Your 20s and 30s are prime years for investing and reaping the long-term benefits of compounding growth. But not everyone can seize this opportunity, and a lot of whether you can or cannot comes down to where you live.
In some cities, the job market is weak, meaning good jobs for millennials are scarce. In others, those jobs come with massive housing bills that make it harder to save.
Grow looked at data from America's 100 largest metropolitan areas to find the top 10 metros where millennials are best positioned to earn above-average salaries, pay down debt and buy homes.
The metro area of Des Moines, Iowa, takes the top spot. It's easy to see why it could be an appealing place to live and work. Median one-bedroom rents ($900) and median home list prices ($239,500) in Des Moines are, respectively, 50% and 20% lower than nationwide figures. The housing market is more accessible to young buyers than average, too: Millennials there are 46% more likely to own homes than their peers across the country, while millennial median household income in Des Moines is $78,200, or 17% higher.
Overall, in these top 10 cities, people aged 22-38 enjoy a mix of strong pay and ample job opportunities, as well as reasonable rent. On average, compared to millennials nationwide, younger workers in these places earn 18% more and are 25% more likely to own homes.
Here's the full top 10:
- Des Moines
- Grand Rapids
- Salt Lake City
- San Jose
- St. Louis
Thanks to years of economic growth, many bigger Midwestern cities offer six-figure, or close to six-figure, jobs, as well as a lower cost of living. All of that can lead to greater satisfaction and better work-life balance.
Consider Minneapolis, which ranks No. 5 and is home to UnitedHealth Group, the sixth largest firm on the Fortune 500. The median income for millennial households there is $84,000, or $3,000 more than millennial mecca Denver, where the cost of living is much higher.
In places like Denver, as well other expensive coastal cities so popular among young people, "even a $120,000 [salary] is not good enough," says Casey Marx, founder of Crown Haven Wealth Advisors in Indiana. "There is an exodus of millennials from larger expensive metros to more affordable places with good job prospects."
Overall, eight of the top 10 cities on our list are in the Midwest.
Recently, but quietly, millennials became the largest group of homebuyers in America, according to the National Association of Realtors. This is especially true in the places that made Grow's top 10.
The median home in Des Moines is listed for $239,500 on Zillow. Nationally, the median home price is $291,900. That helps explain why folks under the age of 35 make up 16% of all in homeowners in Des Moines, compared to just 9% nationally.
Millennials who live in places where they can afford to buy are poised to reap the long-term financial benefits of owning a home. While renters must contend with housing costs that can rise every year, homeowners who get fixed mortgages can lock in their monthly payments while often building wealth at the same time.
The typical one-bedroom apartment rents for $2,660 in San Jose, according to Zillow, compared to $920 in Columbus, Ohio, a metro that ranked lower than San Jose. So why did Silicon Valley make our list?
It all comes down to income. The median millennial household in San Jose earns $132,600 per year, compared to $83,400 in New York and $91,400 in Seattle. The wages here can more than make up for the cost of living.
And all these techies aren't heavily burdened by student debt, when considering their income. The median student debt in San Jose is $35,150, according to Credit Karma. That's a lower student debt figure than more than half of the country's 100 largest metros, despite the fact that those places have lower incomes.
Using data from Credit Karma, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ValuePenguin, and Zillow, we ranked America's 100 largest metropolitan areas on the following criteria:
- Median millennial household income
- Unemployment rate
- Percentage of median millennial income it would take to rent a one-bedroom apartment
- Percentage of median millennial income spent on housing related cost
- Millennial homeownership rate
- Debt-to-income ratio
- Percentage of homeowners who are 90-plus days late on their mortgage
- Average student loan debt
- Percentage of millennial income spent on student loan payments
- Average credit score (by state)
- Average credit card balance (by state)
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