How I Earned Up to $4,000 Per Month Baking Dog Treats (With Zero Baking Experience!)

Hello! Are you interested in starting a dog treat bakery business? Well, good news, this article will tell you what you need to know. Plus, you can sign up for this free training workshop that will teach you how to start your own side hustle baking and selling dog treats.

Hi! My name is Kristin Larsen, and I run Believe in a Budget, a blog about personal finance and my experience with various side hustles. (It feels like I’ve tried them all over the years!)dog treat bakery business

dog treat bakery business

As I’ve written about before here on Making Sense of Cents, my favorite online side hustle is working as a Pinterest virtual assistant. Managing Pinterest accounts is a great way to earn an income entirely online.

But today, I’m here to talk about a completely different side hustle, one that can be run entirely offline if you want (or entirely online, or a combination!).

While I love being able to work from home (or anywhere) on my computer, there is something to be said about stepping away from the computer and doing work that doesn’t involve the ‘virtual world’ – work that requires you to move around a little instead of being planted in front of a screen all day long!

In the case of this side hustle, it involves moving around the kitchen baking up beautiful and delicious dog treats.

Yes, dog treats!

The side hustle I’m speaking of is starting a dog treat bakery and I’m so excited to share it with you today. As a successful dog treat baker myself, I know first-hand how in-demand and lucrative this business can be.

How do you start a dog bakery?

How I Took My Dog Treat Bakery from Passion to Side Hustle to Full-Time Job

My dog treat bakery story started over ten years ago when I was an interior architect and designer at my 9-5 job.

At the time, I was the proud dog mom of Bella, a sweet-but-very-high-maintenance pup. Her birthday was coming up and I wanted to give her a birthday treat that fit her ‘diva dog’ personality.

I went to the local pet store and perused the aisles, but all I could find were treats filled with ingredients I couldn’t pronounce that looked like they had been sitting on the shelves for years. After a disappointing visit, I walked out the door and decided that I was going to bake Bella a treat.

This was kind of laughable since baking was not something I had done much of in my life, but I was going to figure out a way to make it work.

I decided to do some research by going to a local bakery and spending a lot of time staring at the baked goods (awkward!), trying to figure out which one I could recreate for Bella. I finally decided on a pretty cupcake adorned with white icing.

I went home, researched dog-safe ingredients and got to work planning Bella’s birthday treat. After a quick trip to Target to buy a mini cupcake tin, I started baking.

About an hour later, her birthday cupcake was baked, iced and ready to serve. Despite its small size, it was a huge success she loved it!

As soon as I saw how much she loved her treat, you could say I became a little obsessed with making wholesome, healthy treats for her. Soon, I started gifting them to friends and family.

I went from developing a single cupcake recipe to developing over 20 different dog treat recipes everything from treat bones to cookies to brownies to cakes!

Pretty soon, the friends and family who were on the receiving end of my gifts were saying: ‘Kristin, our dog(s) LOVED your treats. Can we buy some to gift? Can my friends/family/co-workers/neighbors buy some?’

With those questions, Diva Dog Bakery™ was born!

My little ‘obsession’ quickly became a side hustle, first bringing in $100 to $200 a month, then over $500 a month, just selling through word-of-mouth. It was the easiest money I had ever made!

In a serendipitous turn of events, I ended up losing my 9-5 job a few months after I started Diva Dog Bakery™. It was during the Great Recession, so I couldn’t find a job in my industry anywhere. My unemployment checks weren’t enough and I was quickly going through my savings.

I was initially stuck in a ‘dog treat bakery = side hustle’ mindset,  so it didn’t immediately occur to me to try to turn my side hustle into a full-time business. But when my money was drying up, it finally clicked: I can turn this into a full-time business!

I went all-in on my bakery and hustled hard. I sold at multiple farmers markets every Saturday (shout-out to my parents who helped me ‘be’ in multiple locations at once!), started a successful Etsy shop and also sold products wholesale.

Pretty soon, I went from going broke to making a solid $3,000 to $4,000 per month… despite the economy being in the biggest downturn since the Great Depression. 

Needless to say, I was ecstatic!

The especially exciting thing about my earnings is this was nearly ten years ago when the dog treat industry wasn’t nearly as hot. These days, my efforts could easily bring in double that!

The Opportunities in the Dog Treat Industry (Why You Should Start a Dog Treat Bakery)

When I first started my dog treat bakery, the idea of buying homemade cupcakes or brownies or cookies for your dog was still considered a little ‘out there.’

These days, dog owners are much more tuned in to the idea of pampering their pooches and they’re willing to spend money to make it happen.

Here are a few interesting stats for you:

  • The dog treat market is incredibly hot right now and getting even hotter… to the tune of almost 7 BILLION dollars in sales in just 2020 alone! (source)
  • Over six out of ten dog owners are concerned about the safety of the dog treats they purchase. (source)
  • Dog owners are especially interested in purchasing dog treats with wholesome, easy-to-pronounce ingredients. (source)

It’s never been a better time to get started with a homemade dog treat bakery!

How Much You Can Earn Baking Dog Treats at Home

If you just want to run a fun-but-profitable hobby, you can easily earn $500 to $1,000 a month with a dog treat bakery as a side hustle.

At this level, you can do all of the work yourself in just a few hours a week. If you have kids, you can also have them pitch in. A dog treat bakery is a great family business!

If you want to turn your dog treat bakery into a full-time business, you can scale it into four figures a month, or even five figures a month.

If you want to scale your dog treat bakery into a full-time business, expect to work 30 to 35 hours a week yourself. If you want to have a heavy farmers market presence, you will probably need to bring on some help for a few hours each week so you can have a presence at multiple farmers markets at the same time. (The best ones are usually on Saturday mornings.)

If things get really busy, you can bring on baking help, marketing help, shipping help and more! You can make this business as big (or as small) as you’d like.

Where to Sell Your Dog Treats

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, you can run your dog treat baking business in a way that suits your lifestyle. You can run it offline, online, or both!

There are so many ways and places to sell your treats, but here are a few ideas to get you started.

Offline:

  • Word-of-mouth sales (e.g., friends, family, co-workers, church)
  • Farmers markets
  • Wholesale to local businesses (e.g., pet stores, veterinarian offices, gift shops) 

Online:

  • Etsy shop
  • Social media for local sales
  • Social media for nationwide sales

How Much Does it Cost to Start a Dog Treat Bakery?

Like nearly all businesses, starting a dog treat bakery comes with a few start-up costs, but you will easily earn these back when sales start coming in, or you can even take pre-sale orders! (Have I mentioned that the profit margin on dog treats is amazing?!)

Typical start-up costs for homemade dog treat bakeries in the U.S.* include:

  • $20 to $50 for the initial ingredients, plus a few inexpensive baking tools if you don’t already have them in your kitchen
  • $0 to $75 for treat packaging costs
  • $25 to $50 for a business license
  • Between a $25 one-off fee to up to a $50 per-treat fee to register your treats with your state – this will depend on your state’s regulations

*Costs and laws outside of the U.S. will vary from what is listed here.

Are Dog Treat Bakeries Regulated?

Yes, but not nearly as much as ‘people food’ bakeries. (Good for would-be dog treat bakers, but a little sad for our furry friends!)

In the U.S., the exact regulations you will need to follow are decided by your state and sometimes your local area (e.g., county, city). This is easy information to find out by contacting the following agencies:

  • State department of agriculture or feed control office
  • State and local health departments

You can also contact your state’s business agency and tell them you want to start a pet treat bakery. Many states have information on file about pet treat bakeries that tell you everything you need to do.

Don’t be intimidated by this process – in most cases, all you have to do is fill out a few forms and pay a few small registration fees!

How to Get Started as a Dog Treat Baker

When I first started Diva Dog Bakery™, I honestly had no idea what I was doing.

Although I saw success pretty quickly, there was a lot of trial-and-error because I had no one to guide me. I didn’t know anyone who owned a bakery, let alone a dog treat bakery.

The one thing I definitely did right at the beginning – and what I recommend to you if you want to become a homemade dog treat baker – was to spend some time in the kitchen learning how to make treats.

Because I wasn’t much of a baker (and maybe you aren’t either), getting a little baking experience under my belt was very helpful.

I also tested out my treats on my dogs and the dogs of some of my friends and family. Dogs may not be able to talk, but you can tell pretty easily which treats they love eating and which treats they’ll turn their nose up at!

With this data, you can start to package up and sell the most-liked treats. You can scale it from there and start to build up your business.

If the idea of going it alone on a dog treat bakery business sounds a little intimidating, I’d like to welcome you to join the Diva Dog Bakery™ course where I’ll teach you exactly how to build a thriving dog treat bakery business!

Here’s what the course covers:

  • How to best make and store dog treats (this is where you’ll practice your baking techniques)
  • How to turn your hobby into a legal dog treat business 
  • How to package your treats beautifully without hours of effort (beautifully packaged treats command premium prices!)
  • How to price your dog treats so you maximize your revenue
  • Where to sell your dog treats: offline, online or both
  • The best methods for accepting payment
  • How to most efficiently and inexpensively ship and deliver your treats
  • The best ways to promote your business so you build up a following of raving fans and repeat customers!

You’ll also receive valuable bonuses, including:

  • My full dog treat recipe book, which includes the most popular and profitable recipes I used in my bakery
  • Guaranteed analysis/nutrition labels to use on your treats (required by certain states)
  • 30 days of free access to the Diva Dog Bakery™ Community so you can get all of your questions answered while you grow your business, including live training

It has been so exciting to help new dog treat bakers launch their businesses! Cheering on every baking success and every business success is truly the best part of my day.

Lessons Learned from a Cupcake… and a Phone Call

I like to say that Diva Dog Bakery™ started with a cupcake.

But it really, truly started when, after gifting treats to friends, one of those friends called me and said: ‘Kristin, can I buy a bag of your dog treats?’

Until that moment, I had no idea that anyone would actually want to pay for the treats I had been making as a labor of love.

I learned a valuable lesson that day: there is a market out there for so many different products and services. Whether it’s a product or service that we dream up on our own or that we learn from a course, there is probably someone who wants to buy it from us.

We just have to figure out a way to make that sale happen… and then make it happen again and again!

Dog Treat Bakeries are a Great Business to Start

If you’re interested in starting a business that’s ‘outside the box’ of the typical online businesses, then I highly recommend starting a dog treat bakery. 

The industry is booming, the work is enjoyable, the profit margin is fantastic and (maybe the best reason of all) you have the cutest customers!

To get started on your dog treat bakery journey, I’m offering a free dog treat bakery workshop! Check out the sales page here and sign up for the free workshop.

If you have any other questions about starting a dog treat bakery after watching the workshop, just email me and I’d be happy to answer them.

Are you interested in starting a dog treat bakery?

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Source: makingsenseofcents.com

Most Affordable Beach Towns – 2021 Edition

Most Affordable Beach Towns – 2021 Edition – SmartAsset

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Living by the beach can be expensive. Mortgage payments, property taxes and space can make your dream home unattainable. But if you know where to look, you can find a shore home without breaking the bank. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that the U.S. has over 95,000 miles of shoreline, which includes all the coastal states and Alaska, as well as the island state of Hawaii. SmartAsset took a look at popular oceanfront communities in America to rank the most affordable beach towns in 2021.

We compared data for 218 beach towns and ranked them by four key real estate metrics: median home value, average number of rooms per house, median monthly property taxes paid and monthly housing costs. 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 sixth annual study on the most affordable beach towns in America. Check out the 2020 version here.

Key Findings

  • The best deals are still in the South. The top 10 cities in this study are located in three Southern states: four in Florida, four in Mississippi and two in Texas. While Florida may be an obvious choice for many people, the prevalence of Mississippi and Texas on our list shows how thinking outside of the box can help you find affordable deals to fulfill your beach home dream.
  • Low property taxes and cheap monthly costs: Homeowners in the top 10 beach communities on our list take advantage of low property taxes and affordable housing costs. Median annual property taxes for these cities are just $1,185, and median monthly housing costs are $746. By comparison, those figures are $8,677 and $2,956, respectively, for the study’s bottom 10 cities.

1. Biloxi, MS

Biloxi, Mississippi, ranks at the top of our list as the most affordable beach town in America. It overtook 2020’s winner Gulfport, a Magnolia State neighbor located approximately 13 miles west. The Gulf Coast city has a median home value of $161,700, which is the ninth-lowest value for this metric in the study. Biloxi ranks sixth overall for its low monthly housing costs, at $737. Median property taxes in Biloxi are $1,196, finishing just outside the top 10 at 13th, but still well within the top quartile of our study.

2. Gulfport, MS

With almost seven miles of white sandy beaches, Gulfport, Mississippi, ranks as a strong second. Located on the Gulf of Mexico, approximately 80 miles northeast of New Orleans, its median home value is $122,300 (fourth-lowest across all 218 cities in our study). Property taxes and monthly housing costs are also fairly low, ranking 11th overall for median tax payment, at $1,069, and ninth for monthly housing costs at $811.

3. Port Arthur, TX

Historically known as a prosperous oil refining city in the Gulf of Mexico, Port Arthur, Texas, ranks third. Located less than 90 miles east of Houston, this Gulf city has the lowest median home value in the study, at $65,800. Port Arthur also ranks first for its low monthly housing costs, at just $455. But overall, the city comes in at No. 3 because it falls in the bottom half of the study for average number of rooms per house, at just 5.7.

4. Pensacola, FL

Located on the Florida panhandle, Pensacola has a long-standing military history that helped earn its nickname as the “Cradle of Naval Aviation.” It ranks in the top quartile for three metrics – 18th for median property taxes at $1,291, 19th for median home value at $182,800 and 22nd for monthly housing costs at $940.

5. Ocean Springs, MS

Just east of Biloxi and Gulfport, Ocean Springs, Mississippi ranks in the top quartile for all four of the metrics we analyzed. It has the 15th-lowest median home value at $174,000 and ranks 24th out of 218 for median property taxes at $1,445. The average monthly housing cost in Ocean Springs is $1,021, ranking 33rd for this metric in our study. For its 6.8 average number of rooms per house, the beach town ranks 27th.

6. Bay St. Louis, MS

Known for its white sand beaches and charter fishing, Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, is located a little more than 60 miles east of New Orleans. This Gulf city places in the top 20 for three of our metrics, ranking eighth for monthly housing costs at $782, 12th for median property taxes paid at $1,140 and 14th for median home value at $172,600. Bay St. Louis homes tend to be slightly smaller, though, ranking in the bottom half of the study (tied at 118th place) with an average of 5.9 rooms per house.

7. Freeport, TX

Located almost 62 miles south from Houston, and about 45 miles southwest of Galveston, Freeport, Texas, has the second-lowest median home value across all 218 cities in the study, at $81,000. And the town also has the second-lowest median monthly housing costs, at $479. Freeport homes, however, are on the smaller side, ranking in the bottom half of this study with just 5.6 rooms on average.

8. Melbourne, FL

Melbourne, Florida, is the highest-ranked beach town on the Atlantic Ocean shore. Located approximately 35 miles south of the Kennedy Space Center, Melbourne residents average $853 on monthly housing costs, ranking 12th for this metric. This city also ranks just outside of the top 10, with the 13th-most affordable median home value, at $169,000. However, Melbourne houses tend to be on the smaller side, ranking in the bottom half of this study (tying with Bay St. Louis, Mississippi at 118th) with an average of 5.9 rooms.

9. Daytona Beach, FL

Widely recognized as a mecca for automobile racing, Daytona Beach, Florida, is located almost 57 miles northeast of Orlando. This Atlantic Coast city is a popular vacation destination, but with a median home value of just $153,000 – the seventh-lowest in our study – it is an attractive option for those who want to live on the beach full-time for relatively cheap. Daytona Beach residents pay only $723 in median monthly housing costs, the fifth-lowest across all 218 cities we considered.

10. Fort Pierce, FL

Rounding out the top 10 on our 2021 list of most affordable beach towns, Fort Pierce, Florida, is located approximately 54 miles south of Melbourne. Homeowners in this city pay only $908 in median property taxes, ranking seventh for this metric. Fort Pierce ranks third overall for its affordable median monthly housing costs, at $655. And the median value of a Fort Pierce home is $113,600, also ranking third. But the city falls near the bottom of the study for house size, with an average of 5.3 rooms per house.

Data and Methodology

In order to find the most affordable beach towns in the country, SmartAsset compared 218 cities located directly on an ocean (including bays and sounds). Specifically, we examined the following four metrics:

  • Home value. This is the median home value in each city. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 5-year American Community Survey.
  • Number of rooms. This is the average number of rooms per house. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 5-year American Community Survey.
  • Property taxes. This is the median property taxes paid. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 5-year American Community Survey.
  • Monthly housing costs. This is the median monthly housing costs. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 5-year American Community Survey.

First, we ranked each city in each metric. Next, we found each city’s average ranking, assigning an equal weight to each metric except for the average number of rooms, which received a half weight. We then ranked the cities according to this average. The city with the best average ranking received a 100. The city with the worst average ranking received a 0.

Tips for Buying a Home

  • Want to live in a beach town? Start saving now, and think about getting some help from a financial advisor. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool connects you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors, get started now.
  • Make sure your budget allows for your ideal home. Before you start looking at homes, figure out how much house you can afford so that you aren’t wasting any time looking at places that aren’t right for you.
  • Time and tide wait for none. If you want to move to the shore in retirement, start saving now, and make sure to take advantage of a workplace retirement plan like a 401(k) if you have access to it.

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

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/benedek

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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FHA loan limits increase for single-family and multifamily loans

2021 FHA loan limits range from
$350K to over $1.5 million

FHA loan limits just increased for all home buyers
and refinancing homeowners.

The new baseline FHA loan limit is $356,362 for single-family homes.

Multifamily loan limits now go up to $685,400 for a 4-unit property.

And that’s just the “floor.” In high-cost areas, the FHA loan limit “ceiling” goes all the way up to $822,375 for a single-family home and over $1.5 million for a 4-unit property.

Though loan limits have increased, FHA mortgages are still available with a credit score starting at 580 and 3.5% down.

And, FHA mortgage rates are still sitting at historic lows.

Verify your FHA loan eligibility (Jan 16th, 2021)


In this article (Skip to…)


FHA loan limits by county for
2021

In order to get approved for an FHA loan, your mortgage must be within the maximum loan amount the FHA will insure. Known as “FHA
loan limits”, these maximums vary by county.

This year the Department of Housing and Urban
Development (HUD) is increasing FHA loan limits in almost every county (3,100)
while just 125 counties will remain the same.

There are four different pricing tiers for FHA loan
limits: a standard tier, a mid-range
tier, a high-cost tier, and a special exception tier.

In low-cost counties, FHA loan limits are now capped at $356,362 for a single-family home loan.

In high-cost counties, FHA’s single-family loan limit is $822,375.

However, many counties fall in the ‘mid-range’ category with limits somewhere between the floor and ceiling.

Single-family (one-unit) FHA loan limits

Low-Cost Area $356,362
Mid-Range Area $356,363–$822,374
High-Cost Area $822,375
AK, HI, Guam, & Virgin Islands $1,233,550

According to FHA’s guidelines, a low-cost area is
one where you can multiply the
median home price by 115% and the product is less than $356,362.

Similarly, a high-cost area is one where the median home price
multiplied by 115% is greater than $822,375.
There are just 65 U.S. counties
with home prices high enough to qualify for FHA’s maximum loan limit.

There are also ‘special exception’ loan limits in
Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In these areas, FHA caps
single-family home loans at a surprising $1,233,550.

FHA says the higher
loan limits in Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, and the Virgin Islands are meant to “account for higher costs of construction.”

You can look up your local FHA loan limits using this search tool.

Verify your FHA loan eligibility (Jan 16th, 2021)

FHA multifamily loan limits

The Federal Housing Administration also backs
mortgages on 2-, 3-, and 4-unit properties. These types of homes have higher
loan limits than single-family residences.

FHA multifamily loan limits

  2-Unit Property 3-Unit Property 4-Unit Property
Low-Cost Area $456,275 $551,500 $685,400
Mid-Range Area $456,276–$1,052,999 $551,501–$1,272,749 $685,401–$1,581,749
High-Cost Area $1,053,000 $1,272,750 $1,581,750
AK, HI, Guam, & Virgin Islands $1,579,500 $1,909,125 $2,372,625

Although FHA allows multifamily home loans, the
property must still be considered a ‘primary residence.’ That means the
homebuyer needs to live in one of the units full time.

In other words, an FHA loan cannot be used to
purchase an investment property. However, you can use an FHA mortgage to
purchase a 2-4 unit property, live in one unit, and rent out the others.

In this way it’s possible to get a multifamily loan
up to $1.5 million with a low-rate FHA loan and just 3.5% down payment.

What is an
FHA loan?

It can be confusing, but the Federal Housing Administration is not actually a mortgage lender. Rather, it’s a
mortgage loan insurer

The FHA provides insurance for banks and lenders that make FHA loans.

Payment for this insurance is known as the FHA ‘mortgage insurance
premium’ (MIP). It’s paid by homeowners but protects FHA mortgage lenders against
losses from loan defaults or foreclosure.

The main benefit of FHA-backed loans is that they’re often easier to qualify for than conforming mortgages.

FHA loan requirements
tend to be more lenient for first-time, low-credit, and lower-income borrowers.

As a few examples of the FHA’s buyer-friendly rules:

  • FHA mortgages require a down payment of just 3.5 percent
  • FHA loan down payment monies can be gifted from a family member
  • The minimum credit score requirement for an FHA loan is 580 in most cases

There are other FHA loan perks, too.

For example, FHA loans are assumable. This means that a
future buyer of your home can “assume” its existing mortgage at whatever
the mortgage rate happens to be.

If today’s mortgage rates are 3% and rates are 10% when
you sell, instead of applying for a new loan, your buyer can assume your
existing 3% FHA mortgage rate instead. This can make your home much easier
to sell in the future.

Another FHA loan perk is that FHA mortgage rates don’t change
with low credit scores or property type. FHA mortgage rates are the same, no
matter whether your score is a 740 or a 580; or, whether you live in a
single-family home or a 4-unit.

All FHA borrowers get access to the same, below market mortgage
rates that make FHA financing so attractive.

Check today’s FHA loan rates (Jan 16th, 2021)

FHA vs. conforming loan limits

FHA mortgage limits are closely tied to conforming loan limits.

Every year, the Federal Housing Finance Agency
(FHFA) updates its home price index. This is used to set both conforming loan
limits and FHA loan limits. But the two are calculated differently. 

Conforming loans — which follow guidelines set by
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — have higher loan limits than FHA mortgages.

For example, look at the standard, single-family loan limits for 2021.

  • FHA’s loan
    limit “floor” is $356,362
  • The
    conforming loan “floor” is $548,250 — a full $190K higher

However, not everyone can qualify for higher loan amounts via a conventional mortgage.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac require a minimum credit
score of 620 for a conforming loan. And for borrowers with credit on the lower
end of the spectrum, they charge higher rates and expensive private mortgage
insurance (PMI).

FHA loans are more attractive for borrowers with
fair credit despite having lower loan limits.

It’s possible to qualify for FHA financing with a
credit score as low as 580, and a low score won’t force you into a high
interest rate.

The FHA does charge its own mortgage insurance premium.
But this is often more affordable than conventional loan PMI for borrowers with
low credit and a small down payment.

FHA
Streamline Refinance loan limits

One perk of having an FHA loan is that you can refinance using the FHA Streamline Refinance program.

The FHA Streamline is a low-doc loan that gives homeowners the ability to
refinance without having to verify income, credit, or employment.

When you refinance via the FHA Streamline program, your new loan
must be within local FHA loan limits. But this will not be an issue.

Since the FHA Streamline can only be used on an existing FHA loan —
and no cash-out is allowed — you won’t be able to increase your loan balance
above current FHA mortgage limits.  

Other requirements for the FHA Streamline Refinance include:

  • You
    must be making your current mortgage payments on time. The FHA wants to see
    that your last 3 mortgage payments have been paid on time, and that you’ve been
    late on payments no more than one time in the last 12 months
  • Your
    current FHA mortgage must be at least 6 months old. The FHA will verify that
    you’ve made at least six payments on your current mortgage before allowing you
    to use the FHA Streamline Refinance program
  • The
    agency will verify that there’s a “benefit” to your refinance. Known as the Net
    Tangible Benefit clause, your “combined rate” must drop by at least 0.5%. You
    can achieve this portion of FHA eligibility by dropping your interest rate,
    mortgage insurance rate, or a combination of both

If you meet these guidelines, the FHA Streamline is a great way to
refinance into today’s ultra-low mortgage rates and lower your monthly payment.

Today’s FHA loan rates

FHA mortgages are riding the low-interest-rate
wave. With mortgage rates at historic lows, and loan limits on the rise, it’s
an excellent time to consider FHA financing.

Check with a lender to see how much home you can
afford thanks to 2021 FHA loan limits.

Verify your new rate (Jan 16th, 2021)

Source: themortgagereports.com

Best Cities for Diversity in STEM – 2020 Edition

Best Cities for Diversity in STEM – 2020 Edition – SmartAsset

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your financial details.

Over the past 30 years, employment in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs has grown by almost 80%, according to a recent figure from Pew Research Center. However, there is still significant disparity in representation across gender lines and particularly racial ones: though Blacks and Hispanics combined accounted for more than a quarter (27%) of the 2016 U.S. workforce, Pew reports they totaled only 16% of the STEM workforce. Where people live, though, can be a factor in their access to companies that value a more heterogeneous group of employees. That’s why SmartAsset decided to find which cities are doing better than others when it comes to diversifying STEM workforces.

To find the best cities for diversity in STEM, we took a closer look at racial and gender breakdowns of workers in the 35 cities with the largest STEM workforces. 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.

This is SmartAsset’s fifth study on the best cities for diversity in STEM. Read the 2019 version here.

Key Findings

  • New entrants to our list, including Oakland, California at No. 1. Some cities on this year’s list didn’t rank in the past, because their smaller STEM workforces meant the Census lacked sufficient demographic data. Oakland was not in the running in last year’s version of our study for that reason, but it takes first place this year, indicating a growing, diverse STEM workforce. Two other cities that were not in our rankings last year but do appear this year are Indianapolis, Indiana (at No. 11) and Colorado Springs, Colorado (at No. 35).
  • White men still comprise a majority of the STEM workforce. In all 35 of the cities in our study, men comprise more than 60% of the STEM workforce. In terms of race/ethnicity, there are just 10 cities in which white workers comprise less than 50% of the STEM workforce and only three cities in which white workers comprise 25% or less of the STEM workforce: Sunnyvale, San Jose and Fremont in California.

 1. Oakland, CA

Oakland, California takes the No. 1 spot in our study. Even though the STEM workforce is almost 63% male, the city ranks second-best on our gender diversity index for STEM workers, just after Washington, D.C. In terms of racial makeup, Oakland’s race/ethnicity index is seventh-highest in the study. Black workers make up a little more than 8% of the STEM workforce, Asian workers make up about 22% and Hispanic or Latino workers make up more than 10%. White workers make up more than 52% of STEM workers.

2. Boston, MA

Boston, Massachusetts has the third-best gender diversity index across all 35 cities: Almost 64% of STEM workers are men, and a little more than 36% are women. In terms of race/ethnicity, white workers make up about 59% of all STEM workers, Black workers make up close to 7%, Asian workers close to 18% and Hispanic workers about 13%.

3. Philadelphia, PA

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, STEM workers total 38,000, two-thirds of whom are male and one-third of whom are female. White workers make up about 57% (about 21,800), Black workers make up a little more than 15% (roughly 5,700), Asian workers make up almost 17% (about 6,400) and Hispanic or Latino workers make up almost 9% (roughly 3,400).

4. Washington, DC

In Washington, D.C. the total number of workers in STEM amounts to about 49,100. The roughly 18,600 women in these jobs make up almost 38% of this total, and the more than 30,400 men make up roughly 62%. Despite this disparity, Washington ranks the best for gender diversity in our study.

In terms of race, Hispanic or Latino workers comprise almost 10% of STEM workers, Asian workers comprise less than 5% and Black workers make up more than 24% (which is the highest percentage for this demographic in the study). The remaining roughly 57% of STEM workers are white.

5. New York, NY

New York, New York has the highest number of workers in STEM across all 35 cities, at almost 215,700. Almost 68,700 women (about 32%) comprise this total, while more than 147,000 men (68%) do.

New York City ranks second best on racial/ethnic diversity in our study. About 108,800 of STEM workers in New York City, or about 50%, are white. Almost 14% are Black, about 29,500. More than 22% are Asian, almost 48,400. Hispanic and Latino workers in the field total about 12%, at about 26,300.

6. Chicago, IL

There are about 95,100 STEM workers in Chicago, Illinois. Of this total, about 68% are men and about 32% are women. More than 57% of STEM workers in Chicago are white, about 11% are Black, almost 16% are Asian and close to 15% workers are Hispanic or Latino.

7. Houston, TX

The total number of STEM workers in Houston, Texas exceeds 79,500. Almost 70% of the total STEM workers there are men, and more than 30% are women. Houston has the third-best race/ethnicity index score in the study: More than 19% of STEM workers are Hispanic or Latino, almost 20% are Asian and more than 8% are Black.

8. Los Angeles, CA

There are almost 98,600 STEM workers in Los Angeles, California. More than 68,750 of them (about 70%) are men and about 29,800 (just 30%) are women.

Los Angeles has the fourth-best race/ethnicity index in the study. Almost 26% of all STEM workers are Asian, almost 19% are Hispanic or Latino and more than 4% are Black. About 48% are white (which is the lowest percentage for this demographic in the top 10).

9. Dallas, TX

Though almost 72% of STEM workers in Dallas, Texas are men, the city ranks best overall in terms of its race/ethnicity diversity score. Black workers comprise almost 18% of the STEM workforce, Asian workers comprise more than 16%, Hispanic or Latino workers almost 14% and white workers just shy of 50%.

10. Fort Worth, TX

Of the total approximately 25,700 STEM workers in Fort Worth, Texas, about 17,600 are men (just over 68%) and about 8,100 are women (roughly 32%). In terms of race, less than 5% of workers are Asian, about 12% are Black and about 22% are Hispanic or Latino. Almost 53% are white.

Data and Methodology

To find the best cities for diversity in STEM, SmartAsset analyzed data for the 35 cities in the county with the largest STEM workforces. Specifically, we measured across the following metrics:

  • Racial diversity index. We calculated this based on the racial diversity of a city among the main Census Bureau groups using the Shannon index. Cities with a more equally distributed workforce across the racial groups received a better score.
  • Gender diversity index. This measures the number of women in the workforce compared to men. The city with the highest percentage of women in STEM jobs received a score of 100, and the city with the lowest percentage received a 0.

We averaged these two indexes to create our final score, which we used to rank the cities.

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

Tips for STEM Workers to Manage Their Money

  • Ask for a raise. There has been a rising trend of employers giving promotions without a pay raise, according to a recent survey of 300 employers by the staffing firm OfficeTeam. If you are accepting a promotion and taking on more responsibility, be sure you are asking to be compensated fairly. One of the best ways to do this is to see what other people in your occupation are making. The BLS publishes annual employment statistics that show the average hourly and annual wage by occupation.
  • Understand your paycheck. Seeking out cities that best accommodate a diverse workforce can be beneficial as you explore employment opportunities. But no matter where you live, you’ll have to pay taxes on each paycheck. See what your actual take-home pay will look like with SmartAsset’s free paycheck calculator.
  • Seek expert financial advice. As your company diversifies its workforce, make sure you diversify your portfolio. If you need some extra guidance with mapping out larger financial goals like retirement, estate planning and portfolio management, it might be worth consulting a professional financial 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 press@smartasset.com.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/poba

Nadia Ahmad, CEPF® Nadia Ahmad is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®) and a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW). Her interest in taxes and grammar makes writing about personal finance a perfect fit! Nadia has spent ten years working as a seasonal income tax assistant, researching federal, state and local tax code and assisting in preparing tax returns. Nadia has a degree in English and American Literature from New York University and has served as an instructor/facilitator for a variety of writing workshops in the NYC area.
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Best States for Veterans – 2020 Edition

Best States for Veterans – 2020 Edition – SmartAsset

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How easily veterans adjust to their lives after service depends on many factors, not the least of which is their ability to maintain adequate finances to cover their home payments and daily needs. There’s good news for vets on that front, though: While about 37,000 veterans still experienced homelessness in January 2019, the homelessness rate among veterans declined more than 2% in 2019 and had decreased 50% since 2010, according to a 2019 report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Despite that marked improvement, not all places are equally suited to help veterans thrive. That’s why SmartAsset crunched the numbers in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to find the best places for veterans.

To do so, we looked at data across nine metrics: veterans as a percentage of population, veteran unemployment rate, overall unemployment rate, percentage of veterans living below the poverty line, housing costs as a percentage of median income for veterans, percentage of a state’s businesses owned by veterans, number of VA health centers per 100,000 veterans, number of VA benefits administration facilities per 100,000 residents and taxes on military pensions. 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

  • Veterans are less likely than the general population to live below the poverty line. Nationally, 11.1% of the U.S. population is living in poverty, according to 2019 figures from the Census Bureau. The average for this metric across this study is 6.7%, possibly because military benefits help keep some veterans afloat when they might otherwise face financial challenges.
  • More populous states may not be as suitable to veterans. The bottom three states in the study are California, New York and Illinois, which have the largest, fourth-largest and sixth-largest state populations, respectively. These states struggle in two metrics: the unemployment rate for veterans and housing costs as a percentage of median income for veterans. This may be due, in part, to their high populations, which increase both competition for available jobs and demand for housing.
  • Pension taxes vary. Each state chooses how to tax military pensions. All in all, 30 states don’t tax military pensions at all, including eight out of the top 10 states (Nebraska and Montana are the exceptions). Military pensions are partially taxed in 13 states, along with the District of Columbia, and they are fully taxed in seven states.

1. South Dakota

South Dakota, home of the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore, is the best state in the U.S. for veterans. South Dakota has 21.04 Veterans Administration health facilities per 100,000 veterans, which is the second-highest rate for this metric overall, meaning veterans in South Dakota should have relatively good access to health services. There are also 3.51 VA benefits administration facilities per 100,000 residents, ranking 10th. In addition, South Dakota does not tax military pensions.

2. Wyoming

Wyoming takes the runner-up spot. Wyoming has the highest number of VA health facilities in the country, at 28.99 per 100,000 veterans. It also does not tax military pensions. Wyoming finishes in the bottom half of the study in terms of the percentage of veterans who are living below the poverty line (coming in at 38th, with a percentage of 7.1%). However, the veteran unemployment rate in the state is 1.0% – second-lowest in the study – so veterans looking for work could do worse than thinking about the Cowboy State.

3. North Dakota

North Dakota is one of the least populous states in the nation, but it does well by its veterans. The Rough Rider State has the lowest unemployment rate for veterans in the nation, at 0.9%. Its overall September 2020 unemployment rate is also low, coming in at 4.4% – fourth-lowest in the nation. Housing costs make up 19.90% of the median income for a veteran, the second-best rate for this metric in the study.

4. West Virginia

West Virginia has housing costs that make up just 18.95% of the median veteran income, the best rate for this metric in the study. The Mountain State has the sixth-highest concentration of VA health facilities in the study, at 12.39 per 100,000 veterans, and the third-highest number of VA benefits administration facilities, at 5.78 per 100,000 residents. Military pensions are not taxed in this state. See more about retirement tax friendliness in West Virginia here.

5. Maine

Maine is one of two Northeastern states to be ranked in the top 10, and it gets there partially on the strength of its 1.3% veteran unemployment rate, ranking fourth-lowest in the country. Maine’s population is made up of 8.89% veterans, the eighth-highest percentage for this metric. Maine also has 5.13 VA benefits administration centers per 100,000 residents, ranking sixth-best. There are no taxes on military pensions in the Pine Tree State.

6. Alaska

Also known as The Last Frontier State, Alaska has a relatively small population, but one that is 10.74% veterans, the highest percentage for this metric across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Alaska also comes in first for the metric measuring the percentage of businesses owned by veterans, at 11.60%. The state doesn’t do nearly as well, though, when it comes to employing veterans, as the unemployment rate among veterans is 6.3%, near the very bottom of the study. On the plus side, the state does not tax military retirement pay.

7. Nebraska

Nebraska had an overall unemployment rate of just 3.5% in September 2020, the lowest in the country, and that rate is particularly impressive amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Nebraska also has the fifth-best unemployment rate for veterans, at just 1.4%. Nebraska taxes some portion of military pensions, making it one of two states in the top 10 of the study where military pensions are not completely tax-free.

8. New Hampshire

Veterans in New Hampshire own 9.42% of the state’s businesses, placing the Granite State at 12th overall for this metric. The entire population of the state is 8.52% veterans, the 14th-highest rate for this metric across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. New Hampshire performs relatively poorly in terms of housing affordability: The average housing cost represents 36.25% of the median veteran income, sixth-highest in the study. However, Military pensions are tax-free in the state. Those who are seeking assistance with balancing all of these financial factors may wish to consult our roundup of the top 10 financial advisors in New Hampshire.

9. Montana

Veterans will find a built-in community in Big Sky Country, where the population is 10.28% veterans, second-highest in the study. That said, Montana taxes military pensions fully – the only state in our top 10 to do so and one of just seven to do so nationwide. Still, Montana ranks ninth for both of the unemployment metrics we measured, with a veteran unemployment rate of 2.3% and an overall September 2020 unemployment rate of 5.3%.

10. Hawaii

Hawaii places first in this study in terms of number of VA benefits administration facilities, at 6.64 per 100,000 veterans. It is important to note, though, that the Aloha State had an unemployment rate of 15.1% in September 2020, ranking last for this metric in the study. Furthermore, housing costs make up 39.41% of median veteran income, second-worst overall. However, only 5.8% of veterans are living below the poverty line, good for 12th overall. The state also has top-20 rankings for veterans as a percentage of the population, veteran-owned businesses as a percentage of all businesses and VA health facilities per 100,000 veterans.

Data and Methodology

To conduct the 2020 version of our study on the best states for veterans, we compared all 50 states and the District of Columbia across the following metrics:

  • Veterans as a percentage of the population. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-Year American Community Survey.
  • Veteran unemployment rate. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-Year American Community Survey.
  • Unemployment rate. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is for September 2020.
  • Percentage of veterans living below the poverty line. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-Year American Community Survey.
  • Housing costs as a percentage of median income for veterans. This is annual median housing costs divided by median income for veterans. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-Year American Community Survey.
  • Share of veteran-owned businesses. This is the percentage of all businesses in a state that are owned by veterans. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2018 Annual Business Survey.
  • VA health facilities per 100,000 veterans. Data come from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
  • VA benefits administration facilities per 100,000 veterans. Data come from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
  • Taxes on military pension. States were assigned a 1 if the state does not tax military retirement pay, a 2 if there are special provisions or other considerations for military pension taxes and a 3 if the state fully taxes military retirement pay. Data comes from militarybenefits.info.

First we ranked each state in each metric. From there, we found the average ranking for each state, giving all metrics a full weight except for the two metrics measuring unemployment, which each received a half weight. We used this average ranking to create our final score. The state with the best average ranking received a score of 100, and the state with the worst average ranking received score of 0.

Money Tips for Veterans

  • Financial help from someone who’s always got your six. Veterans, like everybody else, sometimes need help with financial matters. A financial advisor can provide that help and bring in reinforcements to set you on the right path. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool connects you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors, get started now.
  • Don’t sacrifice continuing education because of costs. If you want to go to college after you serve, the GI Bill will help — but you may still end up with student loans. To discover how much you’ll need to pay, use SmartAsset’s student loan calculator.
  • Create a strong strategy for your budget. Use SmartAsset’s budget calculator to figure out how much you should be spending on different areas and you’ll make sure you have enough money for everything.

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

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/SDI Productions

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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4 Signs Refinancing Is The Wrong Move

4 Signs Refinancing Is The Wrong Move – SmartAsset

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Refinancing your mortgage can bring your interest rate down, lower your monthly payments and generally save you some money. With rates still low, you may be pondering whether now’s the right time to try for a better deal on your home loan. But you don’t want to pull the trigger too soon. If any of the following apply to you, you may want to think twice before jumping on the refinancing bandwagon.

Compare refinance mortgage rates. 

1. Your Credit’s Not in Great Shape

Refinancing when you’ve got a few blemishes on your credit report isn’t impossible, but it’s not necessarily going to work in your favor either. Even though lenders have relaxed certain restrictions on borrowing over the last year, qualifying for the best rates on a loan can still be tough if your score is stuck somewhere in the middle range.

If you took out an FHA loan the first time around, you might be able to get around your less-than-spotless credit with a streamline refinance, but approval isn’t guaranteed. Interest rates are expected to rise toward the end of the year, but that still gives you some time to work on improving your score.

Getting rid of debt, limiting the number of new accounts you apply for and paying your bills on time will go a long way toward improving your number so that when you do refinance, you’ll be eligible for the lowest interest rates.

Related Article: The Costs and Benefits of Refinancing

2. You’re Not Sure You’ll Stay in Your Home Long-Term

Refinancing involves replacing your existing mortgage with a new one. The interest rate, payments and loan term may be different but the one thing that remains the same is the fact that you’ll be required to pay closing costs to finalize the deal. Closing costs can run between 2 and 5 percent of the total loan amount, but that varies and is based on the lender you choose. If you’re refinancing a $200,000 mortgage, for example, it’s possible that you’d have to cough up anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000.

Since you’re reducing your payment and interest rate, you’ll hopefully eventually recoup the money you spend on closing costs, but it’s going to take some time. If you end up selling the home and moving before you hit the break-even point, all that money that you put out up front to refinance is basically gone. It could take a few years to break even so if you don’t think you’ll stick around that long, you may be better off keeping your cash and paying your current loan as is.

Learn more about refinance closing costs.

3. A No-Closing Cost Loan Is Your Only Option

If you don’t have a few thousand dollars to spare to cover the closing costs, you can always look into a no-closing cost loan. With this type of refinance, the lender folds the costs into the loan itself so you don’t have to pay anything extra out of pocket. While that’s a plus if you’re short on cash, you may be really putting yourself at a disadvantage in the long run. Increasing your mortgage (even if it’s just by a few thousand dollars) means you’re going to pay more interest over the life of the loan.

For example, let’s say you refinance a $200,000 mortgage at 4 percent for 30 years. Altogether, you’d pay $143,000 in interest if you don’t pay anything extra. Your closing costs come to 3 percent but you roll them into the loan so you’re refinancing about $206,000 instead. That extra $6,000 would cost you another $11,000 in interest so you have to ask yourself whether the monthly savings from refinancing justify the overall added expense.

4. Compare Your Refinance Loan Options

Once you’re ready to refinance, it’s important to take the time to compare what’s available from different lenders carefully. Checking out the rates and fees each lender charges ensures that you won’t spend any more money on a refinance loan than you need to.

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Rebecca Lake Rebecca Lake is a retirement, investing and estate planning expert who has been writing about personal finance for a decade. Her expertise in the finance niche also extends to home buying, credit cards, banking and small business. She’s worked directly with several major financial and insurance brands, including Citibank, Discover and AIG and her writing has appeared online at U.S. News and World Report, CreditCards.com and Investopedia. Rebecca is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and she also attended Charleston Southern University as a graduate student. Originally from central Virginia, she now lives on the North Carolina coast along with her two children.
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Most Livable Cities in the U.S. – 2020 Edition

Most Livable Cities – 2020 Edition – SmartAsset

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People choose where to live based on many factors – availability of jobs, location of family, and the weather all come into play for most folks. Something some Americans may not remember to take into consideration, though, is the livability of a city. While this can be hard to quantify, SmartAsset has tried to do just that, comparing cities across the country to find the most livable places to live in 2020.

We ran the numbers on 100 of the largest cities in the U.S. to see how they stacked up across the following metrics: walk score, violent crime rate, property crime rate, unemployment, housing costs as percentage of income, and the rate of housing cost-burden. 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 study on the most livable cities in the U.S. Check out last year’s edition here.

Key Findings

  • The living’s grand in the Grand Canyon State. While cities from all over the country crack the top of the list, four of the top 10 cities are in Arizona – Gilbert, Chandler, Scottsdale and Mesa. Incidentally, these four cities are also in the top 10 of our study on the most affordable cities for an early retirement. They all rank within the top 25 of the study for relatively low housing costs as a percentage of income, low rates of residents being housing cost-burdened and low violent and property crime rates.
  • Consistency at the top. Arlington, Virginia ranks as SmartAsset’s most livable city for the fourth year running. It has perennially maintained low unemployment and crime rates. Additionally, two other cities have cracked the top 10 every year since we began this study in 2016: Plano, Texas and Madison, Wisconsin.

1. Arlington, VA

Arlington, Virginia, located right outside of Washington, D.C., is the most livable city in America in this year’s edition of our study. Arlington has been our most livable city since 2017. It has the second-lowest property crime rate (1,298 incidents per 100,000 residents) and the fourth-lowest violent crime rate (138 incidents per 100,000 residents) in our study. It also has a September 2020 unemployment rate of just 4.5%, the fourth-lowest rate in the study.

2. Boise, ID

Boise, Idaho saw just 283 incidents of violent crime per 100,000 residents in 2019, the 13th-lowest rate for this metric in the study. It comes in seventh for property crime, at just 1,595 per 100,000 residents. Only 28.0% of residents of Boise are burdened by their housing cost, making it the seventh-least housing cost-burdened city we analyzed.

3. Lincoln, NE

Lincoln, Nebraska had the lowest unemployment rate in our study for September 2020, at just 3.2%. Lincoln also ranks fourth for both of the housing costs metrics we tested, with housing costs representing 18.96% of income and 27.0% of residents being housing cost-burdened. That said, it isn’t the easiest place to access all your needs by foot, as it ranks in the middle of the study in terms of walk score.

4. Gilbert, AZ

Gilbert is the first of four Arizona locales to make the top 10 of this study. It has the lowest number of property crimes across all 100 cities we examined (1,200 per 100,000 residents) and the second-fewest number of violent crimes (96 per 100,000 residents). On the downside, the city ranks in the bottom 10 of the study for walkability, but Gilbert is relatively affordable, coming in first for both housing costs as a percentage of income (18.75%) and the percentage of residents who are housing cost-burdened (22.0%).

5. Plano, TX

Housing costs in Plano, Texas represent 20.02% of income, ranking eighth-lowest in this study. It also scores in the top 10 for its low rates in both of the crime statistics we considered. In 2019, there were 151 violent crime incidents (fifth-lowest) and 1,717 property crime incidents (10th-lowest) in the city per 100,000 residents.

6. Chandler, AZ

Chandler is the second city in Arizona to make the top 10 of this study. Like some of the other Arizona cities in the top 10, Chandler does not fare very well for walkability, ranking in the bottom quartile. However, it has the third-lowest percentage of housing cost-burdened residents among the 100 cities we analyzed, 26.0%. Furthermore, housing costs make up 19.87% of income on average, the seventh-lowest percentage in this study.

7. Madison, WI

Madison, Wisconsin had an unemployment rate of 3.8% in September 2020, the second-lowest in this study. Madison also finished in the top third of the 100 cities on this list for every other metric but one (housing costs as a percentage of income, for which it ranked 41st). It had the 21st-lowest number of violent crime incidents overall (362 per 100,000 residents in 2019) and the 28th-lowest rate of housing-cost burden, at 31.7%.

8. Scottsdale, AZ

The third Arizona city to place in the top 10 is Scottsdale, where there were just 161 incidents of violent crime per 100,000 residents in 2019, the sixth-lowest rate of the cities we analyzed. Scottsdale also finishes 13th for both of the housing cost metrics we measured: Housing costs represent 20.54% of income, and 29.4% of residents are housing cost-burdened.

9. Raleigh, NC

Raleigh finishes in the top 15 for both safety metrics: It had 257 incidents of violent crime per 100,000 residents (12th-fewest in this study) and 1,795 incidents of property crime per 100,000 residents (14th-fewest in this study). Raleigh finishes 17th for its relatively low September 2020 unemployment rate (6.1%) and housing costs as a percentage of income (21.01%).

10. Mesa, AZ

The final city in the top 10 is the fourth Arizona city to make the list, Mesa. Mesa finishes in the top quartile of cities in every metric except one – walk score, for which it comes in 73rd place. The top quartile rankings, though, include a 13th-place finish for its low rate of housing cost-burden, at 29.4%, and its 15th-place finish in terms of property crime rate, at just 1,869 per 100,000 residents for 2019.

Data and Methodology

To find the most livable cities in the U.S., we analyzed data on 100 of the largest cities in the country. We examined each city according to the following seven metrics:

  • Walkability. This is calculated on a 0 to 100 scale. A lower number means the city is less walkable while a higher number means it is more walkable. Data comes from walkscore.com.
  • Violent crime rate. This is the violent crime rate per 100,000 residents. Data comes from the 2019 FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Database for all reporting cities. For non-reporting cities, data comes from neighborhoodscout.com.
  • Property crime rate. This is the property crime rate per 100,000 residents. Data comes from the 2019 FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Database for all reporting cities. For non-reporting cities, data comes from neighborhoodscout.com.
  • Unemployment rate. September 2020 data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and is reported at the county level.
  • Housing costs as a percentage of income. This is the median housing costs divided by median household income. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
  • Housing cost-burdened rate. This is the percentage of households spending 30% or more of their income on housing. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.

First, we ranked each city in every metric. We then found each city’s average ranking, giving each metric a full weight. We used this average ranking to determine a final score. The city with the best average ranking received a score of 100 and the city with the lowest received a score of 0.

Tips for Finding Somewhere to Live

  • Get expert financial support. If you want to move to one of these cities, consider working with a financial 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 5 minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • Rent or buy? Not sure if you’re ready to put down permanent roots down yet? Use SmartAsset’s rent or buy calculator to see which makes more financial sense.
  • Save up. Make a budget using SmartAsset’s free budget tool so you can start putting away money to buy a home in your dream location some day.

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

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/adamkaz

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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