Personal Finance

10 Most Affordable U.S Cities for Renters

Renting a home offers flexibility in lifestyle, along with other perks. If youre looking for a place to rent, there are affordable cities where you can easily spend less on rent than you would on a mortgage.

Homeownership is down among millennials, with younger generations waiting longer to buy homes than their parents. There are many reasons cited for this trend, from affordability to the fact millennials are waiting to start families. In some cases, student loans are weighing millennials down and preventing them from engaging in the economy in a way their older peers did.

On top of that, there are some millennials who aren’t interested in buying at all. They have different lifestyle goals that aren’t compatible with buying a house.

No matter the reason that some are renting instead of buying, it’s not always a case of “throwing money away.” For some, renting offers some flexibility in lifestyle, along with other perks. If you’re looking for a place to rent, there are affordable cities where you can easily spend less on rent than you would on a mortgage.

When it Makes Sense to Rent vs. Buy

The rent vs. buy debate is an ongoing attempt to decide what provides you with the best results in the long run. Traditionally, the assumption has been that buying a home is the smart thing to do, while rent is throwing money away. There are talks of building value through the asset of a home, and the fact that a paid off home allows you a cheap (or free) place to live down the road.

However, this isn’t always the case. Every market is different, and there are times when renting is actually cheaper. In hot housing markets, where home prices are so high that saving for a down payment is practically impossible, or where your monthly mortgage payments would be higher than rent, you could end up in trouble if you buy. You might not be able to afford the mortgage payments if some type of financial stress enters your life.

Plus, a home often comes with additional expenses, including high insurance, property taxes, and the cost of maintenance and repairs. As a renter, insurance is much cheaper, and your landlord covers the other costs because the price of your rent includes these items. If you’re looking for renters insurance, be sure to check out our partners Lemonade, Policygenius and Allstate.


Cheaper rent means a larger monthly cash flow. You have more disposable income when your rent is lower than what you’d pay owning a home. It’s possible to invest that money for a potentially solid return. Depending on the market, you might even be better off investing your cash than putting it into an asset as illiquid as a home. Before deciding whether you should rent or buy, make sure to run the numbers for your situation. Make a choice that makes sense for you.

Related: Wealthfront Review: Low Cost Robo Investing and Financial Planning

Rent vs. Buy: Lifestyle Choices

The rent vs. buy debate isn’t just about the money, although that can be a strong consideration–and should be part of the decision-making process. Sometimes renting is preferable due to lifestyle choices. For example, I live in an area where it would actually be cheaper to buy a home than to rent. However, I don’t like all the extras that come with homeownership–the maintenance, the yard work, the repairs. I want someone else to take care of all of that. I rent because it’s convenient and because it fits my lifestyle priorities.

Additionally, renting is more flexible than buying. If I decide I want to leave, I can. There’s no worry about trying to sell the home or having to find tenants if I choose to rent it out. When I owned a home, I had the stress of selling it when it was time to move. Right now, I’m on a month-to-month lease, so I don’t even have to worry about breaking the lease. This can be a way to move on, without the stress that comes with owning.

10 Most Affordable Cities for Renters

Of course, not every place is ideal for renters. There are some markets where rental rates are sky-high. And there are places where it’s equally expensive to buy and to rent.

If you’re in the market for a rental, and you have some flexibility in terms of where to go, Zillow put together a list of affordable cities for renters, taking into account the percentage of median income spent on rent.

All of the cities in the top 10 cost renters less than 25% of their mean household income. This is important since the rule of thumb is that you want to spend 30% or less of your monthly income on housing costs. With a low rent cost, it frees up money for other activities.

Here are the top 10 most affordable cities for renters, according to Zillow:

1. Pittsburgh, PA

Mean household income spent on rent: 21.4%

Pittsburgh is experiencing something of a renaissance right now, and there are plenty of amenities for renters to enjoy. A wealth of museums are available, as well as plenty of dance clubs. The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium is acclaimed as one of the few combination facilities in the country, as well as a world-class place to view different types of animals.

Pittsburgh is well-known for its beer scene and for its beautiful bridges. There are a lot of things to enjoy about the low-cost lifestyle when you move to the Steel City.

2. St. Louis, MO

Mean household income spent on rent: 21.5%

With plenty to do and a great barbecue scene, St. Louis would be an ideal place for the renter looking for a good deal. Not only is there plenty of good food in St. Louis, but there is also a solid brewery tradition that many people enjoy. In addition to food and drink, there’s a variety of cultural opportunities, including museums, concerts, and more. As a major tourist hub, St. Louis offers a lot, even for residents.

The location in the central part of the United States also makes it an ideal home base for those looking for a good place to access other cities.

3. Oklahoma City, OK

Mean household income spent on rent: 22.4%

If you’re looking for that solid midwest feel, Oklahoma City can be a good choice. There’s plenty of room to spread out in Oklahoma City, giving the city an open feel. While boom-and-bust cycles were a part of this city in the past, Oklahoma City has worked to move beyond the cycles and establish a more diverse economy, with plenty of jobs to choose from.

In addition to a solid and mostly stable local economy and low cost of living, Oklahoma City also features museums, music, and rich Native American cultural events, including the Red Earth Native American Cultural Festival.

4. Raleigh, NC

Mean household income spent on rent: 22.4%

In the past few years, Raleigh has consistently made it on lists as one of the best places for millennials. With a burgeoning tech scene and mild weather, Raleigh has much to offer. Not only is there a thriving community of young professionals, but there’s also a live music scene, as well as an up-and-coming food scene. The city is consistently ranked as a safe city, and the affordability is a nice touch.

Additionally, the airport was recently renovated, making it easy to travel in and out of Raleigh. This makes Raleigh more accessible for those who want a home base from which to travel.

5. Kansas City, MO

Mean household income spent on rent: 23.4%

Professional sports and a bustling downtown with a growing food scene that features an emphasis on barbecue are just some of the great things about living in Kansas City. Even living in the urban center, it’s possible to afford the rent. There’s also a burgeoning art scene and plenty of cultural opportunities.

Additionally, there are a number of different places to work, with more than 100 federal agencies having offices in the area. The diversity of industry and the cultural opportunities make Kansas City an interesting place to live and work.

6. Indianapolis, IN

Mean household income spent on rent: 23.7%

There is plenty to do in Indianapolis, including cultural and food activities. The city is located at the crossroads of the United States, making a number of other cities and areas accessible. You can easily get to Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C.

Plus, there’s the motor speedway, with the famous Indy 500. Car enthusiasts can really enjoy themselves in Indianapolis. Even if you aren’t partial to car races, you can still enjoy the sports scene, with the headquarters of the NCAA located in the city.

7. Birmingham, AL

Mean household income spent on rent: 23.7%

Enjoy southern charm in Birmingham. The city boasts a growing historical and artistic scene, taking its place as the cultural hub of Alabama and much of the southeast region. There are plenty of museums, theaters and concerts available in the city, including a growing local music scene. Plus, Birmingham features a number of festivals.

If you want things to do in an affordable environment, Birmingham is a solid choice, with plenty to do and see.

8. Detroit, MI

Mean household income spent on rent: 24%

Detroit is generally considered to be in the midst of a revival. It’s true that Detroit has suffered in recent years, especially following the city’s declaration of bankruptcy in 2013. However, since then, Detroit has been making changes. While the city isn’t all the way there, there are still plenty of opportunities to enjoy a good quality of life.

You can find museums and more in Detroit, and a recently instated streetcar allows residents to move about the city more easily.

9. Louisville, KY

Mean household income spent on rent: 24%

Kentucky is one of those states with a low cost of living in general, making its metro areas, like Louisville, attractive. Louisville has a charm of its own with a great craft drink tradition, including bourbon. The city also boasts a growing food scene with plenty to enjoy.

Not only that but there is a diversity of jobs available in Louisville. No matter your profession, there’s a good chance that you can find a decent job that pays you enough to afford rent.

10. Richmond, VA

Mean household income spent on rent: 24%

Richmond is another up-and-coming tech hub designed to draw millennials. Additionally, the city is located near the nation’s capital, which makes it attractive. Only about a two and a half hour drive from Washington, D.C., it’s possible to access big city amenities. However, Richmond has its own charm as well. There are actual whitewater rapids running right through downtown, and there are a number of events and venues designed to cater to the fact that there are educational institutions in the town.

There are plenty of interesting neighborhoods to live in, family-friendly events, festivals, and access to outdoor activities in the surrounding area.

When Should You Consider Buying a Home?

Buying a home makes sense for a lot of people, though. Deciding the right time to buy can be difficult, but you should look at your financial situation and your lifestyle preferences.

For many people, buying a home serves as forced savings, especially if you plan to live in the house for a long time. You can build equity, which can be tapped later. Additionally, if you pay off your house, you don’t have to worry about a landlord kicking you out at some point. You have a place to live, and as long as you keep up with property taxes, for the most part, you don’t need to worry about losing your home.

Later, if you decide to sell your home to fund retirement or to downsize, you can benefit from that equity, adding its value to your overall nest egg.

If you think you’ll put down roots in a community, staying someplace for a long period of time, it can make sense to buy–especially if you can save money on housing when you buy. Many people also like the freedom that comes with buying a home. You can do what you want to the home, customizing it to fit your needs and lifestyle.

However, it’s important to go in with eyes open. Saving up for a down payment can be difficult, and there’s a chance that your home won’t appreciate in value as much as you’d like. Plus, after paying interest on the mortgage, property taxes, insurance, and the cost of upkeep and repairs, you might only break even over time. The house you live in is rarely a huge financial investment. Instead, it’s often a lifestyle choice and a forced savings plan.

Bottom Line

There’s no one right answer to the rent vs. buy debate. What you decide is up to you. Maybe you want to buy a home and rent it out, turning it into a revenue stream. Maybe you just like the idea of having your own plot of land.

On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with renting if it works for you. As long as you invest and build up your assets in other ways, being a renter can be beneficial. Carefully consider the options, your finances, and your lifestyle, and make a choice that works for you.

Miranda Marquit

Miranda Marquit

Miranda Marquit is a nationally-recognized financial writer and money expert. She has contributed to NPR, Marketwatch, Yahoo! Finance, U.S. News & World Report, FOX Business, The Hill and numerous other publications. Miranda is an avid podcaster and writes about money and freelancing at her website, []. She lives in Idaho and loves reading, board games, travel, the outdoors and spending time with her son.

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