The Best Places to Live in Pennsylvania in 2021

The story of the state (technically Commonwealth) of Pennsylvania has three parts: the eastern metropolis of Philadelphia, the Midwest river city of Pittsburgh and the vast land in-between with a slew of mid-sized historic and revitalized northeastern cities.

But from the Delaware Valley to the Lehigh Valley, the Ohio River Valley to the Wyoming Valley, there are innumerable places to call home, whether in Wawa country or Sheetz land. Here is our list of the 10 best places to live in Pennsylvania.

Allentown, PA.

  • Population: 120,139
  • Average age: 38.36
  • Median household income: $41,167
  • Average commute time: 29.03 minutes
  • Walk score: 59
  • Studio average rent: $1,379
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,395
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,599

The Allentown of today is nowhere near the hulking coal and refinery town Billy Joel sang about. But while the factories did shut down long ago, you still can’t keep a good man down. Allentown is one of only three cities in Pennsylvania with a population of over 100,000. Equidistant from Philadelphia and Scranton, Allentown is a big city with a lot more to offer than many realize.

The westernmost of the Lehigh Valley’s tri-cities, Allentown is a story of reinvention. When manufacturing disappeared, Allentown had to revitalize itself for modern-day living. As a result, the city’s downtown received honors from the Urban Land Institute as a “national success story” for its transformation.

As a rebuilt service economy, many companies call Allentown headquarters, including several in the energy industry. While downtown is rife with office buildings and corporate campuses, retail is more found around Allentown’s several large shopping malls in and near the city.

However, sports, always a big deal in the Lehigh Valley, are drivers in changing that. The areas around its popular minor league venues are becoming shopping, nightlife and dining hubs. Hockey’s Phantoms, top minor league affiliate for the Flyers, play downtown at the seven-year-old PPL Center and baseball’s IronPigs, a Phillies farm club, take the field at Coca-Cola Park across the river on Allentown’s East Side.

Bethlehem, PA, one of the best places to live in pennsylvania

  • Population: 75,236
  • Average age: 42.01
  • Median household income: $55,809
  • Average commute time: 29.29 minutes
  • Walk score: 64
  • Studio average rent: N/A
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,182
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,391

Much as its neighbor to the west had to do, the steel city of Bethlehem also found itself having to reinvent. Now, Bethlehem is the arts and entertainment hub of Lehigh Valley.

A case in point is the iconic Bethlehem Steel. The former world’s largest steel company operated in the city for nearly 150 years, from 1857 to 2003. Today, the site of the former mill is now home to cultural works the size of Disneyland.

The vast SteelStacks district consists of the ArtsQuest performing arts center and three outdoor music venues including Levitt Pavilion, a PBS station and the Wind Creek Bethlehem casino. The massive blast furnace structure still stands serving as a backdrop along the river.

Over the last two decades, Bethlehem’s downtown has started to thrive with restaurants and retail along Main and Broad Streets. And on the south side of town, the region just north of Lehigh University is a vibrant college town district with bars, shops and cafés.

Along the riverfront is a park complex that includes athletic facilities and hiking and biking trails.

While about half the size of Allentown, Bethlehem has a higher median income than its next-door neighbor by about $15,000. However, rents across the board are cheaper in Bethlehem making it a bit better value for renters.

Harrisburg, PA.

  • Population: 49,277
  • Average age: 37.69
  • Median household income: $39,685
  • Average commute time: 25.17 minutes
  • Walk score: 55
  • Studio average rent: $837
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,038
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,272

State capitals often make wonderful places to live and work. The swath of legislators and lobbyists that call them home make sure the economy is sound, infrastructure is top-notch and access to entertainment and culture abound. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s capital, is no exception. The city of 50,000 is in south-central Pennsylvania about half as close to Philadelphia as it is to Pittsburgh.

The State Capitol complex sits in the center of downtown, along the Susquehanna River. State and federal combined, nearly 40,000 government employees work in Harrisburg. With politicians and their staff coming and going each electoral season, the rental industry is key in Harrisburg. Luckily, it’s the cheapest big city in the Keystone State for studio apartments and one-bedrooms, and among the lowest for two- and three-bedroom units.

A great place to have kids, Forbes named Harrisburg one of the top 10 “Best Places to Raise a Family” in the nation. There is much to do for residents of all ages. Its downtown, once rich in jazz clubs and cocktail bars, is seeing a revitalization from nightclubs to the performing arts.

For a different diversion, the city is also home to the annual Pennsylvania Farm Show, the largest agricultural expo in America.

Harrisburg also benefits from its geography as the center of one of Pennsylvania’s top tourist regions. The Capitol Building is just a half-hour from HersheyPark and Hershey Chocolate World and under an hour to Lancaster and the heart of Amish Country.

Lancaster, PA, one of the best places to live in pennsylvania

  • Population: 59,168
  • Average age: 38.10
  • Median household income: $45,514
  • Average commute time: 26.23 minutes
  • Walk score: 56
  • Studio average rent: $887
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,097
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,344

While a wonderful lifestyle to visit and experience, Lancaster is more than Amish Country, horse buggies and shoofly pie. An affordable city of 60,000, Lancaster (pronounced “LANK-is-ter”, not “LAN-cast-er”) is an Eastern Pennsylvania healthcare, manufacturing and tourism hub.

Lancaster is a surprisingly diverse city. Sure, there are a ton of residents of German ancestry, home of the Pennsylvania Dutch (as in “Deutsch,” German for “German”). But the city is also nearly 40 percent Latinx and 16 percent Black.

While average incomes hover around $56,000, lease prices are among the lowest in the Commonwealth. In fact, a three-bedroom unit rents for $1,455, the cheapest among Pennsylvania’s largest cities.

Along with Amish tourism, Lancaster is also a mecca for outlet shopping. Combined, the area’s two large outlet centers offer nearly 200 stores.

The historic downtown is awash in quaint boutiques, vintage stores, art galleries (many along Gallery Row), vegan restaurants and German beer bars. In the heart of downtown is legendary music venue the Chameleon Club as well as Lancaster Central Market on Penn Square, one of the nation’s oldest farmers’ markets.

Philadelphia, PA.

  • Population: 1,569,672
  • Average age: 40.63
  • Median household income: $45,927
  • Average commute time: 40.79 minutes
  • Walk score: 84
  • Studio average rent: $1,673
  • One-bedroom average rent: $2,145
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $2,901

There are two Philadelphias. The one most people know is the Birthplace of America, home of the Liberty Bell, the Rocky Steps, cheesesteaks and the Broad Street Bullies. The other is the city that over a million and a half people call home. And real Philadelphians have an appreciation for both.

Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods, and each has a personality all its own. When someone reveals they are from Overbrook, Fishtown, Kensington, Society Hill or another of Philly’s nearly 200 neighborhoods, it says a lot about their personality. But together they are all SEPTA riders and hoagie eaters and Birds fans.

Philly residents are a lucky bunch. The cradle of American democracy is at their doorsteps. But it is also an extremely livable city. There are some of the nation’s largest and most enjoyable parks and green spaces, including Fairmount Park and Wissahickon Valley Park. Several shopping hubs dot the city from South Street and Liberty Place to Chestnut Hill and University City.

And commuting is easy with access to I-95, the Schuylkill Expressway and the Pennsylvania Turnpike, three superregional rail stations, 13 regional rails as well as the Broad Street subway and Market-Frankford elevated train. As well, the city offers stellar walk and bike scores, 84 and 76, respectively.

Surprisingly, Philadelphia is affordable. As expected, rents are the highest among Pennsylvania’s big cities. However, Philly’s cost of living is 20 percent-30 percent cheaper than similar cities and its northeast corridor neighbors.

Pittsburgh, PA, one of the best places to live in pennsylvania

  • Population: 305,049
  • Average age: 41.68
  • Median household income: $48,711
  • Average commute time: 28.93 minutes
  • Walk score: 69
  • Studio average rent: $1,255
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,522
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,831

While they share space inside the Keystone State, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are a five-hour drive and a world apart. Pittsburgh is a Midwest city with a bit of East Coast ancestry. It’s the Northeast but also Great Lakes. It’s not your father’s smoggy city of Black and Gold. Today’s Pittsburgh is a modern, livable metropolis that traded in steel mills and coal mines for shiny office towers, a thriving tech industry, vast parks and big-city nightlife.

Sure, downtown Pittsburgh at Golden Triangle is a gleaming, teeming modern smog-free city. But even if you take the steel out of the city, you can’t take the steel out of its citizens. Pittsburgh will always be the city of fries on a sandwich, confluencing rivers and the Steel Curtain.

The people of the City of Three Rivers are as diverse as the neighborhoods in which they reside. Pittsburgh offers a plethora of cultural enclaves, with large populations of those with German, Irish, Polish, Italian, Black, Jewish, Lithuanian and Puerto Rican backgrounds.

And for its size and might, Pittsburgh is quite affordable. Although Pittsburgh technically lies within one of those pricey Northeastern states, rents in the Steel City are assuredly more Midwest. The average income in Pittsburgh is higher than that across the state in Philly. But rents are lower across the board, including a reasonable $1,500 a month for an average one-bedroom.

reading pa

  • Population: 88,302
  • Average age: 36.09
  • Median household income: $32,176
  • Average commute time: 30.78 minutes
  • Walk score: 69
  • Studio average rent: N/A
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,302
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,733

If it’s good enough for Taylor Swift, it’s good enough for you. Yes, that Taylor Swift. The super-slash singer/songwriter is not a native of Tennessee or Texas. She was proudly born and raised in Reading, Pennsylvania.

Maybe it’s the laid-back small city vibe that left an indelible mark on Ms. Swift. Reading is the fifth-largest city in the Commonwealth and sits just 90 minutes from Center City Philadelphia. But Reading feels much smaller, a tight-knit community of 90,000. It offers both urban convenience and Appalachian mountain town charm with a populous nearly 60 percent Hispanic and Latinx and 30 percent under age 18.

And Readingers have plenty of diversions. The wooded area surrounding Mount Penn includes many recreational activities and hiking trails. It is also the site of Reading’s most famous landmarks, William Penn Fire Tower, Peace Rock and the Pagoda, a century-old Japanese-style building that contains a café, gift shop and observation room overlooking the city.

Sports also loom large in Reading. The city has been home to the Phillies’ Double-A affiliate for over 50 years and Team Penske’s open-wheel race car operations for nearly as long.

scranton pa, one of the best places to live in pennsylvania

  • Population: 76,624
  • Average age: 42.35
  • Median household income: $40,608
  • Average commute time: 23.68 minutes
  • Walk score: 58
  • Studio average rent: $1,100
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,226
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,469

Alfredo’s Pizza Café. Froggy 101. Steamtown Mall. Anthracite Heritage Museum. Yes, all those references in The Office are actual, real-world places in Scranton. Dig deep enough and any Scrantonian will sheepishly admit that the depiction of the hard-scrabble former coal city in the show is pretty accurate.

The Electric City is the state’s seventh-largest, a working-class town just about two hours from both Philadelphia and New York. Like many Pennsylvania cities, Scranton leaned into revitalization as coal mines and steel plants closed.

Today, Scranton is booming in healthcare, technology, social services, finance and particularly tourism, leaning into both its unique railroad history and its proximity to top northeastern ski resorts.

Scranton’s revival helped its downtown boom. The pedestrian-friendly district has seen a bevy of new cafés, restaurants, shops and bars surrounded by loft apartments. Many of these are in restored, architecturally significant buildings that recently sat empty.

While many new residents are coming for the first time, the city has seen a large number of Scranton natives moving back from big cities. Cost of living is a big factor, but so is security. Among Pennsylvania’s largest cities, Scranton is the safest.

West Chester, PA.

  • Population: 19,698
  • Average age: 34.74
  • Median household income: $61,837
  • Average commute time: 27.91 minutes
  • Walk score: 54
  • Studio average rent: $1,350
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,598
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,995

Just 25 miles from Center City Philadelphia, the Philly suburb of West Chester is the smallest city on our list. It is also the wealthiest, with an average income of over $80,000. Fortunately, that high wage level hasn’t completely translated into high rent prices.

An average studio apartment leases for just $1,350, while one and two-bedroom units are $1,598 and $1,995, respectively.

West Chester, not far from Philly’s ritzy Main Line, offers a high quality of living. West Chester schools rank highest on our list while the average age, at just under 35, is the youngest. Though a suburb, the borough’s downtown offers much for its young and affluent residents.

In addition to several upscale and trendy bars, restaurants and retail, many businesses have set up shop in this vibrant hamlet. But West Chester’s most notable business? On the edge of town is the world headquarters and studios of the QVC shopping network. And on the south end of town is West Chester University, ranked a “Top 10 Public Regional Universities in the North” by U.S. News.

What else does West Chester offer these up-and-coming leaders of tomorrow? The borough has also been rated one of the “10 Most Exciting Places In Pennsylvania” and a top three “Great American Main Streets.”

York, PA, one of the best places to live in pennsylvania

  • Population: 44,055
  • Average age: 36.62
  • Median household income: $33,906
  • Average commute time: 27.97 minutes
  • Walk score: 53
  • Studio average rent: N/A
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,160
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,256

Most cities in Pennsylvania orient themselves with their proximity to Philadelphia or Pittsburgh. However, York residents find themselves just 15 miles from the Maryland border and 45 minutes from Baltimore.

The 16th largest city in the Commonwealth, York is best known as the first National Capital, in 1777. But iron-benders know it as headquarters of York Barbell and the USA Weightlifting Hall of Fame, and chopper heads know it well for Harley-Davidson’s largest manufacturing plant.

Hungry for a snack? Stauffer’s animal crackers — made here for over 150 years — call York home. Also, it is the site of one of the four Starbucks roasting facilities in the whole world.

With deep roots in American Revolutionary history, tourism is important to the York economy.

For York residents, day trips abound. Lancaster and Amish Country are just a half-hour to the east. HersheyPark is only 45 minutes north. And the Gettysburg Battlefield is under an hour west. Working at the State Capitol? Harrisburg is only 30 minutes away.

Looking for something a little more pastoral in Central Pennsylvania? The historic York State Fair is the nation’s oldest, dating back to 1765.

Find your own best place to live in Pennsylvania

The best places to live in Pennsylvania are also some of its most renowned cities. No matter your tastes, you can set up shop somewhere great from the corner metropolises to the coal towns to the suburbs. And you can find your next great Keystone State city right here on rent.com, whether you enjoy your Primanti’s covered in fries or your Jim’s bathed in whiz wit.

Rent prices are based on a rolling weighted average from Apartment Guide and Rent.com’s multifamily rental property inventory of one-bedroom apartments in March 2021. Our team uses a weighted average formula that more accurately represents price availability for each individual unit type and reduces the influence of seasonality on rent prices in specific markets.
Other demographic data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The rent information included in this article is used for illustrative purposes only. The data contained herein do not constitute financial advice or a pricing guarantee for any apartment.

Source: rent.com

What Is a Parent PLUS Loan?

Parent PLUS Loans | Are They Right for You? – SmartAsset

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Paying for college is a challenge, and rising tuition costs certainly don’t help. According to College Board, the average cost of a four-year private college has increased by more than $3,000 over the last five years. Scholarships, grants and work-study programs can help bridge the gap, but it’s best to have a robust savings to back you up. Since some parents don’t want their child to take on too many loans themselves, the federal government created Parent PLUS loans. They stand out from other programs thanks to a fixed interest rate and flexible repayment options. Here we discuss what exactly a Parent PLUS loan is, how it works and whether you should get one.

Parent PLUS Loans Defined

Let’s start with the basics. A Parent PLUS loan is a federal student loan offered by the U.S. Department of Education Direct Loan program. Unlike other Direct Loans and most student loans in general, Parent PLUS loans are issued to parents rather than students. Also eligible for issue are stepparents, dependent graduate students and other relatives.

Whoever takes out the loan holds the sole legal responsibility for repayments, regardless of personal arrangements. This is very different than a parent cosigning his or her child’s student loan. The maximum PLUS loan amount is the cost of attendance minus any other financial aid received, which could equal tens of thousands of dollars per year. For PLUS loans distributed between July 2018 and July 2019, the interest rate is 7.60%. As such, the decision to get a Parent PLUS loan should not be taken lightly.

Who Should Get a Parent PLUS Loan?

According to the Office of Federal Student Aid, about 3.5 million parents and students have borrowed a collective $83.9 billion using Parent PLUS Loans from the federal government. To qualify for a Parent PLUS loan, you must be the parent of a dependent undergraduate student, dependent graduate student or professional student enrolled at least half-time in a participating college or university.

You and your child must also meet the general eligibility rules for federal student aid, such as proving U.S. citizenship and demonstrating need. Male students must be registered with the Selective Service. As with other Direct PLUS loans, you usually can’t secure a Parent PLUS loan if you have an adverse credit history. The Department of Education won’t approve a borrower with charged-off accounts, accounts in collections or a 90-day delinquent account with a balance of $2,085 or more.

You shouldn’t apply for a Parent PLUS loan just because you qualify. In fact, it’s usually best if a student gets all of the Direct Loans he or she is eligible for first. These loans tend to have lower interest rates and fees. A parent could always help his or her child with student loan repayments, anyway.

You should really only apply for a Parent PLUS loan if your child needs more financial aid than he or she has received from other sources. It’s also important that both students and parents are on the same page about expectations and repayment plans.

Pros of Parent PLUS Loans

Flexible Loan Limits

Identified generally as “cost of attendance minus any other financial aid received,” Parent PLUS loans can be used toward tuition and fees, room and board, books, supplies, equipment, transportation and miscellaneous personal expenses. They do not have the same limits imposed on them as other federal student loans do. This makes Parent PLUS loans a great supplement if you have a mediocre financial aid package. Of course, you should still be cautious not to take on debt you won’t be able to pay back. Our student loan calculator can help you decide how much you should borrow.

Fixed Interest Rate

As with other federal student loans, the interest rate on a Parent PLUS loan stays the same throughout the life of the loan. It won’t alter based on national interest rates, the prime rate or other factors. Every July, the Department of Education sets the Parent PLUS loan interest rate based on that year’s 10-year treasury note. The fixed interest rate makes it easy for borrowers to predict expenses, make both short- and long-term financial goals and set a budget.

Multiple Repayment Options

Parent PLUS loans are eligible for several different repayment plans, one of which should work for you. This flexibility makes them one of the most accommodating programs for funding a college education. Check out your choices below:

  • Standard Repayment Plan: The most common option, which allows for fixed monthly payments for 10 years.
  • Graduated Repayment Plan: This starts with small payments that gradually increase over 10 years. In theory, this should coincide with growing income levels.
  • Extended Repayment Plan: This provides fixed or graduated payments over 25 years, as opposed to 10.
  • Income-Contingent Repayment: Borrowers pay 20% of their discretionary income or what they’d pay on a 12-year plan, whichever is lower. They also qualify for student loan forgiveness if they still have a balance after 25 years.

Cons of Parent PLUS Loans

Loan Origination Fee

Interest isn’t the only expense you’ll encounter with Parent PLUS loans. There’s also a loan origination fee. The fee amount is a percentage of the loan, and it varies depending on the disbursement date of the loan. For loans after October 1, 2018 but before October 1, 2019, the fee is 4.248% of the loan amount. That means that if you borrow $30,000 using a Parent PLUS loan, you’d pay a fee of $1,274.40.

This fee is proportionately deducted from each loan disbursement, which essentially reduces the amount of money borrowers have to cover education-related costs. Since many private student loans don’t have a fee, it’s worth looking into private options to determine which loan has the lowest borrowing costs.

Relatively High Interest Rate

Currently set at 7.60%, Parent PLUS loans certainly don’t have the lowest rate out there. If you have strong credit and qualify for a better rate, you might consider a different loan that will cost less in the long run. Direct Subsidized Loans currently carry a 5.05% interest rate, while Direct Unsubsidized Loans are at 6.60%. On the other hand, some private lenders have interest rates as low as 2.795%.

Limited Grace Period

Parent PLUS loan repayment normally begins within 60 days of loan disbursement, but borrowers have the option to defer repayment. This will last while their child is still in school and for six months after he or she graduates or if the student drops below a half-time enrollment status. Not only is this much less time than borrowers of other loan programs receive, but interest will also continue to accrue during the deferment period.

How to Apply for a Parent PLUS Loan

If a Parent PLUS loan seems right for you, file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at FASFA.ed.gov. Depending on the school’s application process, you will request the loan from StudentLoans.gov or the school’s financial aid office.

If you receive approval for a Parent PLUS loan, you will get a Direct PLUS Loan Master Promissory Note (MPN). You’ll have to review and sign the MPN before sending back. Funds are typically sent straight to the school, but you or your child may receive a check. All of the money must be used for educational and college-related purposes.

Tips for Your College Finances

  • Every state in the country offers one of more higher education tuition assistance programs called 529 plans. For many prospective college students and their families, this may be one of the best ways to overcome the incredibly high costs of a university degree. What’s better yet is that you can get a plan from any state, not just the one you reside in.
  • It’s extremely common for financial advisors to have some level of background knowledge in funding for higher education. The SmartAsset financial advisor matching tool can pair you up with as many as three such advisors in your area.

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Liz Smith Liz Smith is a graduate of New York University and has been passionate about helping people make better financial decisions since her college days. Liz has been writing for SmartAsset for more than four years. Her areas of expertise include retirement, credit cards and savings. She also focuses on all money issues for millennials. Liz’s articles have been featured across the web, including on AOL Finance, Business Insider and WNBC. The biggest personal finance mistake she sees people making: not contributing to retirement early in their careers.
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