The Best Cities for Artists in America

No starving artists here: These cities are the best places for artists to live well and practice their craft.

Having access to art and culture is one of the best parts of living in a city. While it’s true that art is found and created anywhere — in cities, there are some definite benefits. Cities act as cultural hubs that draw both new and existing artistic talent. There is a feedback loop of inspiration that cities foster.

With people from many different cultures, backgrounds and walks of life living in close quarters, there is vibrant multiculturalism. Urban density makes it easy to try and experience many different things from theater to food. Artists feed off that creative energy. And when you also live surrounded by other creative individuals, you are constantly being inspired to create new work

But it takes more than that to make a city a great place for artists. It’s widely known that both historically and in modern times, artists are often underpaid for their work. That “starving artist” trope didn’t come from nowhere — artists still need to pay for things like rent and food. They still need to make a living in this world the same as everyone else.

That’s why, on top of a thriving cultural scene, artists need to live in a place that supports their passion and livelihood. That ranges from affordable housing for work and creation, walkability to get around to gigs and much more.

So if you’re an artist with a dream, these are the best cities for artists to create and live.

Finding the best cities for artists

Art is for everyone because there are so many different ways to create. You have visual mediums like painting, drawing or photography. There are performance arts like dancing or theater. And there are musicians across an incredible breadth of genres and instructions, from voice to electronic DJ.

Having a thriving artistic community makes a city a better place to live. There are shows and performances to go to, which improves the quality of life for residents and encourages tourism. But to have such a community, artists need to make a viable living in that city. Quality of life and cost of living for essentials like food and housing, plus affordable rent remain important for those looking to dive into their artist endeavors.

To determine the best cities for artists, we looked for cities with a good walk score and t the average price for studio apartments. Many artists need or want separate spaces to create and work in, same as with offices for other industries, so having affordable studios for rent is key.

We also looked for how many museums there are per density and how many artistic organizations were in the city by density. That included theaters, artistic collectives, performing arts centers and more. All cities also had a population of over 50,000.

The following 10 places emerged as the best cities for artists to live and work in.

10. Baltimore, MD

baltimore md

In recent years, Baltimore has risen the charts as one of the best cities for creatives. This is especially true for the visual arts.

There are more than 60 diverse museums within the area, and it’s the home of renowned museums like the Baltimore Art Museum and the Walters Art Museum. Their substantial collections feature historic art from around the world, as well as exciting contemporary work. The city also supports modern, experimental art in outdoor public spaces like the Glenstone museum and sculpture garden and Downtown Frederick Public Art Trail, making art accessible to all.

There are also ample opportunities in the performing arts. The city is home to seven different performing arts companies and numerous dance and music groups.

Living here, artists can enjoy an abundance of creative outlets and good, affordable quality of life. With an average city median income of $51,000, the average cost for a studio apartment is $1,346. This was down 8.3 percent from last year. That gives artists lots of choices for space, as well as affordable rates.

Baltimore also has good public transportation, and a high Walk Score of 72.

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9. St. Louis, MO

st louis mo

This city that was once the gateway to the West is now a gateway for artists to comfortably live and create in an up-and-coming art city. While it is not the most walkable city, there are many other benefits. The average rent for a studio apartment is $1,328 — with plenty of availability.

St. Louis has an especially good reputation for performing arts, with 14 performing art companies and ten dance companies. Performance venues like The Fabulous Fox, housed in a grand old movie theater, and the Center of Creative Arts give the community hubs to experience art. And the contemporary visual arts scene is also on the rise.

The public can appreciate art in outdoor spaces like Citygarden, and museums like the Grand Center and the St. Louis Art Museum boasts exceptional modern art collections. So there are plenty of places for artists to congregate and work together.

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8. Chicago, IL

chicago il

Chicago has a well-deserved reputation for being one of the United States’ best cities for art, alongside staples like Los Angeles and New York City. But of those two, Chicago is the only one to make it into the top 10 best cities for artists. This means it’s much more affordable than the other two, but still gives artists the creative stimulation they crave. It’s also the place where many greats get their start.

Chicago has many benefits — the downtown area is a dense urban grid, with a very high WalkScore of 84. For outlying areas, there’s excellent public transit. However, most art and culture institutions are downtown — from theaters to museums — so it’s a very centralized area. There are outdoor spaces like Millennium Park for fresh air, access to nature and art installations (hello, The Bean). Museums like the Art Institute of Chicago enjoy tremendous renown for their collections.

Plus, there are top-ranked performing arts opportunities, from theater to music to improv at Second City, one of the nation’s best comedy and improv schools. While average studio rent is $1,784, making it the second most expensive city for studios in the top 10, you’ll have access to world-renowned art institutions for learning and displaying your art.

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7. Berkeley, CA

berkeley ca

Although Berkeley is largely known as a center for engineering, science and tech due to UC Berkeley, art and culture are equally strong here. This city of over 121,000 has an incredibly diverse population. And the presence of the university invites fresh, young minds from around the world, feeding innovation and creativity.

Berkeley also feeds off of the cultural thrum of the surrounding Bay Area and nearby San Francisco.

But being in the tech-heavy Bay Area, life is expensive. A Berkeley studio costs an average of $2,250. This makes it the most expensive of the top ten cities. But on the upside, Berkeley is extremely walkable, making it easy to get to the many artistic opportunities that exist. Berkeley is especially known for its performing arts. It’s home to the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, a Tony-winning regional playhouse and other top theater and performance companies.

For visual artists, collectives like the ACCI Gallery and museums like Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive exist. West Berkeley and the North Shattuck areas are especially popular artist neighborhoods.

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6. Philadelphia, PA

philadelphia pa

Aspiring and working artists priced out of New York have been turning to Philadelphia. This has made it one of the most exciting artistic hubs on the East Coast. Steeped in history, the city also buzzes with vibrant young minds and modern energy.

Rent and cost of living are significantly lower than in NYC. A studio costs, on average, $1,745. Two top art schools call Philly home: the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and Temple University’s Tyler School of Art.

And there is art everywhere, from museums to public spaces. The Philadelphia Art Museum is the third-largest in the U.S., and the Rodin Museum has one of the largest collections of his work outside Paris. Performing arts-wise, there is a great live music scene, especially for classical music thanks to the Philadelphia Orchestra.

The Avenue of the Arts acts as a hub, with performance spaces for everything from dance to experimental work. Dancers will also find a welcoming community here, as there are multiple esteemed dance companies.

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5. Seattle, WA

seattle wa

Seattle’s reputation for incredible live music needs no introduction. Grunge originated here, thanks to influential bands like Nirvana. And music and performance are still part of the lifeblood of the city. But there’s more to Seattle’s art scene than that.

There are over 80 theater companies and great dance companies like the Pacific Northwest Ballet. Galleries and small venues provide space for experimental, undercover art movements. But “mainstream” art also has a place here at museums and places like the Seattle Art Museum, Chihuly Garden and Glass and the Olympic Sculpture Park.

In Seattle, studio apartments run an average of $1,481. And this is down almost 14.2 percent from last year, so there is plenty of space available and demand.

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4. Washington, D.C.

Washington D.C.

The U.S. capital is a hotbed for history and art, which go hand in hand here. There are abundant museums and inspiring architecture everywhere you turn. But it’s not just about the past. There is also a thriving contemporary art community.

Check out spots like the Culture House DC, a 19th-century church painted in bold colors and now houses an artist collective. And there are frequent art festivals and performances of music, dance and theater.

If you’re an artist looking for a city with a lot of options for studios, D.C. is the place for you. The average rent is $1,686, plus it’s also a very pedestrian-friendly city that’s easy to navigate on foot.

All in all, D.C. offers a great emerging art scene in a city that’s affordable and safe, with plenty of history to inspire you.

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3. Pittsburgh, PA

pittsburgh

In 2018, Pittsburgh ranked as one of the top cities in America for artistic vibrancy. It’s no small wonder. Similar to Philadelphia, artists love the affordable cost of living — $1,194 for a studio.

In Pittsburgh, they’re finding world-class museums, outdoor festivals, creative collectives and performing arts companies that are pushing boundaries and generating buzz. Some must-visit spots include the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Andy Warhol Museum and The Mattress Factory.

Outside of town, you’ll also find Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural masterpiece, Fallingwater.

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2. Minneapolis, MN

minneapolis mn

Coming in at No. 2 in the top 10 best cities for artists is one half of the Twin Cities itself: Minneapolis. Of course, this Midwest hub is well-known for its friendly residents, parks, lakes and outdoor access. But it also has fantastic opportunities for art.

Minneapolis has 55 different museums to visit, among them the eye-catching Weisman Art Museum. As a city that loves nature, lots of art is outdoors and open for everyone. Minneapolis is especially well-known for its vibrant murals, easily found all over the city. Oh, and of course, there’s a great music scene. What else would you expect from the home of Prince?

Add in low rent on studios, $1,236 on average, and you’ll discover why it’s no wonder so many artists find inspiration here.

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hartford ct

Topping the list of the best cities for artists is the Connecticut capital of Hartford. This scenic city celebrates both contemporary and historic art through its many institutions, from museums to collectives.

World-class touring performances come through at venues like the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts. And local companies like TheaterWorks showcase contemporary work. The city is also committed to promoting diverse artists and voices. For example, the unique Artists Collective highlights the work of the African Diaspora. And the Real Art Ways organization supports experimental and new work in a variety of mediums.

Beyond the artistic community, Hartford is also very affordable for working artists. It boasts the cheapest prices for studio apartments — the average being $1,121.

Good quality and cost of living go a long way toward supporting an artist’s lifestyle. And if the urban scene isn’t sufficiently inspiring, Connecticut’s natural beauty is also sure to spark the imagination.

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The 50 best cities for artists

Now that you’ve seen the top 10, let’s branch out to discover even more cities that have created an atmosphere where artists can thrive and create. Please note, our methodology allows for ties.

Methodology

To find the best cities for artists, we used the following data points:

  • Performing arts businesses and establishments per density
  • Museums per density
  • Walk score
  • Average rent of a studio apartment

We looked at cities with at least 50,000 people according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 population estimates and ranked each city in each of these four categories. Then, we added up the rankings for each of the four categories to determine a final score for each city. Ties were allowed in our rankings. The cities with the lowest overall score were determined to be the best cities for artists.

We excluded cities from this study that had insufficient rental inventory or other data.

Business and establishment data comes from commercially sourced business listings. This may not account for recent business openings or closures.

Rent prices are based on a one-year rolling weighted average from Apartment Guide and Rent.com’s multifamily rental property inventory as of April 2021. Our team uses a weighted average formula that more accurately represents price availability for each unit type and reduces the influence of seasonality on rent prices in specific markets.

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

Cook Fish In Your Dishwasher: Alternative Uses for Common Appliances

Ever wondered what else you could do with your toaster oven or rice cooker when you weren’t using them to cook with? The common household appliances you can find in your apartment’s kitchen come with their intended use, but with a little imagination and some know-how, you can find clever and alternative uses for the most basic of appliances. Here’s our list of everyday appliances and unique ways you can use them.

Dishwasher

The steam and heat produced by your dishwasher is perfect for steaming up fresh fish or vegetables. Season the fish with a little olive oil and lemon juice, and wrap the raw fish liberally with foil (salmon particularly holds up well in the dishwasher). Place the fish on the top rack of the dishwasher, set it for a hot pots and pans cycle and let the dishwasher run through a cycle. In no time at all you’ll have a perfectly poached piece of fish. Just make sure not to add any dish soap to the washer!

Microwave

We all know that your microwave’s powerful heating capabilities are perfect for warming up your favorite foods, but that technology also makes the microwave great for disinfecting and deodorizing common household items. Instead of reaching for antibacterial soap, soak your kitchen sponge or dish rag in water mixed with white vinegar or lemon juice, then throw it into the microwave and heat on high for 30 seconds to disinfect and deodorize. You can also disinfect plastic cutting boards this way – wash the board well, rub it with the cut side of a lemon and microwave on high for one minute.

Rice Cooker

Give your guests the spa treatment by steaming towels to offer them before dinner. Wet and wring out several small washcloths, fold in thirds horizontally and roll and place inside the steamer. Steam for five minutes, or until hot. Remove with tongs and place on a tray or plate for each dinner guest.

Coffee Maker

If you’re short on time and low on clean dishes, but still need to eat lunch or dinner, you can use your coffee maker to prepare soup. Start off simple by using your coffee maker to cook your favorite canned soup, like tomato or chicken noodle. The coffee pot not only heats up the soup, but the convenient handle makes it easy to pour the soup into various cups and bowls. Or, take it one step further by preparing ramen noodle soup in the coffee maker. Open the packet of uncooked noodles and put them into the carafe. Fill the water tank with just enough water to cover the noodles, never filling more than halfway. Put the seasoning packet in the drip station and push the button to start the pot. Within minutes you’ll have a steaming, hot bowl of ramen noodle soup. Make sure to clean your pot thoroughly before making a pot of coffee.

Blender

Blenders can be used for more than just making smoothies or milkshakes. A decent quality blender can be used much like a food processor, crushing ice or chopping nuts to make peanut butter. You can also make salsa in the blender. Combine four ripe roma tomatoes, one jalapeno with the seeds removed, ½ chopped sweet onion, lime juice and olive oil in the blender on the pulse setting. If you prefer a chunkier salsa, just pulse a few times. Add chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper and pulse a few more times. Remove salsa from the blender and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour before serving.

Toaster Oven

A counter-top toaster oven is the perfect appliance for cooking in small spaces. And, it’s a great alternative for energy-conscious consumers, since you don’t need to heat up a big gas or electric oven to cook something small, like a baked potato or small pizza. But in addition to cooking, a toaster oven can also warm your plates before serving good. Many standard ovens only go down to 200°F, which may be too warm, but a toaster oven can be set at a lower temperature. Try warming a set of plates for five minutes at 170°F.

Coffee Grinder

Avid coffee drinkers know that the freshest, best-tasting cup of coffee is brewed from coffee beans that have been ground in small batches. But a coffee grinder can also grind spices like cloves, cardamom pods or peppercorns. You can make your own homemade bread crumbs by tearing up a piece of bread into small pieces and grinding according to how large or fine you want the crumbs. Create your own potpourri by grinding up dried flowers, orange or lemon peel and cinnamon sticks. Or, turn recycled white or colored paper into confetti with a few pulses of the coffee grinder.

Photo credit: iStockphoto/ZargonDesign

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Source: apartmentguide.com

10 States With the Highest Sales Taxes

Before you embark on a shopping spree in any of the 10 worst states for sales taxes featured here, you’ll want to make extra room in your budget. Our biggest offender clocks in at 9.55% once both state and local sales taxes are factored in (continue reading our round-up to find out which state is the priciest culprit).

However, retirees and other relocators shouldn’t judge a state by its sales tax alone. While this expense may be costlier in some areas, residents in states with a high sales tax may be able to reap the benefits of other tax-related perks, such as not having to pay state income tax.

Got your attention? Take a look at our list to find out which states will nickel-and-dime you the most on everyday purchases.

Sales tax values are for 2020 and were compiled by the Tax Foundation. Income tax brackets are for the 2020 tax year. Property tax values are for 2019.

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10. New York

The state of New York.The state of New York.

Overall Rating for Middle-Class Families: Least tax-friendly

State Sales Tax: 4% state levy. Localities can add as much as 4.875%, and the average combined rate is 8.52%, according to the Tax Foundation. In the New York City metro area, there is an additional 0.375% sales tax to support transit. Clothing and footwear that cost less than $110 (per item or pair) are exempt from sales tax. Groceries and prescription drugs are exempt, too. Motor vehicle sales are taxable, though.

Income Tax Range: Low: 4% (on up to $8,500 of taxable income for single filers and up to $17,150 for married couples filing jointly); High: 8.82% (on taxable income over $1,070,550 for single filers and over $2,155,350 for married couples filing jointly).

Starting in 2021, the top rate is 10.9% on taxable income over $25 million (regardless of filing status).

New York City and Yonkers imposed their own income tax. A commuter tax is also imposed on residents of New York City, as well as on residents of Rockland, Nassau, Suffolk, Orange, Putnam, Dutchess, and Westchester Counties.

Property Taxes: In the Empire State, the median property tax rate is $1,692 per $100,000 of assessed home value. 

For details on other state taxes, see the New York State Tax Guide for Middle-Class Families.

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9. California

The state of California.The state of California.

Overall Rating for Middle-Class Families: Most tax-friendly

State Sales Tax: 7.25% state levy. Localities can add as much as 2.5%, and the average combined rate is 8.68%, according to the Tax Foundation. Groceries and prescription drugs are exempt from these taxes, but clothing and motor vehicles are taxed. 

Income Tax Range: Low: 1% (on up to $17,864 of taxable income for married joint filers and up to $8,932 for those filing individually); High: 13.3% (on more than $1,198,024 for married joint filers and $1 million for those filing individually).

Property Taxes: If you’re planning to buy a home in the Golden State, the median property tax rate is $729 per $100,000 of assessed home value. 

For details on other state taxes, see the California State Tax Guide for Middle-Class Families.

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8. Kansas

The state of Kansas.The state of Kansas.

Overall Rating for Middle-Class Families: Least tax-friendly

State Sales Tax: 6.5% state levy. Localities can add as much as 4%, and the average combined rate is 8.69%, according to the Tax Foundation. These rates also apply to groceries, motor vehicles, clothing and prescription drugs. 

Income Tax Range: Low: 3.1% (on $2,501 to $15,000 of taxable income for single filers and $5,001 to $30,000 for joint filers); High: 5.7% (on more than $30,000 of taxable income for single filers and more than $60,000 for joint filers).

Property Taxes: Kansans who own their homes pay a median property tax rate of $1,369 per $100,000 of assessed home value. 

For details on other state taxes, see the Kansas State Tax Guide for Middle-Class Families.

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7. Illinois

The state of Illinois.The state of Illinois.

Overall Rating for Middle-Class Families: Least tax-friendly

State Sales Tax: 6.25% state levy. Localities can add as much as 4.75%, and the average combined rate is 8.82%, according to the Tax Foundation. Food and prescription drugs are taxed at only 1% by the state. Clothing and motor vehicles are fully taxed.

Income Tax Range: There is a flat rate of 4.95% of federal adjusted gross income after modifications.

Property Taxes: For homeowners in Illinois, the median property tax rate is $2,165 per $100,000 of assessed home value — the second highest in our round-up.

For details on other state taxes, see the Illinois State Tax Guide for Middle-Class Families.

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6. Oklahoma

The state of Oklahoma.The state of Oklahoma.

Overall Rating for Middle-Class Families: Not tax-friendly

State Sales Tax: 4.5% state levy. Localities can add as much as 7%, and the average combined rate is 8.95%, according to the Tax Foundation. Prescription drugs are exempt and motor vehicles are taxed at a rate of 1.25% (a 3.25% excise tax also applies). Grocery items and clothing are taxable at 4.5%, plus local taxes. 

Income Tax Range: Low: 0.5% (on up to $1,000 of taxable income for single filers and up to $2,000 for married joint filers); High: 5% (on taxable income over $7,200 for single filers and over $12,200 for married joint filers).

Property Taxes: For Oklahomans who own a home, the median property tax rate is $869 per $100,000 of assessed home value. 

For details on other state taxes, see the Oklahoma State Tax Guide for Middle-Class Families.

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5. Alabama

Photo of AlabamaPhoto of Alabama

Overall Rating for Middle-Class Families: Tax-friendly

State Sales Tax: 4% state levy. Localities can add as much as 7.5% to that, and the average combined rate is 9.22%, according to the Tax Foundation. Prescription drugs are exempt. Groceries and clothing are fully taxable, while motor vehicles are taxed at a reduced rate of 2% (additional local taxes may apply).

Income Tax Range: Low: 2% (on up to $1,000 of taxable income for married joint filers and up to $500 for all others); High: 5% (on more than $6,000 of taxable income for married joint filers and more than $3,000 for all others). 

Some Alabama municipalities also impose occupational taxes on salaries and wages.

Property Taxes: In Alabama, the median property tax rate is $395 per $100,000 of assessed home value — the lowest on our list.

For details on other state taxes, see the Alabama State Tax Guide for Middle-Class Families.

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4. Washington

The state of Washington.The state of Washington.

Overall Rating for Middle-Class Families: Most tax-friendly

State Sales Tax: 6.5% state levy. Municipalities can add up to 4% to that, with the average combined rate at 9.23%, according to the Tax Foundation. Grocery items and prescription drugs are exempt. Clothing is taxable, as are motor vehicles. However, there’s an additional 0.3% tax on sales of motor vehicles.

Income Tax Range: Washington has no state income tax.

Property Taxes: Home buyers in the Evergreen State can expect to pay a median property tax rate of $929 per $100,000 of assessed home value. 

For details on other state taxes, see the Washington State Tax Guide for Middle-Class Families.

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3. Arkansas

The state of Arkansas.The state of Arkansas.

Overall Rating for Middle-Class Families: Mixed tax picture

State Sales Tax: 6.5% state levy. Localities can add as much as 5.125%, and the average combined rate is 9.51%, according to the Tax Foundation. Prescription drugs are exempt. Grocery items are taxed at 0.125% (additional local taxes may apply). Motor vehicles are taxed if the purchase price is $4,000 or more (7% tax rate in Texarkana). However, starting in 2022, the rate on sales of used motor vehicles priced between $4,000 and $10,000 will only be 3.5%. Clothing is taxed at the standard rate.

Income Tax Range: Low: 2% (on taxable income from $4,500 to $8,899 for taxpayers with net income less than $22,200), 0.75% (on first $4,499 of taxable income for taxpayers with net income from $22,200 to $79,300), or 2% (on on first $4,000 of taxable income for taxpayers with net income over $79,300); High: 3.4% (on taxable income from $13,400 to $22,199 for taxpayers with net income less than $22,200), 5.9% (on taxable income from $37,200 to $79,300 for taxpayers with net income from $22,200 to $79,300), or 6.6% (on taxable income over $79,300 for taxpayers with net income over $79,300). Beginning in 2021, the top rate for taxpayers with net income over $79,300 will be 5.9% (on taxable income over $8,000).

A “bracket adjustment” of between $40 and $440 is subtracted from the amount of tax due for taxpayers with net income from $79,301 to $84,600.

Property Taxes: For homeowners in the Natural State, the median property tax rate is $612 per $100,000 of assessed home value. 

For details on other state taxes, see the Arkansas State Tax Guide for Middle-Class Families.

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2. Louisiana

The state of Louisiana.The state of Louisiana.

Overall Rating for Middle-Class Families: Tax-friendly

State Sales Tax: 4.45% state levy. Localities can add as much as 7%, and the average combined rate is 9.52%, according to the Tax Foundation. Groceries and prescription drugs are exempt from the state’s sales tax, but localities may tax these. Clothing and motor vehicles are taxable.

Income Tax Range: Low: 2% (on $12,500 or less of taxable income for individuals, $25,000 for joint filers); High: 6% (on more than $50,000 of taxable income, $100,000 for joint filers). 

Property Taxes: The median property tax rate in Louisiana is $534 per $100,000 of assessed home value. 

For details on other state taxes, see the Louisiana State Tax Guide for Middle-Class Families.

 

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1. Tennessee

The states of TennesseeThe states of Tennessee

Overall Rating for Middle-Class Families: Most tax-friendly

State Sales Tax: 7% state levy. There’s also an additional state tax of 2.75% on sales of single items that applies to the portion of the sales price from $1,600 to $3,200. Localities can add up to 2.75%, with an average combined rate of 9.55%, according to the Tax Foundation. Groceries are taxed at 4% by the state, in addition to any additional local taxes. Clothing is taxed at the standard rate. Motor vehicles are taxed at the basic 7% rate, plus the additional 2.75% on purchases between $1,600 and $3,200. There’s no tax on prescription drugs. 

Income Tax Range: There’s no state income tax in Tennessee. However, dividends and some interest are subject to the Hall Tax at a 1% rate in 2020. The first $1,250 in taxable income for individuals ($2,500 for joint filers) is exempt. 2020 is the last year for this tax, which is being phased out. Also, the tax is waived if you’re over the age of 100.

Property Taxes: In Tennessee, the median property tax rate is $636 per $100,000 of assessed home value. 

For details on other state taxes, see the Tennessee State Tax Guide for Middle-Class Families.

Source: kiplinger.com

American Express Blue Cash Preferred $400 Signup Offer With First-Year Fee Waiver

The Offer

American Express cardholders can find their referral link in their Amex login or via public link. Check for the following offer:

  • Blue Cash Preferred is offering a bonus of up to $400. Bonus broken down as follows:
    • Earn 20% back at Amazon up to $200 back
    • Earn $200 when you spend $3,000 within the first 6 months

Card Details

  • Annual fee of $95 waived first year
  • Card earns at the following rates:
    • 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in spend annually, then 1%)
    • 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions
    • 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations
    • 3% cash back on transit (e.g taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more)
    • 1% back on all other purchases
  • You can only get the sign up bonus on American Express cards once

Our Verdict

Previous best bonus was $300, but that didn’t require the Amazon spend. This does require $1,000 in Amazon spend which could be difficult for some people, but if you can do that then this is a good deal (purchasing gift cards should work fine). We will be adding this to our list of the best credit card bonuses.

Hat tip to US Credit Card Guide

Source: doctorofcredit.com

7 Things to Do After College Besides Work

Numerous college students have a trajectory in mind for navigating life after college. For some, getting a job is their top goal. But, are there other things to do after college besides work?

Beyond looking for a traditional entry-level job, there are alternative choices for new grads—including internships, volunteering, grad school, spending time abroad, or serving in Americorps.

Naturally, the options available will differ depending on each person’s situation, as not all alternatives to work come with a paycheck attached.

Here’s a look at these seven things to do after college besides work.

1. Pursuing Internships

One popular alternative to working right after college is finding an internship. Generally, internships are temporary work opportunities, which are sometimes, but not always, paid.

Internships may give recent grads a chance to build up hands-on experience in a field or industry they believe they’re interested in working in full time. For some people, it could help determine whether the reality of working in a given sector meets their expectations.

Whatever grads learn during an internship, having on-the-job experience (even for those who opt to pursue a different career path) could make a job seeker stand out afterwards. Internships can help beef up a resume, especially for recent grads who don’t have much formal job experience.

A potential perk of internships is the chance to further grow your professional network—building relationships with more experienced workers in a particular department or job. Some interns may even be able to turn their short-term internship roles into a full-time position at the same company.

Starting out in an internship can be a great way for graduates to enter the workforce, “road testing” a specific job role or company.

2. Serving with AmeriCorps

Some graduates want to spend their time after college contributing to the greater good of American society. One possible option here is the Americorps program—supported by the US Federal Government.

So, what exactly is Americorps? Americorps is a national service program dedicated to improving lives and fostering civic engagement. There are three main programs that graduates can join in AmeriCorps: AmeriCorps NCCC, AmeriCorps State and National, and AmeriCorps Vista.

There’s a wide variety of options in AmeriCorps, when it comes to how you can serve. Graduates can work in emergency management, help fight poverty, or work in a classroom.

However graduates decide to serve through AmeriCorps, it may provide them with a rewarding professional experience and insights into a potential career.

Practically, Americorps members may also qualify for benefits such as student loan deferment, a living allowance, education awards (upon finishing their service), and skills training.

It may sound a bit dramatic, but AmeriCorps’ slogan is “Be the greater good.” Giving back to society could be a powerful way to spend some time after graduating—supporting organizations in need, while also establishing new professional connections.

3. Attending Grad School

When entering the workforce, graduates may encounter job postings with detailed employment requirements.

Some jobs require just a Bachelor’s degree, while others require a Master’s–think, for instance, of being a lawyer or medical doctor. Depending on their field of study and career goals, some students may opt to go right to graduate school after receiving their undergraduate degrees.

The number of jobs that expect graduate degrees is increasing in the US. Graduates might want to research their desired career fields and see if it’s common for people in these roles to need a master’s or terminal degree.

Some students may wish to take a break in between undergrad and grad school, while others find it easier to go straight through. This choice will vary from student to student, depending on the energy they have to continue school as well as their financial ability to attend graduate school.

Graduate school will be a commitment of time, energy and money. So, it’s advisable that students feel confident that a graduate degree is necessary for the line of work they’d like to end up in before they apply or enroll.

4. Volunteering for a Cause

Volunteering could be a great way for graduates to gain some extra skills before applying for a full-time job. Doing volunteer work may help graduates polish some essential soft skills, like interpersonal communication, interacting with clients or service recipients, and time management.

Another potential benefit to volunteering is the ability to network and forge new connections outside of college. The people-to-people connections made while volunteering could lead to mentorship and job offers.

Volunteering is something graduates can do after college besides work, while still fleshing out their resume or skills.

New grads may want to volunteer at an institution or organization that syncs with their values or, perhaps, pursue opportunities in sectors of the economy where they’d like to work later on (i.e., at a hospital).

On top of all these potential plus sides, volunteering just feels good. It makes people feel happier. And, after all of the stress that accompanies finishing up college, volunteering afterward could be the perfect way to recharge.

5. Serving Abroad

Similar to the last option, volunteering abroad can be attractive to some graduates. It may help grads gain similar skills they’d learn volunteering here at home, while also giving them the opportunity to learn how to interact with people from different cultures, try to learn a new language, and see new perspectives on solving problems.

Though it can be beneficial to the volunteers, volunteering abroad isn’t always as ethical as it seems. And, not all volunteering opportunities always benefit the local community.

It could take research to find organizations that are doing ethically responsible work abroad. One key thing to look for is organizations that put the locals first and have them directly involved in the work.

6. Taking a Gap Year

According to the Gap Year Association , a gap year is “a semester or year of experiential learning, typically taken after high school and prior to career or post-secondary education, in order to deepen one’s practical, professional, and personal awareness.”

While a gap year is generally taken after high school or after college, one common purpose of the gap year is to take the time to learn more about oneself and the world at large—which can be beneficial after graduating from college and trying to figure out what to do next.

Not only might a gap year help grads build insights into what they’d like to do with their later careers, it may also help them home in on a greater purpose in life or build connections that could lead to future job opportunities.

Graduates might want to spend a gap year doing a variety of activities—including:

•   trying out seasonal jobs
•   volunteering
•   interning
•   teaching or tutoring
•   traveling

A gap year can be whatever the graduate thinks will be most beneficial for them.

7. Traveling Before Working

Going on a trip after graduation is a popular choice for graduates that can afford to travel after college. Traveling can be expensive, so graduates may want to budget in advance (if they want to have this experience post-graduation.

On top of just being really fun, travel can have beneficial impacts for an individual’s stress levels and mental health. Research from Cornell University published in 2014 suggests that the anticipation of planning a trip might have the potential to increase happiness.

Traveling after graduation is a convenient time to start ticking locations off that bucket list, because graduates won’t be held back by a limited vacation time. Going abroad before working can give students more time and flexibility to travel as much as they’d like (and can afford to!).

With proper research, graduates can find more affordable ways to travel—such as a multi-country rail pass, etc. It doesn’t have to be all luxury all the time. Budget travel is possible especially when making conscious decisions, like staying in hostels and using public transportation.

If graduates are determined to travel before working, they can accomplish this by saving money and budgeting well.

Navigating Post Graduation Decisions

Whether a recent grad opt to start their careers off right away or to pursue one of the above-mentioned things to do after college besides work, student loans are something that millions of university students have taken out.

After graduating (or if you’ve dropped below half-time enrollment or left school), the reality of paying back student loans sets in. The exact moment that grads will have to begin paying off their student loans will vary by the type of loan.

For federal loans, there are a couple of different times that repayment begins. Students who took out a Direct Subsidized, Direct Unsubsidized, or Federal Family Education Loan, will all have a six month grace period before they’re required to make payments. Students who took out a Perkins loan will have a nine month grace period.

When it comes to the PLUS loan, it depends on the type of student that’s taken one out. Undergraduates will be required to start repayment as soon as the loan is paid out. Graduate and professional students with PLUS loans will be on automatic deferment while they’re in school and up to six months after graduating.

Some graduates opt to refinance their student loans. What does that mean? Well, refinancing student loans is when a lender pays off the existing loan with another loan that has a new interest rate. Refinancing can potentially lower monthly loan repayments or reduce the amount spent on interest over the life of the loan.

Both US federal and private student loans can be refinanced, but when federal student loans are refinanced by a private lender, the borrower forfeits guaranteed federal benefits—including loan forgiveness, deferment and forbearance, and income-driven repayment options.

Refinancing student loans may reduce money paid to interest. For graduates who have secured well-paying jobs and have improved their credit score since taking out their student loan, refinancing could come with a competitive interest rate and different repayment terms.

Graduating from college means officially entering the realm of adulthood, but that transition can take many forms. There are various financial tips that recent graduates may opt to look into.

Thinking about refinancing your student loans? With SoFi, you could get prequalified in just two minutes.



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Source: sofi.com

What Is a Bond Mutual Fund – Risks & Different Types of This Investment

Investing is an important part of saving for the future, but many people are wary of putting their money into the stock market. Stocks can be volatile, with prices that change every day. If you can’t handle the volatility and risk of stocks or want to diversify your portfolio into a less risky investment, bonds are a good way to do so.

As with many types of investments, you can invest in bonds through a mutual fund, which gives you easy diversification and professional portfolio management — for a fee.

Are bond mutual funds a good addition to your portfolio? Here are the basics of these investment vehicles.

What Is a Bond?

A bond is a type of debt security. When organizations such as national and local governments, government agencies, or companies want to borrow money, one of the ways they can get the loan they need is by issuing a bond.

Investors purchase bonds from the organizations issuing them. Typically, bonds come with an interest rate and a maturity. For example, a company might sell bonds with an interest rate of 5% and a maturity of 20 years.

The investor would pay the company $1,000 for a $1,000 bond. Each year, that investor receives an interest payment of $50 (5% of $1,000). After 20 years, the investor receives a final interest payment plus the $1,000 they paid to buy the bond.


What Is a Mutual Fund?

A mutual fund is a way for investors to invest in a diverse portfolio while only having to purchase a single security.

Mutual funds pool money from many investors and use that money to buy bonds, stocks, and other securities. Each investor in the fund effectively owns a portion of the fund’s portfolio, so an investor can buy shares in one mutual fund to get exposure to hundreds of stocks or bonds.

This makes it easy for investors to diversify their portfolios.

Mutual fund managers make sure the fund’s portfolio follows their stated strategy and work towards the fund’s stated goal. Mutual funds charge a fee, called an expense ratio, for their services, which is important for investors to keep in mind when comparing funds.

Pro tip: Most mutual funds can be purchased through the individual fund family or through an online broker like Robinhood or Public.


Types of Bond Mutual Funds

There are many types of bond mutual funds that people can invest in.

1. Government

Government bond funds invest most of their money into bonds issued by different governments. Most American government bond funds invest primarily in bonds issued by the U.S. Treasury.

U.S. government debt is seen as some of the safest debt available. There is very little chance that the United States will default on its payments. That security can be appealing for investors, but also translates to lower interest rates than other bonds.

2. Corporate

Corporate bond funds invest most of their assets into bonds issued by companies.

Just like individuals, businesses receive credit ratings that affect how much interest they have to pay to lenders — in this case, investors looking to buy their bonds. Most corporate bond funds buy “investment-grade” bonds, which include the highest-rated bonds from the most creditworthy companies.

The lower a bond’s credit rating, the higher the interest rate it will pay. However, lower credit ratings also translate to a higher risk of default, so corporate bond funds will hold a mixture of bonds from a variety of companies to help diversify their risks.

3. Municipal

Municipal bonds are bonds issued by state and local governments, as well as government agencies.

Like businesses, different municipalities can have different credit ratings, which impacts the interest they must pay to sell their bonds. Municipal bond funds own a mixture of different bonds to help reduce the risk of any one issuer defaulting on its payments.

One unique perk of municipal bonds is that some or all of the interest that investors earn can be tax-free. The tax treatment of the returns depends on the precise holdings of the fund and where the investor lives.

Some mutual fund companies design special municipal bond funds for different states, giving investors from those states an option that provides completely tax-free yields.

The tax advantages municipal bond funds offer can make their effective yields higher than other bond funds that don’t offer tax-free yields. For example, someone in the 24% tax bracket would need to earn just under 4% on a taxable bond fund to get the equivalent return of a tax-free municipal bond fund offering 3%.

4. High-Yield

High-yield bond funds invest in bonds that offer higher interest rates than other bonds, like municipal bonds and government bonds.

Typically, this means buying bonds from issuers with lower credit ratings than investment-grade bonds. These bonds are sometimes called junk bonds. Their name comes from the fact that they are significantly riskier than other types of bonds, so there’s a higher chance that the issuer defaults and stops making interest payments.

Bond mutual funds diversify by buying bonds from hundreds of different issuers, which can help reduce this risk, but there’s still a good chance that some of the bonds in the fund’s portfolio will go into default, which can drag down the fund’s performance.

5. International

Foreign governments and companies need to borrow money just like American companies and governments. There’s nothing stopping Americans from investing in foreign bonds, so there are some mutual funds that focus on buying international bonds.

Each country and company has a credit rating that impacts the interest rate it has to pay. Many stable governments are seen as highly safe, much like the United States, but smaller or less economically developed nations sometimes have lower credit ratings, leading them to pay higher interest rates.

Another factor to keep in mind with international bonds is the currency they’re denominated in.

With American bonds, you buy the bond in dollars and get interest payments in dollars. If you buy a British bond, you might have to convert your dollars to pounds to buy the bond and receive your interest payments in pounds. This adds some currency risk to the equation, which can make investing in international bond funds more complex.

6. Mixed

Some bond mutual funds don’t specialize in any single type of bond. Instead, they hold a variety of bonds, foreign and domestic, government and corporate. This lets the fund managers focus on buying high-quality bonds with solid yields instead of restricting themselves to a specific class of bonds.


Why Invest in Bond Mutual Funds?

There are a few reasons for investors to consider investing in bond mutual funds.

Reduce Portfolio Risk and Volatility

One advantage of investing in bonds is that they tend to be much less risky and volatile than stocks.

Investing in stocks or mutual funds that hold stocks is an effective way to grow your investment portfolio. The S&P 500, for example, has averaged returns of almost 10% per year over the past century. However, in some years, the index has moved almost 40% upward or downward.

Over the long term, it’s easier to handle the volatility of stocks, but some people don’t have long-term investing goals. For example, people in retirement are more concerned with producing income and maintaining their spending power.

Putting some of your portfolio into bonds can reduce the impact of volatile stocks on your portfolio. This can be good for more risk-averse investors or those who have shorter time horizons for their investments.

There are some mutual funds, called target-date mutual funds, that hold a mix of stocks and bonds and increase their bond holdings over time, reducing risk as the target date nears.

Income

Bonds make regular interest payments to their holders and the majority of bond funds use some of the money they receive to make payments to their investors. This makes bond mutual funds popular among investors who want to make their investment portfolio a source of passive income.

You can look at different bond mutual funds and their annual yields to get an idea of how much income they’ll provide each year. For example, if a mutual fund offers a yield of 2.5%, investors can expect to receive $250 each year for every $10,000 they invest in the fund.

Pro tip: Have you considered hiring a financial advisor but don’t want to pay the high fees? Enter Vanguard Personal Advisor Services. When you sign up you’ll work closely with an advisor to create a custom investment plan that can help you meet your financial goals. Read our Vanguard Personal Advisor Services review.


Risks of Bond Funds

Before investing in bonds or bond mutual funds, you should consider the risks of investing in bonds.

Interest Rate Risk

One of the primary risks of fixed-income investing — whether you’re investing in bonds or bond funds — is interest rate risk.

Investors can buy and sell most bonds on the open market in addition to buying newly issued bonds directly from the issuing company or government. The market value of a bond will change with market interest rates.

In general, if market rates rise, the value of existing bonds falls. Conversely, if market rates fall, the value of existing bonds rises.

To understand why this happens, consider this example. Say you purchased a BBB-rated corporate bond with an interest rate of 2% for $1,000. Since you bought the bond, market rates have increased, so now BBB-rated companies now have to pay 3% to convince investors to buy their bonds.

If someone can buy a new $1,000 bond paying 3% interest, why would they pay you the same amount for your $1,000 bond paying 2% interest? If you want to sell your bond, you’ll have to sell it at a discount because investors can get a better deal on newly issued bonds.

Of course, the opposite is true if interest rates fall. In the above example, if market rates fell to 1%, you could command a premium for your bond paying 2% because investors can’t find new bonds of the same quality that pay that much anymore.

Interest rate risk applies to bond funds just as it applies to individual bonds. As rates rise, the share price of the fund tends to fall and vice versa.

Generally, the longer the bond’s maturity, the greater the effect a change in market interest rates will have on the bond’s value. Short-term bonds have much less interest rate risk than long-term bonds. Bond funds usually list the average time to maturity of bonds in their portfolio, which can help you assess a fund’s interest rate risk.

Credit Risk

Bonds are debt securities, meaning they’re reliant on the bond issuer being able to pay its debts.

Just like people, companies and governments can go bankrupt or default on their loan payments. If this happens, the people who own those bonds won’t get the money they lent back.

Bond mutual funds hold thousands of bonds, but if one of the issuers defaults, some of the fund’s bonds become worthless, reducing the value of the investors’ shares in the fund.

Bonds issued by organizations with higher credit ratings are generally less risky than those with poor credit ratings. For example, most people would consider U.S. government bonds to have a very low credit risk. A junk bond fund would have much more credit risk.

Foreign Exchange Risk

If you’re buying shares in a bond fund that invests in foreign bonds, you should consider foreign exchange risk.

Currencies constantly fluctuate in value. Over the past five years, $1 could buy anywhere between 0.80 and 0.96 euros.

To maximize returns, investors want to buy foreign bonds when the dollar is strong and receive interest payments and return of principal when the dollar is weak.

However, it’s incredibly hard to predict how currencies’ values will change over time, so investors in foreign bonds should consider how changing currency values will affect their returns.

Some bond funds use different strategies to hedge against this risk, using tools like currency futures or buying dollar-denominated bonds from foreign entities.

Fees

Mutual funds charge fees, which they commonly express as an expense ratio.

A fund’s expense ratio is the percentage of your invested assets that you pay each year. For example, someone who invests $10,000 in a mutual fund with a 1% expense ratio will pay $100 in fees each year.

Expense ratio fees are included when calculating the fund’s share price each day, so you don’t have to worry about having cash on hand to pay the fee. The fees are taken directly out of the fund’s share price, almost imperceptibly. Still, it’s important to understand the impact fees have on your overall returns.

If you invest $10,000 in a fund that produces an annual return of 5% and has a 0.25% expense ratio, after 20 years you’ll have $25,297.68. If that same fund had an expense ratio of 0.50%, you’d finish the 20 years with $24,117.14 instead.

In this example, a difference of 0.25% in fees would cost you more than $1,000.

If you find two bond funds with similar holdings and strategies, the one with the lower fees tends to be the better choice.


Final Word

Bond mutual funds are a popular way for investors to get exposure to bonds in their portfolios. Just as there are many different types of stocks, there are many types of bonds, each with advantages and disadvantages.

If you don’t want to pick and choose bonds to invest in, bond funds offer instant diversification and professional management. If you want an even more hands-off investing experience, working with a financial advisor or robo-advisor that handles your entire portfolio may be worth considering.

Source: moneycrashers.com