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SmartAsset: Income Needed to Pay Rent in the Largest U.S. Cities - 2022 Edition

Rising inflation and high interest rates have made affording basic necessities like housing challenging and it’s easy to spend more than what you are comfortable with. Nationally, renters can expect to pay upwards of $1,800 on average for a two-bedroom apartment. Housing costs in large cities like New York and Los Angeles are especially high, and when you consider the additional costs of living, it can be anything but comfortable.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recommends a rent-to-income ratio of less than 30% and considers households who spend more than 30% of their pre-tax income on housing to be housing cost-burdened.

Using HUD’s guidelines, SmartAsset examined the income needed to pay rent in the 25 largest U.S. cities for a one- and two-bedroom apartment based on a rent-to-income ratio of 28%, which we set just below the standard threshold. Though we calculated income needed for both a one- and two-bedroom apartment, cities are ranked on the latter figure. For details on our data sources and analysis, read our Data and Methodology section below.

This is SmartAsset’s eighth study on the income needed to pay rent in the largest U.S. cities. Check out the previous version here.

Key Findings

  • Average rent for a two-bedroom apartment exceeds $3,000 in six cities. This figure nears $4,000 in San Francisco and New York. The four remaining cities with average two-bedroom apartment rents greater than $3,000 are Los Angeles, Boston, Washington, DC and San Jose.
  • Income needed for a two-bedroom apartment is 2.4 times higher than the median household income in New York City. The Big Apple is also the only city of those we considered where the income threshold is more than two times higher than the median household income. Los Angeles, which has the second-highest ratio, requires income that is 1.9 times higher than the median household income.
  • California cities require significantly higher income to afford rent. Even in the least expensive California city – San Diego – renters need to earn about $99,700 to comfortably afford a one-bedroom apartment and almost $128,300 for a two-bedroom apartment.

 1. San Francisco, CA

Assuming a 28% rent-to-income ratio, renters would need to earn at least $170,961 to comfortably afford a two-bedroom apartment. Compared to last year, that’s an increase of over $13,000. Typically, two-bedroom apartments cost just under $4,000 per month in the Golden City. For reference, the median household income in San Francisco, California is $121,826.

2. New York, NY

New York, New York moves up from No. 3 in last year’s edition of this study. For a two-bedroom apartment, renters need to earn at least $163,000 - up over $44,000 when compared with last year and more than two times higher the median household income ($67,997). With increasing housing costs, this could be one of the reasons why New York state is seeing a large outflux of young professionals.

3. Los Angeles, CA

In Los Angeles, California, you can rent a two-bedroom apartment for approximately $30,000 less than the No. 2 ranking city ($132,882). For comparison, the median household income in Los Angeles is $70,372. Rents can expect to pay roughly $3,101 for a two-bedroom apartment, totaling up to $37,207 per year.

4. Boston, MA

Though Boston, Massachusetts has a higher median household income than the second and largest cities in the U.S., renters will still need to earn at least $131,600 annually to afford a two-bedroom apartment without burden. This type of housing costs roughly $3,000 per month (or $36,870 annually).

5. Washington, DC

In the nation’s capital, renters will need to earn roughly $40,000 more than the median household income to afford a two-bedroom apartment comfortably (at least $130,000). In Washington, DC, rent for this size abode costs a little over $3,000 per month, which totals to approximately $36,570 annually.

6. San Jose, CA

San Jose, California is the last of six cities where the rent for a two-bedroom apartment exceeds $3,000. Annually, this adds up roughly to $36,300 for this expense. Considering a 28% income ratio, renters would need to earn at least $129,932 per year to afford a two-bedroom apartment. Compared to the median household income, this required amount is just $3,500 higher.

7. San Diego, CA

Roughly 13 hours South of the San Jose in California, renters in San Diego will need to earn at least $128,200 to afford a two-bedroom apartment without being considered housing cost-burdened. Monthly rent for this size apartment will cost just under $3,000 (or roughly $35,900 per year). For reference, the median income for the city is $93,042.

8. Seattle, WA

Seattle, Washington renters can expect approximately $31,251 of their income to go to a two-bedroom apartment (roughly $2,604 per month) meaning they will need to earn at least $111,600 to afford this size apartment. It’s important to note that the median household income in Seattle is just $830 less than the income needed and is the lowest difference between the two figures in the top 10.

9. Denver, CO

The average two-bedroom apartment in Denver, Colorado rents for nearly $2,300 per month, or about $27,300 annually. This means that renters will need to earn roughly $97,600 to afford an average priced apartment without exceeding 28% of their income.

10. Chicago, IL

The only Midwestern city in the top 10 is Chicago, Illinois, where renters can expect to pay an average of about $24,000 per year for a two-bedroom apartment. To stay within 28% of one’s income, renters need to earn $85,818 annually to afford an apartment of this size - about $19,200 higher than the median household income in the Windy City.

Data and Methodology

To find the income needed to pay rent in America’s largest cities, SmartAsset looked at data for the 25 largest cities in America. We estimated the household income renters would need to afford the average one- and two-bedroom apartment while paying no more than 28% of their total pre-tax income on rent.

The resulting numbers are the annual income needed for rent costs to be equal to 28% of household income. We ranked the cities from highest to lowest based on the income needed to pay rent for a two-bedroom apartment.

Average one-bedroom and two-bedroom rent is from Zumper and spans October 2021 through September 2022.

Tips for Making Your Money Stretch in Pricey Areas

  • Know your inflow and outflow of money like the back of your hand. Cities with a higher cost of living can eat up your income in expenses quickly. Use our budget calculator to assess and adjust your current budget to maximize your income and bolster your savings.
  • Consider the impact to your income before relocating to a big city. If you are thinking of making a move to one of the most populous cities, take a look at how it will affect your budget. Use our cost of living calculator to estimate changes in housing, food and taxes.
  • Talk to a financial advisor. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

Questions about our study? Contact

Photo credit: ©iStock/Melpomenem

Anja Solum Anja Solum is a data journalist at SmartAsset covering a variety of personal finance topics, including retirement and debt management. Before joining SmartAsset, she worked on both agency and in-house content marketing teams where she developed her love for data analysis and visualization. In her free time, she nurtures a passion for gaming, a recent addiction to anime & KDramas, and a mischievous labrador retriever. A bit of a nomad, she’s lived in Norway, Jamaica, and Denmark in addition to the U.S. but now resides in Raleigh, North Carolina.
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