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renters afford to live alone

Lots of young people need to find a roommate to help pay their rent, but many of them dream of being able to locate an affordable home that is just theirs and that allows them to sock away more money in a savings account. There are some cities, though, where it is easier than in others to rent a place all on your own. Factors like average income, average rent cost and the availability of smaller apartments can create a situation that is either conducive to renting alone or difficult for solo renters who would be better served seeking out a roommate. Below, we consider these and some other factors to find the cities where renters are best able to live alone.

Specifically, we considered data across five metrics: median rents, the number of studio and one-bedroom apartments as a percentage of all homes, median earnings for full-time workers, overall cost of living and unemployment rate. For full details on our data sources and how we constructed these rankings, see the Data and Methodology section below.

This is our second study on the cities where renters can afford to live alone. Read the 2018 study here.

Key Findings

  • Many repeats. Seven of the cities on this year’s top 10 were also in the top 10 last year. This could possibly indicate that those cities aren’t seeing dramatic increases in rent prices and that the housing stock is being maintained. The repeat cities are Cincinnati, Ohio; Omaha, Nebraska; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Lincoln, Nebraska; Lexington, Kentucky; Madison, Wisconsin and Columbus, Ohio.
  • Midwest is best. The Midwest is by far the most represented region in the top 10 of this study. Six of the cities are in Midwestern states like Ohio, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin, and a few of the others are very close to the region. If you want to live by yourself as a renter, consider moving to the middle of the country.

1. Cincinnati, OH

Cincinnati, Ohio comes in first place in this list for a second straight year. The Queen City has an average rent of just $569 for apartments with fewer than two bedrooms. That’s the seventh-lowest price in our entire study and the lowest in the top 10. The city also places well for the percentage of homes that have one bedroom or fewer – at 30.40%, it’s the 15th-highest in the study for that metric and the second-highest in the top 10. Cincinnati does have a relatively high unemployment rate at 3.5%.

2. Reno, NV

Reno, Nevada is the second-best city for renters to live alone. The average rent for a studio or one-bedroom is $730, a higher cost than the rent in six other cities in our top 10 but good enough to rank within the top third of the cities for this metric in the study overall. In fact, Reno finishes within the top half of the study for most of the metrics we considered. The unemployment rate is just 3.1%, a top-15 rate. The average income is $43,551. These conditions may increase the likelihood that renters here can contribute to their retirement savings.

3. Lincoln, NE

Lincoln, Nebraska boasts an average rent of just $577. It ranks second-lowest for this metric in the top 10 and eighth in the entire study. Lincoln also has an unemployment rate of just 2.9%, the second-lowest in the top 10 and the ninth-lowest rate in the study. Lincoln rates less well for the market share of studios and one-bedrooms. Only 14.60% of the housing market in the city has fewer than two bedrooms, the lowest rate for this metric in the top 10.

4. Minneapolis, MN

Minneapolis, Minnesota is favorable to solo renters given its low unemployment rate of just 3.1%, tied for 14th-lowest in this study. Moreover, 33% of the housing stock has fewer than two bedrooms, the highest rate for this metric in the top 10. The town doesn’t fare as well for cost of living, coming in at 11% higher than the national average.

5. Tulsa, OK

Tulsa, Oklahoma comes in at fifth overall and has an affordable average rent payment of just $614. That’s the 12th-lowest price in the study and the third-lowest in the top 10. Tulsa’s cost of living is 2% lower than the national average, which is the second-lowest rate for this metric in the top 10 and ninth-lowest rate overall. Tulsa’s average earnings, though, are the lowest in the top 10, at just $40,039 per year.

6. Pittsburgh, PA

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which was No. 1 on our 2018 list of the most undervalued cities in America, comes next. The Steel City cost of living is 2% lower than the national average, which the lowest in the top 10. It also ranks eighth for this metric among all of the cities in our study. At 3.6%, Pittsburgh does have a higher unemployment rate than most of the top 10. Average income in the city is $46,353.

7. Madison, WI

Madison, Wisconsin is the capital of the state and the home of the University of Wisconsin. It has an unemployment rate of just 2.3%, the lowest rate in the top 10 and the second-lowest in the entire study. Madison does have a fairly high cost of living though, at 14% higher than the national average. But paychecks here are comparatively robust: Relatively high average earnings of $52,066 may help offset that cost.

8. Omaha, NE

Omaha, Nebraska places eighth, making Nebraska one of two states (along with Ohio) to have two cities on this list. Omaha ranks in the top half of our study for each of the metrics we studied. Its average rent of $651 ranks the 21st-lowest in the overall study and fifth-lowest in the top 10. The average earnings rate in Omaha is $44,674 and the cost of living is just 3% higher than the national average.

9. Columbus, OH

Columbus, Ohio is ninth on our list of top 10 cities where renters can afford to live alone, making the Buckeye State the second state to place two cities in the top 10. Average earnings in this city are $42,128, and 15.80% of the city’s housing stock constitutes units with fewer than two bedrooms. Columbus ranks in the top 20 for its low cost of living relative to the other cities we analyzed.

10. Lexington, KY

The final city in our top 10 is Lexington, Kentucky. Lexington has fairly low rents, an average of just $624 per month. The city doesn’t have many units with fewer than two bedrooms, though – studios and one-bedroom apartments make up just 14.70% of the housing stock. Lexington does have a low cost of living, though, roughly equal to the national average.

Data and Methodology

SmartAsset compared 100 cities across five metrics to come up with our list of cities where renters could afford to live alone. Specifically, we considered the following metrics:

  • Average rent for a unit with fewer than two bedrooms. The average of median gross monthly rent for a studio rental and a one-bedroom rental. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2017 1-year American Community Survey.
  • Percentage of housing stock with fewer than two bedrooms. This shows the percentage of occupied homes with fewer than two bedrooms. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2017 1-year American Community Survey.
  • Average earnings for full-time workers. This shows the median income for full-time workers. The data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2017 1-year American Community Survey.
  • Cost of living. This shows the cost of living relative to the national average. Data comes from the MIT living wage calculator.
  • Unemployment rate. This is the unemployment rate from February 2018 to March 2019. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

First, we ranked each city in each metric. Then we found each city’s average ranking, giving equal weighting to each metric. Using this average ranking, we created our final score. The city with the best average ranking received a 100. The city with the worst average ranking received a 0.

Tips For Making the Most of Your Money

  • Get some expert help. A financial advisor can help you make the best choices with your finances. Find one with SmartAsset’s free financial advisor matching service. You answer a few questions and we match you with up to three advisors in your area, all free of disclosures and fully vetted. You talk to each of your matches and make a choice of how to move forward.
  • Calculate your mortgage. Are you considering making the big step of ending your renting days forever and buying a home? You’ll need to get a mortgage. To see exactly what your monthly payment will end up being, use the SmartAsset mortgage calculator.

Questions about our study? Contact press@smartasset.com

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/mixetto

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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