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Where U.S. Taxpayers Get the Biggest Refunds and Tax Bills

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The 2019 tax season officially kicked off January 28, and 150 million tax returns are expected to be filed this year. While most filers will look forward to getting a refund, others might be worried that they’ll owe taxes to the IRS. Whether you can look forward to a refund is probably tied to where you live, according to the latest MagnifyMoney annual tax study (see 2018 results here). We analyzed IRS tax data for 100 of the largest U.S. metros over a five-year period (2013-2017) to find out where people owe the most taxes at the time they file their return — and where people are getting the biggest refunds.

Key findings:

Taxpayers are getting slightly smaller refunds while tax bills are increasing. On average, we found taxpayers in the 100 largest metros who owed taxes faced a federal tax bill of $5,307 when they filed, while those taxpayers who got a refund averaged $3,016. Compared to last year’s study, which reported an average tax bill of $5,294 and average refunds of $3,052 for returns filed 2012 to 2016.

Nearly one in five taxpayers owes Uncle Sam when he or she files. Among the 100 metros analyzed, 19% of taxpayers owed taxes and 77% got a refund. This shows a trend of more people owing taxes and fewer receiving refunds, as our previous study found 17% of city-dwelling residents owed taxes and 78% received refunds.

High tax bills could correlate to more itemized returns. As in last year’s study, an average of 33% of taxpayers itemized their taxes each year during the study period. But a greater proportion of filers itemized their returns in the 10 metros where taxpayers owed the most. In these cities, on average, 39% of filers itemized their taxes.

In San Francisco, the second-ranking metro with filers who owed the most, some 40% of taxpayers itemize. The exception was Sarasota, Fla. Although the 27% of taxpayers who itemize there was below the national average of 33%, the share of Sarasotans who owed taxes was greater than the national average (21% versus 19%).

Of course, with the 2018 tax reform changes, fewer people will likely itemize when they file taxes this year since the standard deduction was raised.

More people face tax bills in the West. Eight of the top 10 metros where taxpayers owed the IRS were located in the Western United States. California metros took three of the top spots. But Denver was in a three-way tie for second place along with Sacramento and San Diego, where 22% of taxpayers owed Uncle Sam in all three metros. However, Denver has slightly bigger problems, given the average taxpayer there owes more — $5,642 on average, compared with San Diego ($5,298) and Sacramento ($4,299).

San Francisco ranks high on the list among those who owe taxes. One in four San Francisco taxpayers owes taxes when he or she files, we found, with an average tax bill of $7,261. That’s about 37% greater than the national average. San Franciscans might pay a lot come tax season but they also take home the sixth-largest tax refund – $3,506 vs. the $3,058 national average.

Where taxpayers are getting the biggest refunds

Overall, tax refunds fell slightly from a $3,052 average in last year’s study to $3,016 this year.

While the 10 cities where taxpayers receive the largest refunds are the same year-over-year, however, refunds didn’t grow in every metro area. Tax refund amounts trended down in three Texas cities: McAllen, Houston, and Corpus Christi. San Francisco residents, on the other hand, saw the biggest increase in their tax refunds, getting back $40 more ($3,506 in this year’s study compared to $3,466 in last year’s study).

Where filers are most likely to owe taxes

When looking at the cities where more people ended up owing the IRS at the time of filing, not much has changed.

The average overall size of a tax bill in all top 100 metro areas jumped this year to $5,307 from $5,294. Similarly, the individual averages owed in each of these 10 cities went up. Boise, Idaho’s $120 jump in its average tax bill is the largest increase, dollar-for-dollar.

Higher tax bills correlate with larger tax refunds

A look at the average tax bills and refund amounts in each city reveals an interesting trend: higher tax bills are correlated positively with higher tax refunds.

In other words, the cities where people get fatter refund checks are also where filers who owe taxes will pay the most. The scatter plot below shows this relationship between high refunds and high tax bills.

Take Ft. Myers, Fla. as an example. This city has the largest tax refunds at $3,833 — but it also has the highest average tax bill of any city, at $8,194.

Tax year 2018 will bring big changes

This study highlights some big trends and differences in tax burdens by city, but it’s based on a past iteration of the American tax code. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act made sweeping changes to the U.S. tax code that officially took effect for the 2018 tax year (which is outside the five-year period looked at in this study).

So the 2019 tax season is the first time taxpayers will file a return under this new tax code, and the rule changes will bring surprises to many. Only 5% of taxpayers are expected to see their tax costs increase, according to the Tax Policy Center. But confusion over how the tax changes impacted withholding calculations could mean that many taxpayers have already paid too much or too little in taxes.

The proportion of itemized returns is also likely to decrease this tax season. The tax code overhaul included nearly doubling the standard deduction. Since filers have the option to take a standard deduction or itemize their returns, a higher standard deduction is likely to incentivize more of them to do the latter. As a result, itemized tax returns are expected to decrease from 26.4% to just 10.9% among filers, according to the Tax Policy Center.

Tips for filing taxes in 2019

Because the new tax laws will bring many changes, you should expect the unexpected this tax season. And on top of these new changes, the recent federal government shutdown could impact IRS functions and return processing. Here’s what you can do to get ahead of these major tax changes when filing your 2018 return.

File as early as you can. With potential delays at the IRS, it’s even more important to do your part to get your tax refund as soon as you can. The best way to do this is to file as early as possible — don’t put it off until the April 15th deadline. As a bonus, filing early is also a smart way to protect yourself from tax refund theft. And if you end up owing, you’ll also have more time to gather the funds needed to settle your tax bill by the deadline.

Get familiar with new tax forms. The previous years’ tax forms 1040A and 1040EZ are gone, replaced by Form 1040. The new 1040 will be simpler for many tax filers, but not all. Many people will need to file additional schedules with their Form 1040 to adjust taxable income or claimed some tax credits. It’d be wise to review these new forms and changes ahead of completing your return so you know what to expect.

Expect your tax situation to change. With the major changes to the tax code and withholdings in the 2018 tax year, taxpayers should not expect filing to be business as usual. Your tax refund could be higher or lower than it has been in previous years, or you might wind up owing a tax bill. Take a second look at your finances and budget and make a plan for how you’ll manage if you don’t get your usual refund.

If you owe a tax bill, pay it. If you find that you owe a tax bill, pay it as soon as you can. You can file for an extension to give yourself more time to complete a return, but at least 90% of your tax bill will still be due by the April 15th deadline. If you underpay, you’ll owe another 0.5% of the outstanding balance for each month your tax bill goes unpaid.

Consider hiring a professional. With so many tax code changes to grapple with at once, preparing your own taxes could come with more headaches and complications than usual. It could be a good year to hire the help of an accountant or other tax professional. They can review your tax situation, ensure your tax return is prepared correctly and help you identify any potential credits or deductions you might have missed on your own.

Read more: The Best Tax Software of 2019


Using IRS Statements of Income data, we aggregated the data for five years, for returns filed from Jan. 1, 2013 – Dec. 31, 2017 in the 100 largest U.S. metros.

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Rising Incomes Outpace Increasing Housing Costs in Every Major American City

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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Most U.S. workers’ real wages have been stagnant over the past four decades, according to analysis from the Pew Research Center. With the prices of crucial expenses such as housing and healthcare increasing over these decades as well, consumers’ purchasing power today is about the same as in the 1970s. These circumstances have contributed to the belief that overall, Americans’ incomes aren’t keeping up with the rising costs of living.We set out to analyze U.S. Census Bureau data for America’s 100 largest metros to compare incomes to housing costs. Our findings show that this trend might be reversing — at least for residents of America’s biggest cities.

Compared to three years ago, the typical household in these cities has more money left over after paying for housing. In other words, even though housing costs have risen over the last three years, the dollar amount of wages have grown faster and exceeded the dollar pricing increases for both renting and owning a home.

In fact, famously-expensive metros saw the biggest jumps in the gap between income and housing costs. This trend also holds in places where rents take a greater share of household income.

Key findings

  • The median household in each of the 100 largest metros takes home more cash after paying for housing than they did three years ago.
  • Households in San Francisco saw the biggest gain in gross income after housing costs, up $10,642 more per year compared to three years previous. For renters, the amount is $9,982, and for homeowners with a mortgage the amount is $12,178.
  • Annual savings at the other end of the list are still substantial. The median household in Albuquerque, N.M. has an extra $1,750 a year — $1,438 for renters and $2,194 for homeowners with a mortgage.
  • Rent costs are increasing at a faster rate than costs for households who own their own homes and still have a mortgage in every metro. Even so, wage growth has outstripped those increases.
  • The 2017 homeownership costs in most metros exceeds the 30% marker that is traditionally used as a guideline for affordable housing costs. This suggests that homeownership is still not affordable for most households in those metros.
  • In a few places, the percentage of a household’s income spent on rent has increased — such as in Denver; Colorado Spring, Colo.; and San Jose, Calif. Even so, these households still take home more dollars after paying rent than they did three years ago.
  • The effect is especially pronounced in famously expensive cities; the first seven metros on our list, from San Francisco to Boston, are notorious for high rent costs.
  • Median housing costs have actually dropped in a handful of cities, such as Atlanta (down by $24 per year), Birmingham, Ala. ($24), Chicago ($24), Cleveland ($84), Detroit ($144), Jacksonville, Fla. ($36) and Las Vegas ($216).
  • Rents have risen at a faster rate than homeownership costs, but median costs for the latter are still higher across the board. As a result, homeowners today have more funds leftover after paying their mortgages and property expenses, even though they are spending a greater percentage of their incomes on housing.
  • Median rents in every metro lie comfortably below the 30% mark of median gross income, but homeownership costs exceed the 30% rule in most places.

Our study compared local incomes to housing costs in the top 100 metros. We then ranked them based on how much local wages have increased compared to housing costs, dollar for dollar, with the highest increase starting at 1 (in green on the map above) and going to the lowest at 100 (in red).

Hover over the map to see the ranking of each city and how much incomes after housing costs have increased in the past three years.

10 cities where incomes are rising faster than housing costs

When income rises faster than housing costs, our study found, this puts thousands more dollars per year into people’s pockets.

With these extra funds, households might find they have more funds available to cover other living expenses, from groceries to utilities to healthcare. This money can ease the demands placed on households by consumer debt such as credit cards, auto loans or personal loans. It could even grant them more room in their budgets to save, get out of debt or invest.

Here, we highlight the 10 cities in which the gap between median incomes and housing costs is growing the fastest.

1. San Francisco

San Francisco has become notorious in the past decade for its soaring housing costs, but it appears that local incomes are finally catching up. This city had the highest increase in local incomes left over after housing costs — for both renters and homeowners.

Overall, San Franciscans have $10,642 more in gross income after paying for housing than they did three years ago. That translates to a gain of $9,982 for renters, and $12,178 for homeowners.

Despite these high dollar amount increases, the percentage of the median gross income required to cover the median rent has remained mostly unchanged, falling just 0.2%. By contrast, San Francisco had the steepest decline in the percentage of a local median income required to cover homeownership costs — down 12.3% from three years ago.

2. San Jose, California

Neighboring San Francisco is San Jose, the next city where residents saw the largest increases in incomes overall, rising $12,849 in the past three years. This increase helped typical workers pocket $9,909 more in gross annual income after paying housing costs, compared to three years previous.

Rent costs rose faster than home owning costs over those years, too. Renters’ after-housing income rose $9,117 in the past three years, compared to $11,913 more for homeowners.

Despite having one of the largest increases dollar-for-dollar, however, San Jose’s numbers are less impressive when comparing housing costs directly to income. The percentage of the city’s median gross income required to cover median housing costs fell by just 0.8% in the past three years — the smallest decrease of any city we surveyed.

3. Seattle

In Seattle, the median gross income increased by $8,300 per year in just three years. Local workers’ paychecks increased far faster than their housing costs, which were up $1,164 during the same period — resulting in a net gain of $7,136 overall.

During the three years we looked at, Seattle homeownership costs decreased by 10.3% relative to income while rent costs were up 2.6% compared to incomes. The three-year increase in income after housing costs was $6,272 for renters, and $8,180 for homeowners. In actual dollars, this meant homeowners netted $1,908 more per year from rising incomes than their renting neighbors.

4. Austin, Texas

At No. 4 is Austin, where the amount of a median gross income left over after paying median housing costs increased by $6,737 per year. This number specific to renters is $6,125, and homeowners are taking home $7,025 more after housing costs per year.

This is thanks again to rising local incomes, which shot up $7,817 from 2014 to 2017 while median housing costs increased by just $1,080.

Overall, the percentage of a gross median income required to cover Austin’s median housing costs fell by 4.5% over those three years.

5. Portland, Oregon

Portland is No. 5 among cities where incomes have increased the most compared to housing costs in over the past three years. This net gain in dollars is $6,733, reflecting median incomes that increases $7,825 per year compared to a rise of just $1,092 in annual housing costs.

Homeowners in Portland saw the biggest gains; the percentage of the median income required to cover the costs of owning a home fell by 11.2%. In dollars, homeowners here had an average of $7,693 more of their gross income leftover after covering housing costs than three years previous. For renters, this figure is $6,025.

Notably, Portland ranked No. 7 out of 50 in our rankings of the places where Americans live the most balanced lifestyles.

6. Denver

Next is the Mile High City, Denver, where increases in income outstripped the rise in housing costs to grant locals an average of $6,418 more in annual income, after housing costs. This is based on the $7,678 rise in Denver’s median income in the past three years, which outsrippted the $1,260 rise in housing costs during the same period.

Rising rent costs, however, have countered some of the income gains for Denver residents. For workers earning the local median income, the percentage of their pay that would be devoted to rent costs actually rose by 7.7% over three years — the steepest increase of any city we surveyed. Compare that to a 3.1% fall in costs-to-income for homeowners.

7. Boston

Another high cost-of-living city makes the list with Boston. Fortunately, the median annual income was up $7,344 from 2014 to 2017, helping to make up for some of the city’s high costs. Housing costs rose $1,008 per year during the same period.

In all, a typical Bostonian has $6,336 more in gross income leftover after paying for housing, compared to three years ago. This same figure is $5,952 for renters, specifically, and $7,128 for homeowners.

8. Bridgeport, Connecticut

In the city of Bridgeport, slower-rising housing costs are also contributing to a widening gap between housing costs and incomes. Here, annual housing costs are just $432 higher than they were three years ago — the smallest increase in housing costs among the top 10 cities.

That means that more of the $6,610 increase in incomes from 2014 to 2017 will make its way into Bridgeport resident’s pockets being eaten up by housing costs.

In all, the three-year increase in incomes after accounting for housing costs is $6,178 .This number is actually higher for local homeowners, at $7,018, and lower for renters,$5,266.

9. Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville locals have $5,984 more in gross income after paying housing costs today than they did three years ago. Housing costs rose $576 during that time, while incomes were up $6,560.

While this isn’t the highest dollar amount, it reflects a drop of 6.7 percentage points in the ratio of housing costs to income. In other words, Nashville is the top 10 city where locals who saw the biggest increase in the percentage of their income they get to keep rather than pay toward housing.

10. Salt Lake City

Rounding out the list is Salt Lake City, which ranked in the top cities to live out your golden years. Despite a boom in housing costs in the past 15 years, wages in this Utah city have also increased. From 2014 to 2017, the median household income rose $6,309, exceeding the $456 rise in housing costs for a total gain of $5,853 for Salt Lake City locals.

In all, Salt Lake City residents are still coming out ahead, with more money leftover after paying for housing compared to three years previous.

Understanding the metrics

Comparing data from the American Community Survey for 2017 to 2014, analysts subtracted the change in median household income from the change in median housing costs (annualized) to determine the three-year change in gross income left over after paying for housing.

In addition, we also calculated the change in the percentage of income a median household would spend on median housing costs, and then we repeated the exercise for median rents and median costs for homeowners who have mortgages. In all, this generated the following findings for each city:

  • 3-Year change in gross income left over after housing costs (annual)
  • 3-Year change in gross income left over after rent (annual)
  • 3-Year change in gross income left over after homeownership costs, including mortgage (annual)
  • 3-Year change in the percentage of the median gross income required for median housing costs
  • 3-Year change in the percentage of the median gross income required for median rent
  • 3-Year change in the percentage of the median gross income required for median homeownership costs, including mortgage

Scroll to the end of this piece for a table that includes these full study findings for each city.

The median housing cost estimate is inclusive of every household within a Metropolitan Statistical Areas, which may include a city and surrounding communities. The rent estimate is limited to people who pay rent, and we limited the homeownership costs (which includes costs such as taxes and insurance) to those with a mortgage. We excluded homeowners without a mortgage, as their housing costs are likely to stay close to flat and wouldn’t reflect area changes in housing costs.

In several instances, we found that a higher proportion of median income was required to pay the median rent in 2017 than it was in 2014. Even in these cases, the median households brought home more money after paying rent.

Conventional wisdom says that households should spend no more than 30% of their gross income on housing costs. In every metro we reviewed, the ratio of median income required to pay median rent fall comfortably below this line. Yet rents were more likely to have increased on pace with wages, meaning renters saw smaller gains in after-housing income than homeowners.

The ratio of housing costs to income homeowners, however, exceeds that limit in most metros, implying that homeownership is still not affordable for the typical household. Together, these findings suggest that while homeowners’ housing costs rise more slowly than renters’, they must use a large chunk of income to cover those costs than do renters.

Full rankings

Below is a table with the full findings for all 100 cities in our study. After the column listing the city, the leftmost three columns shows the change, in dollars, of gross income left after paying for housing costs. The rightmost three columns show the change in the percentage of the median income needed to pay for the median housing costs in that city.


Researchers compared 2017 and 2014 median household income, as well as 2017 and 2014 median housing costs, median gross rent, and median housing costs for homeowners with a mortgage.  The results were aggregated to the 100 largest municipal statistical areas, and the data is from the American Community Survey 5-Year estimates from the U.S. Census.

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Best and Worst States for Veterans

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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Military service is tough and taxing, and many service members hope for an effortless re-entry into a civilian lifestyle.

But where veterans settle down after their service could play a big role in how smooth that transition really is. Even if they’re a couple years (or decades) out from their period of military service, the frequent moves of a military lifestyle means veterans could be less daunted by the prospect of relocating for a better quality of life.

We wanted to identify the best states for veterans, where they are more likely to find better opportunities and outcomes. We surveyed and ranked each city on several factors relevant to U.S. veterans:

  • Veteran population, both currently and in projected changes.
  • Veterans Affairs (VA) administration score, calculated based on the number of VA centers per enrollees in the state and patient ratings of these local VA facilities.
  • Veterans’ economic outcomes, measured by the median income for veterans, unemployment rates for veterans in the workforce and the median annual property taxes for home-owning veterans.

Here’s a look at our findings on the best states for veterans, and the worst. Hover over the map below to see whether your state is veteran-friendly.

Key takeaways

  • North Dakota takes the top spot with a final score of 67.9, thanks mostly to a deep satisfaction with VA services.
  • Hawaii and Wyoming rank second and third, with respective scores of 67.7 and 67.1. Economic opportunities for veterans in Hawaii are among the best (and the weather can’t hurt either!). And though Wyoming isn’t a star in any specific category, it performs solidly across the metrics we considered.
  • New Jersey comes in last on our list, due to high property taxes and a small population of veterans — its final score was 22.8.
  • New York and California fill out the bottom three, with final scores of 28.1 and 29.9. Vets make up a small portion of the New York’s population and property taxes are high, while Californian vets are not happy with their VA services.
  • Alaska is the state where you’re most likely to have a vet as a neighbor. Thirteen percent of adults residing in Alaska have served in the Armed Forces, and it’s the only state where the Department of Veterans Affairs doesn’t expect the veteran population to shrink.
  • Virginia boasts the highest incomes for veterans, most likely due to lucrative Department of Defense contractor opportunities.
  • Veterans in Vermont love their VA services more than any other state. Tennesseans, on the other hand, are the most dissatisfied with their VA services.

The 10 best states for veterans

Among the 10 best states for veterans, people with a history of military service are likely to have some key benefits.

They’re more likely to have access to a strong veteran community, accessible and higher-quality Veterans affair services and property tax policies that favor former members of the military. Veterans in these states also tend to earn more and face lower rates of workforce unemployment.

Here’s a closer look at what sets these states apart from others.

Strong veteran communities

The 10 best states for veterans have large veteran communities compared to other states. This is an important factor as the percentage of Americans who are veterans fell from 18% in 1980 to just 7% in 2016, per the Pew Research Center.
Alaska’s veteran community is the only one that’s expected to hold steady year over year. Alaska also has the largest veteran community, equal to 13.1% of its adult population. Other top states that scored favorably on veteran population factors include Wyoming, Virginia and Hawaii.

Accessible, high-quality VA services
These states also provide a higher quantity and quality of VA health care and services.

Vermont is the state that scores the best across all factors, scoring an impressive 91.3 in this category. Vermont and Wyoming had the highest patient ratings for both VA primary and specialty care facilities.

Wyoming has the most VA outpatient and inpatient facilities per capita, at 53.1 per 100,000 enrollees.

More economic advantages
Lastly, the best states for veterans provide these residents with better employment opportunities and ease the financial burdens of homeownership.

  • Virginia has the highest median income among veterans of any top state at $53,435. Alaska is close behind, with veterans earning a median income of $53,023.
  • Vermont and Idaho are the top states with the lowest workforce unemployment rates among veterans, at 2.2% and 2.4% respectively.
  • Among the best states, veterans pay the lowest property taxes, dollar for dollar, in Idaho and Wyoming. The median property tax range for vets in both states is $1,200 to $1,299.

These factors add up to better access to favorable financial conditions for veterans that can help them get ahead. Combine these with a robust veteran community and reliable VA services, and it’s clear how these 10 states provide veterans with a leg up in life.

10 worst states for veterans

Then there are the 10 worst states for veterans, where this population has fewer advantages and factors working in their favor. Here’s a look at the 10 worst states and the factors that pushed them to the bottom of the pack.

  • New Jersey and New York have the smallest veterans communities, accounting for less than 6% of each state’s populations. New Jersey also had the fastest-declining veteran population, shrinking by 3.7% per year.
  • Tennessee and Texas had the lowest VA services scores. Texas had the fewest VA facilities per capita among the worst states, at just 11.8 per 100,000 VA enrollees. Meanwhile, Tennessee had some of the lowest VA patient satisfaction ratings.
  • New Jersey, Oregon and New York fared the worst among our measures of local veterans’ economic opportunities, but New Jersey was the standout. Of the worst states, New Jersey had the highest unemployment rate among veteran workers at 6.2%. Veterans in New Jersey also faced sky-high property taxes, with a median of $7,000 to $7,999 — a full 16% of the state’s $43,994 annual median income among veterans.

See the table below for a full view of why each of these 10 worst states for veterans earned its unfortunate spot.

Understanding these rankings

To determine which states were best for veterans, we looked at eight metrics broken into three categories:

  • Veteran population score. This includes the percentage of the state’s adult population who are veterans and year-over-year change in the number of veterans, as predicted by the Department of Veterans Affairs. This indicates how attractive states are to veterans, and also suggests that the specific needs of veterans are more likely to be considered as a matter of state policy and community priority.
  • Veterans Affairs administration score. This includes the number of inpatient, outpatient and VA centers per 100,000 VA enrollees and patient ratings for VA primary care providers and specialist providers. The quality and availability of VA care is a major concern for all Americans, but it’s clear from the data that veterans have very different experiences in different states.
  • Economic score. This includes the median income for veterans, the veteran unemployment rates and the median property tax bill for veterans who own their homes. Some state, county and local governments offer special property tax rates, depending on a variety of factors, such as disability or combat status.

See our full rankings

What if your state didn’t rank among the 10 best or worst for veterans? The table below provides the complete rankings and scoring for all 50 states.

How veterans can manage money in post-military life

For veterans, making ends meet isn’t always easy. As a veteran, one of the first places to turn for financial help is your service-related benefits and perks. Take full advantage of the benefits and entitlements you earned through your military service:

  • The VA offers comprehensive health care and coverage for veterans.
  • Veterans who become disabled in combat are also entitled to additional benefits and assistance.
  • The Post-9/11 GI Bill provides financial assistance for education and living costs for up to 36 months for veterans enrolled in college or a vocational training or certification program.
  • VA loans may help many veterans access an affordable mortgage to purchase a home with little or no down payment.
  • Many states also offer benefits to their local veterans, from a tax break on your military retirement income to additional housing assistance for disabled veterans. Check with your state’s veterans department to see what local benefits are available.
  • Many nonprofits provide additional assistance and grants to vets, such as USA Cares, The American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Debt can also be a major burden on veterans, with 92.5% of military and veteran families reporting they had debt, according to the Military Family Advisory Network. Here are some tips for veterans to deal with debt.

  • Seek out debt assistance programs for veterans. These can offer relief and help to military members and veterans burdened by debt.
  • Veterans who can afford to do so can make extra payments to get out of debt faster. This will pay down balances faster, save hundreds or even thousands of dollars in interest, and shave months or years off of the repayment period.
  • Debt consolidation can also be an option to manage debt, especially if you have high-interest debt (credit card balances, for example). Use a new credit account, like a personal loan or a new credit card with a 0% introductory APR, to pay off and replace existing debt. If debt can be consolidated to a lower rate, this can help lower interest to make monthly payments more affordable or help pay off debt faster.

In addition to using veteran benefits and managing debt, veterans can look for other steps to shore up their finances. Saving an emergency fund can be a wise next step, as well as ramping up retirement contributions and improving financial literacy.

Wherever veterans live, they can use this study to see how favorable their state is for their demographic. Short of moving, however, the best thing they can do for their money is to actively manage it and build financial security.


Analysts used data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey, available on FactFinder and calculated from microdata hosted by IPUMS.

Metrics were divided into three categories, which were then scored independently as the average of the component scores, which were calculated as a point in relation between the maximum and minimum value among all states. The three category scores were then averaged for a final score. The highest possible score for each metric, category and final score is 100 and the lowest is zero.

The categories and component metrics are:

  • Veteran population
    • The percentage of the adult population who are veterans
    • The projected annual percentage change in the number of veterans
  • Veterans Affairs score
    • The number of inpatient, outpatient and VA centers per 100,000 VA enrollees
    • The average patient ratings of primary care at VA facilities
    • The average patient ratings of specialty care at VA facilities
  • Veteran economic score
    • Median income for veterans
    • Unemployment rate for veterans in the workforce
    • Median annual property taxes paid by veterans who own homes (range)

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