Lots of Americans have been counting on economic impact payments from the $2 trillion stimulus package to help them get by during the coronavirus pandemic. The size of those checks depends on your family situation and how much money you earn. But there's another variable that can determine how much financial aid that money provides: where you live.
The maximum economic impact payment or stimulus check — up to $1,200 per adult and up to $500 per child — is uniform nationwide. But a $1,200 check in Sioux Falls carries a lot more economic weight than it does in a city like Boston, thanks to the stark differences in the cost of living between the two cities.
Here's where, one analysis finds, your stimulus money can have the most impact.
Ownerly, a New York-based company that tracks home-pricing data, calculated where the stimulus checks stretch the furthest — or, in other words, where people can cover the biggest share of their regular bills with that money. The company used census data to determine the average household's estimated stimulus check amount in each state, and then compared that figure to a family's typical monthly expenses, including housing, utilities, and mobile phone costs.
By overlaying expenses with average payouts, Ownerly ranked all 50 states in terms of the economic impact of their average stimulus payments. Per the company's data, households will get the most bang for their buck from their economic impact payments in these 10 states:
4. West Virginia
5. South Dakota
8. New Mexico
Checks in these 10 states, by contrast, will cover the least of a typical household's monthly bills:
43. New Hampshire
46. New Jersey
47. New York
In Mississippi, the average estimated stimulus check is $2,659, almost double the average estimated monthly expenses are $1,491. In Massachusetts, on the other hand, the average check is estimated to be $1,897 — which leaves a typical resident about $1,000 short of covering average monthly expenses of $2,880.
"When you're looking at which states are going to be getting the most bang for your buck, you're effectively looking at states where the cost of living is the lowest," says Brian Ross, senior business intelligence manager at Ownerly. For that reason, he says, the list offers "few surprises."
Housing costs are the single biggest factor in where cities placed in the ranking. For example, the median rental price in Boston is $2,950, according to data from Zillow. In Hattiesburg, Mississippi, median rental prices are $1,050 — roughly one-third of the cost in Boston.
Video by Jason Armesto
"If you live in a city that's expensive, $1,200 isn't going to do as much," says Amy Shepard, a certified financial planner with Sensible Money in Arizona.
Put another way, a $1,200 check doesn't provide the same amount of value in all parts of the country. Households in states with a low cost of living might find that their stimulus checks are enough to help them cover their expenses for a month or two, but people in more expensive states could find that the check won't alleviate their struggles. After all, the payment may only help them pay a fraction of their monthly rent, let alone allow them to pay their housing expense, buy groceries, and cover any other expenses.
"It's life-saving money to help you get by," says Shepard. She recommends first making sure you have enough to eat and that you keep the lights on before anything else. If the payment you receive isn't enough to cover housing costs, then use the funds to buy groceries, she says.
"Twelve hundred dollars will buy a lot of food no matter where you live," she says.
Video by David Fang
Many states and cities are allowing renters and homeowners grace periods or freezes under which they can't be evicted or have their homes foreclosed upon, so it may be a good idea to focus on other expenses before housing. Other bills that you can prioritize include your car payment and utility bills. You can likely buy yourself some time to make debt payments, like on your credit card balance or student loans, by contacting your lender.
Experts say that whatever your situation, it's important to make the most of any stimulus money you receive. There's no guarantee that the government will be sending out any more payments.
"Use your stimulus money wisely," says Shepard.
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