth). Both the Santa Fe and Oregon trails passed through Kansas City, making it the first stop in the American West.

It’s also in the top 5 affordable cities in the U.S., according to data we published recently at Credit.com.

Life in Kansas City

Pat Daneman, 61, found her way there 30 years ago because even back then, Kansas City was affordable.

“My husband had job offers in Chicago and Philadelphia as well and we picked K.C. because we wanted to buy a house and have good schools,” Daneman said. “Our first house was $90,000. I think we put down 10% and payments were about $600. His salary as a college professor was about $30K. It took me a few months to find a job. My salary was about $23K. That was 1986.”

Let’s pause on that math for a moment: their combined pre-tax income was nearly $4,500 a month; their mortgage payment only 15% of that. For a place in a suburb named Lenexa, on the Kansas side, about 10 miles southwest of downtown.

Ten years later the cKansas Cityouple sold that house for $125,000 and upgraded.

“We were able to pay off (that mortgage) in about 10 years so we could retire early,” she said.

Daneman’s solid financial footing is critical; her husband died two years ago.

“I am in a paid-off house,” she said. “My taxes are $4,200 and insurance is $1,800… My property taxes feel high, but I think they’re still lower than my parent’s taxes were on Long Island in the 1970s.”

She visits New York often — her daughter and cousins live in Brooklyn — and she loves the big city. But Kansas City is now home for her.

“I love Lenexa and my neighborhood. There are walking trails through the woods. I walk to the grocery, drugstore, library, pool — now that I don’t work in K.C. anymore, most places I go frequently are just a few miles away. I’m close enough to Lawrence to go there for concerts and other events at KU.”

Of course, it’s not perfect. Being in the middle of the continent, Kansas City is within Tornado Alley. Daneman makes an interesting point about living in inexpensive neighborhoods: Her home is probably worth $300,000 now, which is hardly the windfall many homeowners enjoy after a lifetime of mortgage payments. (“That is the down side of affordable housing — not a lot of growth,” she said) And then there’s the decided lack of beaches.

“The worst thing about not living on the coast is no coast,” she said.

The largest employer in Kansas City is the federal government; there’s a Federal Reserve Bank in both Kansas City and St. Louis, making Missouri the only state with two. The Internal Revenue Service has a large presence in the city, as does the Social Security Administration.

Kansas City is considerably larger and better off than its Missouri counterpart 250 miles away on I-70 — St. Louis’ population has been dwindling in recent years, while Kansas City has reversed urban population decline. Today, 25% of all jobs in Missouri and Kansas are in Kansas City, but even better — 63% of new jobs added in the past year within the two states are in Kansas City.

Not everything is rosy. A report by Brookings and the Mid-America Regional Council on Kansas City’s future prospects published in 2014 fretted that the area has a “relatively sparse number of large firms” that compete worldwide; and the city’s job market seemed more sluggish than others to recover from the recession. The report blamed a lack of cross-border cooperation for some of the problem — Kansas City, Mo., and Kansas City, Kan., haven’t always played nicely together, dating back to the Civil War. Racial tensions from when Missouri was a slave state and Kansas was free persist. Crime is still a serious problem, particularly in urban neighborhoods — while the city’s murder rate in 2014 was the lowest in decades, the rate rose dramatically last year, with one murder nearly every three days, according The Kansas City Star.

But Kansas City’s ample inventory of affordable homes is just one of the reasons people people seem enchanted by the City of Fountains.

“I always thought I would move back home to N.Y. at some point,” Daneman said. “But when you live someplace for a long time, that’s hard — much harder than I thought it would be to leave Kansas, of all places … There’s no comparison as far as space, peace, traffic, even weather.”

Kansas City By the Numbers

Affordable Cities Ranking: 5th

Housing Poor Residents: 29.8%

Zillow Home Value Index : $107,800

Median Household Income: $45,376

Remember, a good credit score can make a home more affordable in any area since it generally entitles you to better terms and conditions on a mortgage. (Landlords, too, are in the habit of reviewing a version of your credit report when accepting lease applications.) That’s why it’s always a good idea to check your credit before you start your search for a new home. You can see where you stand by pulling your credit reports for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com and viewing your credit scores for free each month on Credit.com.

More on Mortgages & Homebuying:

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The True Cost of Living in America: Columbus, Ohio

When you think Ohio, you probably think Cleveland, and you might think Cincinnati. Almost certainly, you don’t think Columbus, but here’s a secret: Ohio’s capital city is larger than its more famous neighbors to the north and south. In fact, it’s the largest U.S. city to make Credit.com’s top 10 most affordable cities list. By some measures, it’s larger than Denver, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. And yet, it doesn’t feel crowded, said native Stu Stull.

“Best thing about Columbus is the ease of getting around and not having to waste time waiting for everything like Chicago, Washington, LA and other cities,” said Stull, 58. “There are no hour-and-a-half waits for dinner, no looking for 10 to 15 minutes for a parking space or waiting in traffic for way too long.” Except for college football Saturdays, of course.

stu stull

Stull was born and raised in the central Ohio city. He left briefly for Texas, but returned years ago and never looked back. A city employee, his mortgage on a small 3-bedroom house with a garden and screened-in patio eats up only 20% of his income.

“I can get downtown in half an hour and I am 10-plus miles away. Pro football, basketball, and baseball are within a two- or three-hour drive,” he said. The NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets are right in town. “Concerts, like the Rolling Stones last year, and other entertainment comes here often.”

The Columbus economy weathered the recession better than many Midwest towns, thanks to its status as home of The Ohio State University and state government. But Columbus has a thriving private sector, too. Plenty of financial firms are located there — inexpensive housing helps keep labor costs down — like JPMorgan Chase, PNC Financial and Nationwide Mutual Insurance. It’s also a haven for fashion, and home to firms that operate Victoria’s Secret, Abercrombie & Fitch, and other well-known brands.

The Columbus economy was recently projected to possibly overtake Cleveland by 2018, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

Stull, who is a graphic designer and a part-time musician, said Columbus is still a place with a strong middle class.

“My experience when traveling to other cities is that life is easier here,” he said. “Most people are not living like a Kardashian no matter where they are.”

Columbus also has both old-world charm and hip hangouts. The historic district, German Village, makes drivers slow down with cobblestone streets. They should slow down anyway to see the gingerbread-like homes built by German immigrants who settled the area. The neighborhood is also home to one of America’s best independent book stores, Book Loft. Meanwhile, the Short North, near the city center, is a busy strip full of high-end restaurants and local pubs; it has the feel of an outdoor festival during every football weekend.

Columbus has its critics, of course. The winters are gray, and some residents lament that it’s a bit boring compared to coastal cities like New York. But with a median home sales price of around $117,000, perhaps there’s enough money left over for frequent trips to the Big Apple.

Stull might be a bit biased, but he said the music scene is surprisingly robust.

“It is a place without the extremes of other places,” Stull says. “To quote native James Thurber, ‘Columbus is a town in which almost anything is likely to happen, and in which almost everything has.'”

Life in Columbus, Ohio, by the Numbers

  • Affordable Cities Ranking: 9th
  • Housing Poor Residents: 30.4%
  • Median Home Sales Price: $117,475
  • Median Household Income: $46,481

Remember, a good credit score can help make housing more affordable in any area since it generally entitles you to better rates on a mortgage. Landlords also often look at a version of your credit report when considering tenants. As such, it can be a good idea to check your credit before you apply for a new place of residence. You can do so by pulling your credit reports for free each month at AnnualCreditReport.com and viewing your credit scores for free each month on Credit.com.

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Main Image: aceshot; Inset Image Courtesy of Stu Stull

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