Credit Card Debt in the United States: Trends and Issues

  • Credit Card Debt

The average American consumer receives their first credit card aged 20. For many, it’s an exciting time, further proof they have ascended into adulthood and are ready for financial independence. 

The delinquency rate is high on these cards, but the credit is low, often between $1,500 and $2,000, and it gives the borrower a way to improve their credit score.

It also adds another cog to the massive US debt machine, one that creates more debt, more delinquencies, and more problems than any other. But why is this, why is the average credit card debt so high, and can anything be done about it?

State of American Credit Card Debt

The average US debtor has over $6,500 worth of credit card debt and in total the country owes more than $1 trillion. The average credit card APR is around 18%, and if we plug these two figures into a monthly repayment calculator and suppose that the debtor seeks to clear the balance in 5 years, then the average minimum monthly repayment is close to $120 and they’ll repay over $14,000 in total.

That’s not great, but it’s not that bad either, at least not at first glance. The problem is, it supposes that the debtor will stop using all credit card accounts, accumulate no more debt, and meet all monthly repayments. If not, their credit score will suffer, that 5-year term will almost certainly be prolonged, and there will be serious financial implications.  

How Much Credit Card Debt Does the Average American Have?

The average credit card debt is said to be $6,506. According to data published by the Federal Reserve, store cards, which tend to have the highest rates, account for $1,901 of this total, while the average per account is $1,760. This data also tells us that the average amount spent on a card with no balance is $1,154, which means even individuals who clear their cards every month are spending in excess of $1,000 on them.

55% of Americans with credit cards have balances they don’t clear every month and credit card delinquency is increasingly common, accounting for around 2% of total credit accounts. 

Which States Have the Highest Credit Card Debt?

You might expect the highest revolving credit card debt to be in New York or California, but it’s actually in Alaska. Connecticut follows closely behind. New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, and Hawaii are next.

It’s no coincidence that these 6 states are all ranked in the top ten for the highest household income. The cost of living is also higher than the national average. The honor of the lowest average credit card debt goes to Iowa, Wisconsin, and Mississippi, where the cost of living is around 10% less than the national average.

Which Age Groups Have the Highest Debt?

Every few years the Federal Reserve conducts a survey that looks at debt across the age groups. Generational differences seem to have been in the news a lot lately, with Millennials and Baby Boomers often occupying opposing sides. It’s true that these generations have experienced life very differently with regards to opportunities, income, and debt, but they’ll both be happy to know that they have much less debt than other generations.

In fact, the last survey conducted by the Federal Reserve found that those aged 65 to 74 ($66,000) have a similar debt to those under the age of 35 ($67,400). Adults above the age of 75 have close to half that amount Gen Xers have the highest, nearly twice as much as Millennials and Baby Boomers.

Of course, we don’t need the Federal Reserve to tell us that debt is much less likely in those aged 75 and up. They’re often retired, have paid off the mortgage and are also more likely to have been in receipt of life insurance policies and inheritances. It will come as a surprise to many, however, to know that Millennials, on average, have half the debt of the generation that came before.

US Compared to Rest of World

Americans love credit, there’s no denying that. It’s very easy to acquire large amounts of debt in this country, and it’s just as easy to find a balance transfer card, personal loan, or debt consolidation loan to help you tackle it. 

But why are things so different here when compared to the rest of the world? 

Why is this Problem Worse in the United States?

American debtors have it much worse than debtors in other countries. Debt is more common, it tends to be much higher, and it’s widespread across all demographics. 

It’s easy to understand some of the reasons behind this difference, but not all. As an example, take student loan debt, which accounts for a significant proportion of young adult debt. The average cost of education is just under $25,000 when accounting for all institutions (private schooling costs around $42,000 while public schooling is below $18,000). 

Scholarships are available and many American families save money throughout the child’s lifetime so they can cover these fees when needed. The vast majority, however, are forced to acquire student loans, which can hang over their heads for years. In many European countries, college is free, and while there are some universities that charge, the fees tend to be significantly less, and the student loan systems are also more forgiving.

It’s the same with healthcare, which is cheap or free elsewhere, but hugely expensive in the US. However, it’s a different story with credit cards, so why is America’s average credit card debt so much higher than it is in other countries?

Why Average Credit Card Debt is Higher

There are many reasons America’s average credit card debt is higher than it is elsewhere, but the main reason is actually quite simple: American credit cards are better.

And we don’t mean that in a patriotic, “U. S. A!” way. 

Take the UK as an example, as our cousins across the pond have a very similar financial system. They have balance transfer cards, reward cards, credit scores, credit reports—they even have many of the same credit card companies that we have.

But they don’t enjoy the same freedom that Americans have when it comes to choosing a credit card. Competition isn’t as high, and rewards average a mere 0.5% cashback. US credit cards, on the other hand, offer as much as 5% through introductory offers and 1% to 2% thereafter.

The average APR is also lower here in the US, clocking in at 24.7% in the UK and less than 18% in the US. What’s more, surveys in 2018 and 2019 suggest that Americans use cash for just 14% of purchases, while in the UK it’s closer to 40%, and we know that credit leads to more impulsive purchases.

Simply put, the US is more obsessed with credit and banks, card providers, and lenders are taking advantage of that. That’s why the average credit card debt is much higher. 

Household Income vs Debt

The median household income in the US is over $62,000, but if you include student loans, credit cards, and mortgages, the average debt is close to $140,000. Take mortgages out of the equation and it drops below $40,000, but only just. 

Discretionary income is over $1,700 a month on average, but once you consider interest repayments, unexpected bills, vacations, college funds, and additional living expenses, it doesn’t leave much to clear those household debts. 

The Biggest US Credit Card Companies

The average credit card user has three cards. For most, their first card and their main card is provided by the same company that they bank with. The additional cards are reward cards and store cards as well as ones acquired solely for a balance transfer.

If you’re an average credit card user, there’s a high chance you will have at least one account with one of the following companies:

Discover 

The first provider to offer a cashback scheme, Discover also has one of the best modern rewards cards. Known as the Discover It, this card rewards consumers with as much as 5% cashback.

Discover is mistakenly seen as a card that isn’t accepted in many retailer locations. However, while this may be true outside the United States, you shouldn’t have an issue using it domestically. A few years ago, a survey found that Visa and MasterCard were accepted in 9.5 million locations, while Discover was accepted in 9.3 million, just a fraction less.

American Express

American Express is one of the best providers of airmile programs and other rewards programs. It also has some of the most sought-after premium credit cards, which are offered to big spenders. 

AMEX is actually the card that is accepted the least of all major providers. The study mentioned above found just 6.9 million retailers had embraced AMEX. However, it is accepted in more international locations than Discover.

Although figures are constantly changing, the most recent estimates suggest that there are around 1 million more American Express cards than there are Discover cards in the United States.

Chase

The Chase Freedom card is the most popular credit card in the United States, offering consumers a reasonable APR as well as several perks. Chase also offers the Slate card and provides cards on behalf of several major airlines, including British Airways.

In most cases, these cards are offered only to consumers with above-average credit scores, but they are not necessarily considered premium or elite user cards.

Mastercard

Mastercard is not the most popular credit card in the United States. In fact, there are around 191 million users of this card and over 320 million users of the card in first place. However, it is a long way clear of the other providers on this list. If you combine all users of Chase, American Express, and Discover cards then the number you arrive at is only just higher than the number of Mastercard users.

These cards are accepted in locations across the United States and all over the world. It’s the second biggest in the US, but it’s also the second biggest pretty much everywhere else.

Visa

It’s probably no surprise to see that Visa is number 1, as this is the biggest provider not just in the United States, but all over the world. There are more Visa credit cards and debit cards in existence than any other type; it is accepted in more locations, and it’s a brand name that is as instantly recognizable as Coca Cola and Sony.

Pros and Cons of American Credit Cards

Pros

  • Multiple types of cards
  • Huge rewards
  • Many companies to choose from
  • Accepted in most outlets nationwide
  • Competitive rates
  • Options for no credit and poor credit

Cons

  • Can be too convenient
  • High-interest rates
  • Few options and high fees for consumers with bad credit

If you have a good debt-to-income ratio, a solid payment history, and you can meet your minimum payment obligations without issue, the US is a great place to acquire credit. Reward cards give you an incentive to spend, balance transfer cards allow you to move your debt around, and you get the feeling that every bank and lender wants your business and will trip over themselves to get it.

If you have none of those things, like so many millions of Americans, then it becomes a nightmare. There are debt counseling, debt settlement, and debt management services to help, but if you can’t meet your monthly payments, and you find yourself prioritizing debt repayments over food, clothing, and family days out, it can become depressing very quickly.

What Does the Future Hold?

Now we’ve looked at the current state of credit card debt in the US and have established that things look pretty bleak, that begs one question: How does the US government plan on approaching this issue?

The truth is, they’ll probably do very little. The only way to prevent those figures from rising is for American consumers to stop spending so much, but that hurts the economy. If you change the mentality of the average American consumer, focusing more on frugality and less on consumerism, the GDP takes a nosedive, the country’s biggest companies suffer, and America’s position on the world stage is notably weakened.

The world is moving away from cash and towards a completely digital payment structure. Cash will soon become a thing of the past and everything, from bills to bus fares and grocery shopping, will be purchased with credit, whether you’re using a credit card, a smartphone app, or some other new-fangled device. Once this happens, the issues facing credit card users become more pronounced and the country’s $14 trillion worth of consumer debt grows ever larger.

In simple terms, the situation will likely get worse for debtors and better for lenders, but if we continue down this road then maybe we’ll start seeing fewer punishments for credit card delinquencies and more options for struggling debtors.

There are over 100 million Americans crossing their fingers and hoping for just that.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

Factors Driving The Housing Market Moving into 2021

According to a study done by Eyul Tekin, “after adjusting for inflation over time the future of the American Dream seems rather gloomy. Median home prices increased 121% nationwide since 1960, but median household income only increased 29%.” This is rather disturbing.

Thankfully, we have companies like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac who have mandates to keep housing affordable for Americans.

In response to this disparity between the rise in wages versus home prices, Doug Duncan, Senior Vice President and Chief Economist at Fannie Mae said “the rise of women in the workforce has changed the dynamics of house prices to reflect an expectation of two incomes. If you look at median house price in a market relative to median income of a two- person household, it’s at long term normal levels. If you have only one income, that is where the affordability problem is.”

So, it’s not so gloomy, it is societal trends running their course.

The accelerated increase in house pricing is being driven by several factors:

  • The cost of the big three components – land, labor and lumber – have all increased. Lumber cost is at an all-time high. With lower levels of immigration, labor costs have increased and, with strict zoning regulations, especially in urban settings, land has been limited and the price driven up.
  • Low interest rates, which are expected to remain at existing levels though this year, have made borrowing more affordable. That same monthly payment can now buy more house, driving up buyers’ bids.
  • The supply/demand imbalance, which is perhaps the biggest factor. On January 22nd, the National Association of Realtors announced that unsold housing inventory sits at an all-time low of 1.9 months based on the current sales rate. That’s down from 3 months a year ago. Demand, driven by low interest rates and societal shifts due to Covid-19, has outpaced supply.

Why the shortage of houses for sale?

Many people, especially older people driven by COVID-19 concerns, who own homes don’t think now is a good time to sell. In December, the Fannie Mae  Home Purchase Sentiment Index® (HPSI) declined for the second consecutive month and fell to its lowest level since May 2020 as consumers adjusted to the worsening COVID-19 conditions of the first few weeks of December.

“Both the ‘Good Time to Sell’ and ‘Good Time to Buy’ components fell significantly, with respondents overwhelmingly noting the unfavourability of economic conditions,” Duncan said. “In particular, the sell-side component fell for the first time since April and by 18 points, reversing most of the increases of the past three months and implying to us that, at least temporarily, potential home sellers might wait to list their homes. If so, this could have the effect of perpetuating already-tight inventory levels and supporting additional (albeit lesser) home price growth, which could contribute to a further moderating of home sales.”  When supply falls more sharply than demand, prices increase.

Supply is Expected to Increase Going Forward

The U.S. Commerce Department announced that housing starts jumped 21.4% on a year-over-year basis and building permits soared 9.2%, the highest level in 13 years. “The good news about the house rise is that markets are performing the way you would expect. When prices go up and profits go up that is a signal for others to enter production and increase supply, and that’s certainly happening,” Duncan said. However, it might take a while for the supply to catch up with demand. Experts say that homebuilders and construction companies will have to continue these increased efforts though 2022 to meet demand levels.

It’s Not Just About Building More Houses

More people may be putting their houses on the market as well. As the HPSI indicates, there is pent up demand on the sell side.

Also, the MBA estimates that 5.54% of mortgage loans are in forbearance. When forbearance ends, some homeowners will be faced with a tough choice, either sell or get foreclosed upon. Unless they bought very recently, chances are they have built up enough equity to make selling the best option. This too will add to inventory levels.

The impact of the end of forbearance on the housing market is a matter of debate, but Fannie Mae sees the impact as one reason it is forecasting housing appreciation in 2021 to be 4.5% rather than the 10% of 2020. (Note: the historical norm for annual price increase is 3.75%)

Millennials were already starting to move from urban to suburban areas. During the financial crisis Millennials were looking for jobs and the places they were available was in the urban centers. This meant many lived in apartments. Now that they have children that are reaching school age they are moving out to areas with more land, more sports, good schools and other amenities.

They are moving from urban areas to the suburbs. When COVID-19 hit, the plans these people had for the next three years accelerated. The recent housing starts data support this, showing single family housing starts rose 12% while multi-family fell 13.6%.

How sustainable this movement is remains to be seen. If this is just an acceleration of buying that would have happened anyway, it implies that the supply/demand balance would move toward more supply, less demand a few years out.

There are a lot of factors at play when it comes accessing the cost of housing. It seems that the house prices will continue to rise in the short term and have the potential to grow at a slower pace, or even decline slightly, a few years out. With that said, if you have to borrow to buy a house, now is a good time to buy. You might just have to be more patient or more aggressive than you would have been otherwise given the competition.

Source: themortgageleader.com

10 Cities Where Black Americans Fare Best Economically

Where Black Americans Fare Best Economically – 2021 Study – SmartAsset

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Nationwide, when it comes to wealth and personal finance success, Black Americans generally have less. Census data from 2019 shows that the median Black household income is 33% lower than the overall median household income and the Black homeownership rate is 22 percentage points lower than the general homeownership rate. Data on wealth accumulation depicts even starker disparities: Black families’ net worth is 87% lower than that of white families and 33% lower than that of Hispanic families, according to the Federal Reserve’s 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances.

Though the national picture is less than encouraging, economic outcomes for Black Americans are better in some places than others. In this study, we determined the cities where Black Americans fared best economically leading up to 2020. We compared 129 cities across six metrics: median Black household income, Black homeownership rate, Black labor force participation rate, poverty rate for Black residents, percentage of Black adults with a bachelor’s degree and percentage of business owners who are Black. For details on our data sources and how we put all the information together to create our final rankings, check out the Data and Methodology section below.

Key Findings

  • Six of the top 10 cities are located in Texas, Florida and North Carolina. These cities are Grand Prairie and Garland, Texas; Pembroke Pines and Miramar, Florida; and Charlotte and Durham, North Carolina. In both of the Texas and Florida cities, the median Black household income is higher than $61,000 and the Black homeownership rate is 46% or higher – compared to study-wide averages of about $43,000 and 35%, respectively. Meanwhile, Charlotte and Durham rank particularly well for our education and metro area business ownership metrics. In both North Carolina locales, more than 30% of Black adults have their bachelor’s degree and at least 3% of businesses are Black-owned – compared to study-wide averages of about 23% and 2%, respectively.
  • Preliminary 2020 estimates show that Black Americans have been disproportionately affected by not only the health impacts of COVID-19, but also its corresponding economic effects. The regional economic effects of COVID-19 on Black Americans are difficult to determine due to insufficient localized data, but the available national data paints a grim picture: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data shows that as of December 2020, the Black unemployment rate was 3.9
    and 3.2 percentage points higher than the white and overall unemployment rates, respectively. Additionally, the Black labor force participation rate was about 2.0 percentage points lower than both white and overall participation rates.

1. Virginia Beach (tie)

Virginia Beach, Virginia ranks in the top 10 cities for four of the six metrics we considered. It has the seventh-highest median Black household income, at roughly $65,600, and the sixth-highest 2019 Black labor force participation rate, at 78.7%. Additionally, Census Bureau data shows that the 2019 poverty rate for Black residents in Virginia Beach is 10%, fourth-lowest in our study. In the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News metro area, more than 5% of businesses are Black-owned, the seventh-highest percentage for this metric overall.

1. Grand Prairie, TX (tie)

Grand Prairie, Texas ties with Virginia Beach, Virginia as the city where Black Americans fare best economically. It has the fourth-highest Black labor force participation rate (at 79.9%) and the lowest Black poverty rate (at less than 5%) of all 129 cities in our study. Additionally, more than a third of Black residents in Grand Prairie have their bachelor’s degree and the median Black household income is more than $63,000. The city ranks sixth and 10th out of 129 for those two metrics, respectively.

3. Aurora, IL (tie)

Aurora, Illinois ranks in the top third of all 129 cities for five of the six metrics we considered, falling behind only for its metro area’s relatively low concentration of Black-owned businesses. It has the fourth-highest Black homeownership rate (about 52%), sixth-highest median Black household income (about $65,900) and 10th-lowest Black poverty rate (11.9%). Aurora’s Black labor force participation rate is 73.5%, ranking 15th overall for this metric. Moreover, more than 29% of Black residents in the city have their bachelor’s degree, ranking 26th overall.

3. Pembroke Pines, FL (tie)

Just north of Miami, Florida’s Pembroke Pines ties for the No. 3 spot. Across all 129 cities, it has the second-highest Black homeownership rate – 60.20% – and the sixth-lowest 2019 Black poverty rate – 10.6%. Additionally, incomes for Black households are relatively high. In 2019, the median Black household income was about $61,500, the 11th-highest in our study.

5. Miramar, FL

The Black homeownership rate in Miramar, Florida is the highest in our study, at 68.07%. This is about 26 percentage points higher than the 2019 national Black homeownership rate, which is approximately 42%. Miramar additionally ranks in the top 15 cities for three other metrics: its high median Black household income (about $66,300), its high Black labor force participation rate (74.1%) and its relatively low Black poverty rate (7.9%).

6. Charlotte, NC

Though the median Black household income in Charlotte, North Carolina – at a little more than $46,300 – is relatively low, Charlotte ranks in the top third of cities for the other five metrics we considered. It has the 28th-highest Black homeownership rate (41.45%), the 18th-highest Black labor force participation rate (73.0%) and the 14th-lowest poverty rate for Black residents (13.6%). Additionally, more than 30% of Black adults have their bachelor’s degree and almost 4% of businesses in the larger Charlotte metro area are Black-owned – both of which rank within the top 25 out of all 129 cities in the study.

7. Garland, TX

The Black homeownership rate in Garland, Texas is the fifth-highest in our study, at 50.98%. This city has the 11th-highest Black labor force participation rate, at 75.8%. It also ranks in the top 15 for its median Black household income ($60,030) and the percentage of Black adults with a bachelor’s degree (32.5%). Garland falls the most behind when it comes to the poverty rate for Black residents, which was 23.7% in 2019. That’s 1.2% higher than the national average for Black Americans and the worst of any city in our top 10.

8. Durham, NC

Only about two hours northeast of Charlotte, Durham, North Carolina takes the eighth spot on our list. The city ranks particularly well for its percentage of Black adults with a bachelor’s degree (35.2%) and percentage of Black-owned businesses in the larger Durham-Chapel Hill metro area (4.7%). Additionally, the Black labor force participation rate is the 30th-highest across all 129 cities in the study, at 69.4%. The poverty rate for Black residents is 35th-lowest overall, at 18.9%.

9. Enterprise, NV

Enterprise, Nevada had the fifth-highest 2019 Black labor force participation rate (79.0%), the 16th-highest 2019 median Black household income (about $58,500) and 23rd-best 2019 Black homeownership rate (roughly 43%) of all 129 cities in our study. Enterprise falls behind, however, when it comes to the number of Black-owned businesses in the larger Las Vegas metro area, at less than 2%. The city ranks 67th out of 129 for this metric.

10. Elk Grove, CA

The median household income for Black residents in Elk Grove, California is a little more than $76,300, the second-highest in our study (ranking behind only Rancho Cucamonga, California, where the median household income is almost $92,000). Elk Grove also ranks in the top 10 cities for its relatively high Black homeownership rate (52.51%) and the relatively high percentage of Black adults with a bachelor’s degree (35.1%). But like in Enterprise, Nevada, few businesses in the Elk Grove area are Black-owned. Annual Business Survey data from 2018 shows that less than 2% of employer firms in the greater Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade metro area are Black-owned.

Data and Methodology

To find the cities where Black Americans fare best economically, SmartAsset looked at the 200 largest cities in the U.S. Only 129 of those cities had complete data available, and we compared them across six metrics:

  • Median Black household income. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
  • Black homeownership rate. This is the number of Black owner-occupied housing units divided by the number of Black occupied housing units. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
  • Black labor force participation rate. This is for the Black population 16 years and older. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
  • Poverty rate for Black residents. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
  • Percentage of Black adults with a bachelor’s degree. This is for the Black population 25 years and older. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
  • Percentage of business owners who are Black. This is the number of Black-owned businesses with paid employees divided by the number of businesses with paid employees. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2018 Annual Business Survey and is at the metro area level.

To determine our final list, we ranked each city in every metric, giving a full weighting to all metrics. We then found each city’s average ranking and used the average to determine a final score. The city with the highest average ranking received a score of 100. The city with the lowest average ranking received a score of 0.

Editors’ Note: SmartAsset published this study in celebration and recognition of Black History Month. Protests for racial justice and the outsized impact of COVID-19 on people of color have highlighted the social and economic injustice that many Americans continue to face. We are aiming to raise awareness surrounding economic inequities and provide personal finance resources and information to all individuals.

Financial Tips for Black Americans

  • See if homeownership makes sense. The Black homeownership rate is 22 percentage points lower than the general homeownership rate. Deciding whether or not to buy is often difficult. SmartAsset’s rent or buy calculator can help you compare the costs to see which one makes sense for your financial situation. Additionally, if you want to figure out how much you can afford to buy a house, our home-buying calculator will help you break down the target price for your income.
  • Some kind of retirement account is better than none. The Federal Reserve says that Black Americans are less likely to have a retirement account than white Americans. According to their 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances, 65% of white middle-aged families have at least one retirement account, while only 44% of Black families in the same age group have one. Even though 401(k)s are a popular retirement plan because employers could match a percentage of your contributions, an IRA could also be another great opportunity to boost your savings. In 2021, the IRA contribution limit is $6,000 for people under 50 and $7,000 for people age 50 and older.
  • Consider a financial advisor. A financial advisor can help you make smarter financial decisions to be in better control of your money. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors, get started now.

Questions about our study? Contact us at press@smartasset.com.

Photo credits: ©iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages, ©iStock.com/LeoPatrizi

Stephanie Horan, CEPF® Stephanie Horan is a data journalist at SmartAsset. A Certified Educator of Personal Finance (CEPF®), she sources and analyzes data to write studies relating to a variety of topics including mortgage, retirement and budgeting. Before coming to SmartAsset, she worked as an analyst at an asset management firm. Stephanie graduated from Williams College with a degree in Mathematics. Originally from Philadelphia, she has always been a Yankees fan and currently lives in New York.
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Years of Work Needed to Afford a Down Payment – 2021 Edition

Years of Work Needed to Afford a Down Payment – 2021 Edition – SmartAsset

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Assembling enough money for a down payment is typically the largest hurdle to clear when securing a mortgage. The median home price in the U.S. is up 14% year-over-year, according to a November 2020 Redfin report, and as the housing market gets more expensive, so too will the deposit that you have to front for a home. Working with professional financial advisors can help you strategize so that your money’s doing the most for you, but in some places compared to others, scraping together that bundle of cash can be particularly daunting. Keeping all this in mind, SmartAsset investigated where it takes longest to save for a down payment.

To do this, we examined data on the 50 largest U.S. cities, using median home values, median income figures and assuming that workers would save 20% of their income each year. We calculated the years needed to save for both the recommended 20% down payment as well a 12% down payment (the median down payment among all homebuyers in 2019, according to the National Association of Realtors). For details on our data sources and how we put all the information together to create our final rankings, check out the Data and Methodology section below.

This is SmartAsset’s fifth look at how many years of work it takes to afford a down payment. You can read the 2020 edition here.

Key Findings

  • Oakland takes over in the Bay. In the last three editions of this study, San Francisco homeowners have always needed to work longer than Oakland homeowners to afford a down payment. This year, however, Oakland has surpassed San Francisco and moved to the No. 2 spot, bumping the Golden Gate City to No. 3. San Francisco real estate is still pricier – with a median home value of more than $1.2 million – but the differences in average income make Oakland second only to Los Angeles on our list.
  • It still takes less time in Midwestern and Southern cities to assemble funds for a down payment. Residents in the East Coast and West Coast cities that comprise our top 10 will need more than three times longer to save up for a down payment than residents in the Midwestern and Southern cities that comprise the bottom 10. To save up for a 20% down payment, those in the top 10 will need to work an average of 8.90 years, compared to only 2.83 years in the bottom 10. For a 12% down payment, it will take 5.34 years for residents in the top 10 cities to reach their home buying goals, while it will take 1.70 years for residents in the bottom 10 to do so.

1. Los Angeles, CA

It will take residents in Los Angeles, California the longest to save for a down payment. The median home value is $697,200, which means that they will need to save $139,440 for a 20% down payment. If a person earns the median household income of $67,418 and saves 20% of that each year, then he or she will need to work 10.34 years to have enough money to afford a down payment.

2. Oakland, CA

In Oakland, California where the median home costs $807,600, a 20% down payment equals $161,520. The median household income here is $82,018, so a person saving 20% annually will need to work for 9.85 years to afford a down payment. For comparison, saving up a 12% down payment of $96,912 will require 5.91 years, but this means having to pay significantly higher mortgage payments.

3. San Francisco, CA

The median home value in San Francisco, California is $1,217,500 – the only city in our study with a seven-figure price tag. A 20% down payment on that median value would cost $243,500. With a median household income of $123,859, the average person saving 20% annually could afford a down payment in 9.83 years.

4. New York, NY

In the Big Apple, homeowners will need 9.81 years to make a 20% down payment on a home. The median home value is $680,800, which means a 20% down payment is $136,160. And for a comparison, a New Yorker saving 20% annually at a median household income of $69,407 will need 5.89 years to save for a 12% down payment of $81,696.

5. Long Beach, CA

Long Beach, California has a median home value of $614,400. To buy the median house with a 20% down payment, the average resident will need $122,880. If you earn the median income of $67,804 and save 20% of your income each year, then you will be able to afford a down payment in 9.06 years.

6. San Jose, CA

San Jose, California is in the heart of Silicon Valley, and as you might expect, the median home value is fairly high – at $999,990. A 20% payment on that home value is $199,980. The median household income in the city is $115,893, so if a resident saves 20% of his or her income each year, then the person could afford a down payment in 8.63 years.

7. Miami, FL

Miami, Florida is the only Southeastern city in the top 10 of our study. The median home value is $358,500, which means that a 20% down payment costs $71,700. The median income in Miami, however, is $42,966. So a resident saving 20% of that median household income ($8,593) each year could afford a 20% down payment in 8.34 years.

8. Boston, MA

It takes someone saving 20% of the median household income in Boston, Massachusetts 7.93 years of work to afford a 20% down payment on a home. The median home value is $627,000, with a 20% down payment coming to $125,400. The median household income in Boston is $79,018.

9. San Diego, CA

The median home value in San Diego, California is $658,400, which means that a 20% down payment is $131,680. Someone earning the median household income of $85,507 will need 7.70 years to afford that down payment. For comparison, a 12% down payment of $79,008 takes 4.62 years to save up for, with the caveat that paying a smaller down payment now means larger mortgage payments later.

10. Seattle, WA

Seattle, Washington rounds out the top 10 on our list, with a median home value of $767,000. This means that a 20% down payment is $153,400. So if you earn the median household income of $102,486, then it will take you 7.48 years – saving 20% of your income each year – to afford that payment.

Data and Methodology

To rank the cities where the average household would need to save the longest to afford a down payment, we analyzed data on the 50 largest U.S. cities. We specifically considered two pieces of data:

  • 2019 median home value.
  • 2019 median household income.

Data for both factors comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.

We started by determining the annual savings for households by assuming they would save 20% of the median annual pre-tax income. Next, we determined how much a 20% down payment as well as a 12% down payment for the median home in each city would cost. Then, we divided each of the estimated down payments in each city by the estimated annual savings. The result was the estimated number of years of saving needed to afford each down payment, assuming zero savings to begin with. Finally, we created our final ranking by ordering the cities from the greatest number of years needed to the least number of years needed for each.

Tips for Hassle-Free Home Buying

  • Consider investing in expert advice. If you’re thinking of buying a home or starting to save, consider working with a financial advisor before you take the plunge. Finding the right financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors, get started now.
  • Prevent potential mortgage mishaps. The payments don’t stop after you’ve put money down; you’ll also need to make mortgage payments. Figure out what those might be before you move forward by using SmartAsset’s mortgage calculator.
  • It pays to read the fine print. When thinking about your home buying transaction, don’t forget closing costs. These may seem small compared to the down payment, but every dollar counts.

Questions about our study? Contact press@smartasset.com. 

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/valentinrussanov

Ben Geier, CEPF® Ben Geier is an experienced financial writer currently serving as a retirement and investing expert at SmartAsset. His work has appeared on Fortune, Mic.com and CNNMoney. Ben is a graduate of Northwestern University and a part-time student at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing and a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®). When he isn’t helping people understand their finances, Ben likes watching hockey, listening to music and experimenting in the kitchen. Originally from Alexandria, VA, he now lives in Brooklyn with his wife.
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The 10 Most Affordable Cities for an Early Retirement

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many Americans into an early retirement: In fact, the majority of the seven-percentage-point drop in the labor participation this past spring can be attributed to unemployed people who have prematurely decided to exit the workforce for good, according to a paper from the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics at the University of Chicago. And though less than 1% of workers in the U.S. ordinarily retire before 50, according to data from the LIMRA Secure Retirement Institute, the rise of the “Financial Independence Retire Early” (FIRE) movement has Americans searching for ways to leave the labor force in advance of what may be the typical age range. That’s contingent upon such factors as lowering your tax burden and living expenses while also enjoying low housing costs as a percentage of income while working to have the wherewithal to grow your nest egg. With all that in mind, SmartAsset crunched the numbers to uncover the most affordable cities for an early retirement.

To do so, we analyzed 100 of the largest U.S. cities across the following metrics: effective income tax, health insurance costs, cost of living, housing costs as a percentage of income, various other taxes, crime rates, medical facilities and unemployment rate. For details on our data sources and how we put the information together to create our final rankings, check out the Data and Methodology section below.

Key Findings

  • Arizona shines. There are four cities in the Grand Canyon State in the top 10 of this list, including the top three: Gilbert, Chandler and Scottsdale. Safety plays a big part of this ranking, as the top three Arizona locales all finish in the top quartile for low property and violent crime rates. Mesa, at No. 10, and the other three Arizona cities benefit from their relatively affordable housing costs and health insurance expenses as well as the state’s low income tax rates.
  • Home is where the retirement savings are. Of the cities near the top of our list, all but one finish in the top quartile for affordable housing costs relative to income. The only exception, Colorado Springs, Colorado is close behind at 28th. In fact, five cities at the top of the study also finish in the top 10 for this metric: Gilbert, Arizona (first); Fort Wayne, Indiana (third); Chandler, Arizona (seventh); Plano, Texas (eighth) and Boise, Idaho (ninth).

1. Gilbert, AZ

Gilbert, Arizona finishes first in three separate metrics included in this study:

  • Low housing costs as a percentage of income (18.75%).
  • Low violent crime rate (just 97 incidents per 100,000 residents).
  • Low property crime rate (just 1,203 per 100,000 residents).

Gilbert also finishes strong for its September 2020 unemployment rate of 6.3%, ranking 20th overall for this metric.

2. Chandler, AZ

Housing costs represent 19.87% of income in Chandler, Arizona, the seventh-lowest percentage for this metric in the study. The average effective property tax rate is 0.55%, the 10th-lowest overall. In addition, the violent crime rate in Chandler is low, with just 228 incidents per 100,000 residents, the eighth-lowest rate for this metric across all 100 cities we analyzed.

3. Scottsdale, AZ

Scottsdale, Arizona has an average effective property tax rate of 0.51%, the sixth-lowest of the 100 cities in this study. It also finishes 13th for housing costs as a percentage of income, at just 20.54%. Scottsdale has a slightly higher sales tax than the other two Arizona cities in the top three, finishing in the center of the study for this metric, at 8.05%. This indicates that making everyday purchases may prove a bit pricier, even if you’re saving on housing.

4. Boise, ID

Boise, Idaho has a sales tax rate of 6.00%, tied for the seventh-lowest rate for this metric in the study. Though Boise ranks in the bottom 10 for its fairly high income tax – with an estimated burden of 21.04% for a retiree with a $50,000 income – the city finishes fifth for its low property crime rate (just 1,579 incidents per 100,000 residents) and 12th its low unemployment, at 5.9% in September 2020.

5. Lexington, KY

Lexington, Kentucky has a fairly high income tax. The effective rate for a retiree with $50,000 in income is 23.86%, ranking third-highest for this metric in the study. It fares better in some of our other metrics, though, including tying for seventh for sales tax, at 6.00%. Lexington also has housing costs that represent 20.38% of income, the 11th-lowest rate across all 100 cities we studied.

6. Plano, TX

Plano, a suburb of Dallas, is tied for the study’s lowest effective tax rate for a retiree with an income of $50,000, at just 16.33%. It also has affordable housing. It ranks eighth for housing costs as a percentage of income, at 20.02%. In addition, Plano is a relatively safe city, finishing in the top 10 for both violent crime incidents (148) and property crime incidents (1,683) per 100,000 residents. That said, Plano doesn’t fare as well in terms of property tax, where the average effective rate is 1.71%, a bottom-quartile ranking for this metric. 

7. Colorado Springs, CO

Colorado Springs has the second-lowest average effective property tax rate in this study, at 0.43%. Colorado Springs’ unemployment rate for September 2020 was 5.9%, tied for the 12th-lowest rate in the study. The city has a sales tax of 8.25%, putting it near the middle of the pack for this study (tied for 51st). It also ranks within the top 30 of the study for relatively low housing costs as a percentage of income and average annual cost of a silver health insurance plan for a 60-year-old in the city.

8. Henderson, NV

Henderson, Nevada is tied for the lowest effective income tax rate for a retiree with income of $50,000, at 16.33%. The city is also affordable when it comes to housing. Housing costs represent 20.36% of income, the 10th-lowest rate in the study, and the average effective property tax rate is 0.57%, the 15th-lowest rate in the study. 

9. Fort Wayne, IN

Fort Wayne, Indiana’s cost of living comes to $18,904, the third-lowest amount in our study. That number will cover a single person’s basic needs. Housing is also relatively affordable in Fort Wayne, as housing costs there on average make up just 18.92% of income, also a third-place ranking in our study. That said, the taxes in Fort Wayne are fairly high. The effective rate for a retiree making $50,000 is 20.82%, in the bottom quartile of our study.

10. Mesa, AZ

Mesa, Arizona has an average effective property tax rate of 0.52%, the seventh-lowest rate for this metric in the study. The city also finishes in the top quartile for both of its relatively low crime rankings – it places 13th for property crime incidents (1,869 per 100,000 residents) and 23rd for violent crime incidents (377 per 100,000 residents). The downside is that sales tax in the city is fairly high at 8.30%, ranking in the bottom third of the study for this metric. 

Data and Methodology 

To rank the most affordable cities for an early retirement, we looked at data for 100 cities. Specifically, we compared them over the following 10 metrics.

  • Effective income tax rate. This is the estimated income tax rate for a retiree with 50,000 in annual income. That income is split between $15,000 from Social Security, $10,000 from a private pension, $15,000 from retirement savings like a 401(k) or an IRA and $10,000 in wages.
  • Average annual cost of a silver health insurance plan. To find this number, we used the Kaiser Family Foundation health insurance calculator. We estimated the cost of a silver plan for a 60-year-old in each city, not including any subsidies.
  • Cost of living. This is the cost of living for one person. Data comes from the MIT living wage study.
  • Median housing costs as a percentage of median household income. This is median housing costs divided by median household income. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
  • Average effective property tax rate. This is annual property taxes divided by median home value. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
  • Sales tax. This is the combined state and local sales tax rate.
  • Property and violent crime rates. This is the number of violent property crimes and violent crime rates per 100,000 residents. Data comes from the FBI UCR report and is for 2019.
  • Medical facilities per 1,000 residents. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns Survey and is for 2018.
  • Unemployment rate. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is for September 2020.

In order to create our final ranking, we first ranked each city in each metric. We then found each city’s average ranking, giving a half weight to both crime metrics and a full weight to every other metric. Using this average ranking, we created our final score. The city with the best average ranking received a 100 and the city with the worst average score received a 0.

Tips for Retirement

  • Saving is key for funding your retirement, and a financial advisor can help you get there. Finding the right financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • Take advantage of workplace savings when you can. One of the best ways to save for retirement is with a workplace savings program like a 401(k), so if your firm offers one make sure you take advantage, including getting any employer match.

Questions about our study? Contact press@smartasset.com.

Find Top Financial Advisors by City

Learn more about financial advisors in your area below through our detailed advisor profiles organized by location. That’s just one of the ways that we make it easier to find and research financial advisors. You can also find nearby financial advisors through our matching tool, which does the work for you by pairing you with advisors based on your situation and preferences.

Find Top Financial Advisor Firms by City

Learn more about financial advisor firms in your area below through our detailed advisor profiles organized by location. That’s just one of the ways that we make it easier to find and research financial advisor firms. You can also find nearby financial advisors through our matching tool, which does the work for you by pairing you with advisors based on your situation and preferences.

Source: smartadvisormatch.com

The 15 Hottest Real Estate Markets of 2020

Despite the current COVID-19 recession and the initial drop in home sales, the national housing market expanded significantly in 2020. According to a report by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, record low home inventories in tandem with historically low mortgage interest rates will most likely ensure home prices continue to rise.

Data from Zillow shows that the national average monthly home value index for 2020 was 4.7 percent higher than in 2019. Yet some housing markets have significantly exceeded this growth. A comprehensive look at state-level data and data from the nation’s 95 largest real estate markets reveals that home prices in the Western U.S. are projected to increase more than in any other region over the next 12 months.

Chart1 Despite COVID 19 home prices have risen to record highs in 2020

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Younger adults, including millennials, drove much of the increase in home sales during 2020, with millennials making up the largest share of home buyers at 38 percent. Higher earners—often less affected by detrimental COVID-19 economic and financial repercussions—also accounted for higher home sales in 2020.

According to statistics from the National Association of Realtors, the median household income of first-time buyers in 2020 was $80,000; the median household income of repeat buyers was $106,700. By comparison, the median household income in 2019 was $68,703. These higher earners also typically work in industries that allow for remote work, which, in conjunction with historically low mortgage rates, incentivizes larger home purchases outside of urban centers.

In addition to strong financial drivers, experts attribute several other factors to the uptick in home buying since the May 2020 trough: delayed purchasing of homes due to the pandemic, an increased need for larger spaces to accommodate parents working from home and children attending school virtually, a departure from multi-family buildings to single-family homes to mitigate exposure to the virus, and an increased ability to attend virtual home tours and close on a purchase virtually.

To find the hottest real estate markets of 2020, researchers at Construction Coverage analyzed data from Zillow on the largest 95 real estate markets in the U.S. They created a composite score of each city based on the following metrics:

  • Previous 1-year change in home price (the percentage by which median home price increased or decreased over the last 12 months)
  • Median price cut (the median percentage by which the final selling price was reduced from the original listing price)
  • Median days on the market (from listing to pending)
  • Projected 1-year change in home price (the percentage by which median home price is expected to increase or decrease over the next 12 months)

At the state level, certain Western states like Idaho, Arizona, Washington, and Utah experienced some of the largest changes in price since 2019, and are also forecasted to see the biggest increases in the coming 12 months. On the contrary, Alaska and parts of the Great Plains region saw limited price growth in 2020, and prices are expected to trail the national average in the months ahead.

Chart2 Home prices in the Western US are projected to increase most in 2021

At the city level, Western locations are also disproportionately represented among the nation’s hottest real estate markets. In these areas, prices are growing quickly, homes are moving off the market fast, and buyers are typically paying very close to asking prices. Here are the 15 hottest real estate markets of 2020.

The Top 15 Hottest Real Estate Markets of 2020

15 Tennessee Memphis KXW7P6

15 Tennessee Memphis KXW7P6
Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

15. Memphis, TN

  • Composite score: 70.75
  • Median home price 2020: $161,066
  • Previous 1-year change in home price: 7.7%
  • Median price cut: 2.3%
  • Median days on the market: 10
  • Projected 1-year change in home price: 5.9%

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14 Texas Austin DJN886

14 Texas Austin DJN886
Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

14. Austin, TX

  • Composite score: 71.25
  • Median home price 2020: $348,838
  • Previous 1-year change in home price: 5.4%
  • Median price cut: 1.8%
  • Median days on the market: 11
  • Projected 1-year change in home price: 6.1%

13 Ohio Columbus KH4JT5

13 Ohio Columbus KH4JT5
Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

13. Columbus, OH

  • Composite score: 74.00
  • Median home price 2020: $218,158
  • Previous 1-year change in home price: 6.6%
  • Median price cut: 2.2%
  • Median days on the market: 7
  • Projected 1-year change in home price: 6.2%

12 California San Diego E18BY4

12 California San Diego E18BY4
Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

12. San Diego, CA

  • Composite score: 74.50
  • Median home price 2020: $620,635
  • Previous 1-year change in home price: 5.8%
  • Median price cut: 2.1%
  • Median days on the market: 15
  • Projected 1-year change in home price: 8.2%

11 North Carolina Charlotte FC0BCK

11 North Carolina Charlotte FC0BCK
Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

11. Charlotte, NC

  • Composite score: 74.75
  • Median home price 2020: $249,275
  • Previous 1-year change in home price: 7.0%
  • Median price cut: 1.9%
  • Median days on the market: 11
  • Projected 1-year change in home price: 6.0%

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10 Florida Tampa EE4CHC

10 Florida Tampa EE4CHC
Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

10. Tampa, FL

  • Composite score: 75.75
  • Median home price 2020: $230,627
  • Previous 1-year change in home price: 6.1%
  • Median price cut: 2.0%
  • Median days on the market: 17
  • Projected 1-year change in home price: 8.1%

09 Washington Seattle TRMHDY

09 Washington Seattle TRMHDY
Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

9. Seattle, WA

  • Composite score: 77.50
  • Median home price 2020: $536,718
  • Previous 1-year change in home price: 7.5%
  • Median price cut: 2.6%
  • Median days on the market: 7
  • Projected 1-year change in home price: 7.7%

08 California Sacramento JANT9C

08 California Sacramento JANT9C
Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

8. Sacramento, CA

  • Composite score: 79.00
  • Median home price 2020: $438,115
  • Previous 1-year change in home price: 5.5%
  • Median price cut: 2.1%
  • Median days on the market: 11
  • Projected 1-year change in home price: 8.8%

07 New Mexico Albuquerque W320RC

07 New Mexico Albuquerque W320RC
Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

7. Albuquerque, NM

  • Composite score: 79.50
  • Median home price 2020: $219,355
  • Previous 1-year change in home price: 8.0%
  • Median price cut: 2.1%
  • Median days on the market: 10
  • Projected 1-year change in home price: 6.4%

06 Utah Provo 2BWAETY

06 Utah Provo 2BWAETY
Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

6. Provo, UT

  • Composite score: 79.50
  • Median home price 2020: $362,479
  • Previous 1-year change in home price: 6.1%
  • Median price cut: 1.6%
  • Median days on the market: 12
  • Projected 1-year change in home price: 6.6%

05 Utah Salt Lake City D44ETX

05 Utah Salt Lake City D44ETX
Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

5. Salt Lake City, UT

  • Composite score: 80.75
  • Median home price 2020: $398,728
  • Previous 1-year change in home price: 6.6%
  • Median price cut: 2.0%
  • Median days on the market: 9
  • Projected 1-year change in home price: 6.3%

04 Arizona Tucson MWRFTC

04 Arizona Tucson MWRFTC
Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

4. Tucson, AZ

  • Composite score: 81.50
  • Median home price 2020: $227,902
  • Previous 1-year change in home price: 8.3%
  • Median price cut: 2.2%
  • Median days on the market: 11
  • Projected 1-year change in home price: 7.6%

03 Utah Ogden HM9DXF

03 Utah Ogden HM9DXF
Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

3. Ogden, UT

  • Composite score: 82.50
  • Median home price 2020: $341,196
  • Previous 1-year change in home price: 8.1%
  • Median price cut: 2.0%
  • Median days on the market: 11
  • Projected 1-year change in home price: 6.7%

02 Arizona Phoenix PAN2Y4

02 Arizona Phoenix PAN2Y4
Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

2. Phoenix, AZ

  • Composite score: 87.00
  • Median home price 2020: $298,322
  • Previous 1-year change in home price: 9.4%
  • Median price cut: 1.6%
  • Median days on the market: 17
  • Projected 1-year change in home price: 8.5%

01 Idaho Boise 2A4ENPE

01 Idaho Boise 2A4ENPE
Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

1. Boise City, ID

  • Composite score: 92.00
  • Median home price 2020: $337,099
  • Previous 1-year change in home price: 11.5%
  • Median price cut: 1.8%
  • Median days on the market: 10
  • Projected 1-year change in home price: 7.8%

Methodology & Detailed Findings

To identify the hottest real estate markets of 2020, researchers at Construction Coverage used data from Zillow to create a composite score based on the following metrics (all weighted equally):

  • Previous 1-year change in home price
  • Median price cut
  • Median days on the market (from listing to pending)
  • Projected 1-year change in home price

Only the 95 largest real estate markets in the U.S. with available data from Zillow were included in the analysis.

Source: constructioncoverage.com

How to Actually Afford to Buy a Home in America

Home buying hurdles exist — but research, creativity and flexibility will help you clear them.

Home buyers today face tough challenges — housing prices have soared, a dollar doesn’t go as far as it once did and rent is more expensive than the past.

How are people today making such a large purchase despite these hurdles? With more flexibility and a bit of financing creativity, today’s buyers are finding ways to achieve homeownership.

Know your options (and credit score)

The first step to knowing if you can afford a home is figuring out what financing options are available to you, including what mortgages you’re eligible for and how much you need (and can afford) to put down upfront.

Learning the minimum FICO score required by lenders and understanding your own credit score are important starting points.

Many home shoppers aren’t sure how much they have to put down on a home, what the lender-required minimum down payment will be (it’s not always 20%), or what programs are available to help with down payments, like FHA loans.

Before buyers even start thinking about saving for a home, they should know what their financial resources are and if they’re eligible to buy.

Make enough money to save

With fewer resources to pull from than their older, wealthier counterparts, renters wanting to buy face tough financial headwinds.

According to the Zillow Group Consumer Housing Trends Report 2019, renter households typically earn a median income of $37,500 annually, which is nearly $40,000 less than the median household income netted by households who recently bought a home (of whom the median household income is $75,000 annually).

While there are ways to enter into homeownership without making $75,000 in household income, it’s hard to afford to buy if you make significantly less. “If you’re making $37,500 per year, it’s probably not feasible for you to buy in almost any market,” says Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Svenja Gudell.

While households purchasing homes are more likely to have two incomes than renter households (and thus a higher median household income combined), even two-income households struggle to afford to buy in competitive markets.

Save enough cash (but not as much as you think)

One of the most daunting parts of home buying? The down payment. In fact, two-thirds of renters cite saving for a down payment as the biggest hurdle to buying a home, according to the Zillow Housing Aspirations Report.

For people buying the national median home valued at $229,000, with the traditional 20% down payment, that’s $45,800 upfront — just to move in.

“The down payment remains a hurdle for a lot of people,” says Gudell. “But they should know they don’t have to put 20% down.”

Although putting down less than 20% means additional considerations, such as the cost for private mortgage insurance (PMI), some find it worth the hassle. In fact, according to the Zillow Group Consumer Housing Trends Report 2019, only one-fifth of recent buyers (20%) put 20% down, and just over half of buyers (56%) put less than the traditional 20% down.

Buyers are also getting creative about piecing together a down payment from multiple sources. According to the report findings, 34% of buyers who get a mortgage also get help in the form of gifts or loans from friends and family to come up with a down payment. 

Know your deal breakers, but be flexible

To get into a home — even if it’s not the home of their dreams — some of today’s buyers are considering homes and locations outside of their initial wish list and getting increasingly flexible when it comes to neighborhood, house condition and even home type.

“I do think people get discouraged when they look in their target neighborhood and they see homes around $170,000 when they’re looking for a $110,000 home,” Gudell says.

Affordably priced homes do, in fact, exist. But in popular areas, where people most often want to live, it’s going to be harder to find that cheaper home, Gudell says.

“If you’re willing to take a longer commute and make a couple trade-offs, you might be able to find a home that is farther out that might be cheaper,” Gudell explains. “You have to leave the paved path before you can find cheaper choices.”

Related:

Source: zillow.com

Where Rent Has Become More Affordable – 2020 Edition

Where Rent Has Become More Affordable – 2020 Edition – SmartAsset

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Affordability issues generally affect renters more than homeowners. More than 40% of renters pay more than a third of their household income on rent compared to just 24% of homeowners on their mortgage, according to a February 2020 survey by Freddie Mac. But depending on where they live, renters can lower the burden of their housing costs. That’s why SmartAsset crunched the numbers to identify cities in the U.S. where rent has decreased the most relative to income.

Specifically, we compared rent prices from 2016 and 2019 to median household incomes over the same period. We additionally examined how rent prices have changed during 2020, amid the COVID-19 crisis. For details on our data sources and how we put all the information together to create our final rankings, check out the Data and Methodology section below.

This is SmartAsset’s second annual study on changes in rent affordability. Check out the 2019 version here.

Key Findings

  • Boston moves into the top spot. Last year, Boston, Massachusetts ranked third in our list of cities where rent is becoming more affordable. This year, it moved up to first, outranking both San Francisco and Oakland, California. Between 2016 and 2019, rent as a percentage of income fell by almost 8%.
  • Coastal cities dominate the top of our list. The top 11 cities where rent has become more affordable are located on a coast. They consist of five on the West Coast (San Francisco, Los Angeles and Oakland, California as well as Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington), four on the East Coast (Boston, Massachusetts; Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Maryland and New York, New York), one on the Gulf Coast (New Orleans, Louisiana) and one on the coast of Lake Michigan (Chicago, Illinois). Across those 11 cities, average fair market rent rose by an average of less than 2% between 2016 and 2019, while median household income rose by more than 19% on average.

Top Five Cities Where Rent Has Become More Affordable (2016 – 2019)

1. Boston, MA

Households in Boston, Massachusetts are allocating smaller portions of their paychecks to rent. Though average market rent did not fall over the course of the past three years, incomes rose significantly, causing the average percentage of household income spent on rent to decrease. In 2016, the average fair market rent was $2,949, and median household income was $63,621. In 2019, rent was $3,140, and median income was $79,018. In percentage terms, rent rose by just under 7%, while incomes rose by more than 24% on average.

2. San Francisco, CA

Though rent in San Francisco, California is high relative to many other cities, data from Rent Jungle shows that it has remained flat over the past few years. The average fair market rent was $3,855 in 2016 and $3,823 in 2019. Incomes, by contrast, are on the rise. Between 2016 and 2019, the median household income in San Francisco rose by more than 19%, from about $103,800 to almost $123,900. As result, households are spending, on average, 7.53% less on rent in 2019 than they were in 2016.

3. Los Angeles, CA (Tie)

In Los Angeles, California, the average market rent increased by about $200 between 2016 and 2019, while the median household income increased by almost $13,000. With those changes, households are spending about 7% less of their income on rent.

Notably, despite increasing rent affordability, Los Angeles residents are still spending a lot on rent. In 2019, rent as a percentage of income was 49.75%, the second-highest in our study, behind only that of New York City.

3. Washington, DC (Tie)

The nation’s capital ties with Los Angeles for the No. 3 city where rent has become more affordable. Using Rent Jungle and Census Bureau data, we found that the average household spent about 37% of its gross income on rent in 2016, relative to only 30% in 2019. This large change was caused by primarily by increasing incomes in the city. Between 2016 and 2019, the median household income of residents rose by more than 22%, from roughly $75,500 to almost $92,300.

5. Baltimore, MD

Incomes in Baltimore, Maryland are the lowest of any city in our top five. In 2019, the median household income of Baltimore residents was about $50,200. Between 2016 and 2019, average market rent in the city fell by about $200, while the median household income rose by more than $2,800. With those changes, rent as a percentage of income decreased from almost 43% in 2016 to roughly 36% in 2019.

How the Rental Market Has Changed During COVID-19 (January – September 2020)

We looked at rent affordability through 2019 in the above section because 2020 median household income figures are not yet available. However, we can still see changes in the rental market and subsequent prices for 2020, through the third quarter of the year. Generally, housing markets for renters have been more deeply affected than markets for homeowners during the pandemic. While some families have left big cities to buy more spacious homes in the suburbs, Zillow’s 2020 Urban-Suburban Market Report research shows that suburban housing markets have not strengthened at rates disproportionate to urban ones. The same is not true, however, for rental markets. Zillow found that though rental prices have generally dropped in both urban and suburban areas during the COVID-19 pandemic, the decline has been larger in urban ZIP codes.

This decline has been particularly significant in some of the largest and most populated urban areas. Rent Jungle data shows that average rent prices fell by more than 5% from January to September 2020 in six cities – San Francisco, California; Detroit, Michigan; Boston, Massachusetts; San Jose, California; New York, New York and Austin, Texas – all of which have populations exceeding 670,000. Of those, San Francisco leads for its drop in average fair market rent. Rent Jungle data shows that the average fair market rent in the city fell by almost 17%, from almost $3,800 in January 2020 to about $3,100 in September 2020. Following San Francisco, the biggest gross change in rent occurred in Boston. In January 2020, Rent Jungle reported an average fair market rent of almost $3,200 relative to less than $2,900 in September 2020.

Data and Methodology

To complete our analyses for both sections of this report, we looked at data for 50 of the largest U.S. cities. Specifically, we compared:

  • 2016 rent as a percentage of household income. This is average annual rent divided by median household income. Data comes from rentjungle.com and the Census Bureau’s 1-year American Community Survey.
  • 2019 rent as a percentage of household income. This is average annual rent divided by median household income. Data comes from rentjungle.com and the Census Bureau’s 1-year American Community Survey.

To create the final rankings of cities where rent has become more affordable, we subtracted the 2016 rent as a percentage of household income from the 2019 rent as a percentage of household income. The cities with the largest negative difference – i.e. where relative cost decreased the most – ranked as our top cities where rent is becoming more affordable.

When looking at the rent market in 2020, we compared Rent Jungle data on the average market rent in January 2020 to the average in September 2020. We found the percentage change over that eight-month time period for all 50 of the cities we looked at.

Financial Tips for Renters

  • Invest  your savings early. If you’re living in a city where you’ve experienced robust income growth and minute upticks in your rental costs, you might consider putting those savings to work in a retirement account. After all, achieving a secure retirement requires early preparation. By planning and saving early you can take advantage of compound interest. Take a look at our investment calculator to see how your investment can grow over time.
  • Rent or buy? Understand whether continuing to rent is the right choice for you using SmartAsset’s rent vs. buy calculator. No matter what your homeownership status, it might be useful to learn about the ways that the recent Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Stablility (CARES) Act passed by the government protects homeowners and renters.
  • Consulting an expert could save you time and money in the long run. If you are looking for guidance on how to put your rental savings to good use, it might be helpful to speak with an expert advisor. Finding the right financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

Questions about our study? Contact us at press@smartasset.com.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/fizkes

Stephanie Horan, CEPF® Stephanie Horan is a data journalist at SmartAsset. A Certified Educator of Personal Finance (CEPF®), she sources and analyzes data to write studies relating to a variety of topics including mortgage, retirement and budgeting. Before coming to SmartAsset, she worked as an analyst at an asset management firm. Stephanie graduated from Williams College with a degree in Mathematics. Originally from Philadelphia, she has always been a Yankees fan and currently lives in New York.
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