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The Complete Guide to Disability Insurance

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Quick quiz: What’s the most valuable financial asset you own as a young professional and a provider for your family?Here are some hints: It’s not your home. It’s not your 401(k). And it’s definitely not your car.

The answer? It’s your future income. The money you earn in the years to come will allow you to pay your bills, save for the future, and create a secure financial foundation for you and your family.

Really, all the plans you’re making both for today and the future rely on the assumption that you’ll continue earning money. Which is exactly why it’s so important to protect that income and make sure you receive it no matter what.

That’s where disability insurance comes in.

Disability insurance ensures that you’re able to continue paying your bills and putting food on the table even if your health prevents you from working for an extended period of time. By sending you a monthly check that replaces some or all of your income, it protects your biggest financial asset from those worst-case scenarios.

It’s something that just about every working parent should have, but it’s a complicated product that can be difficult to understand and get right.

So in this post you’ll learn all about how disability insurance works and what kind of policy you should be looking for.

Why You Need Disability Insurance

Disability insurance is often ignored both because the prospect of becoming disabled seems remote and because the premiums can be hard to swallow, especially for young families who are already struggling to pay for child care and all the other expenses that come with having young kids.

But extended disability is a lot more common than most people think.

According to WebMD, your odds of becoming disabled before you retire are about 1 in 3.

The leading causes of disability include:

  • Arthritis
  • Back pain
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Depression
  • Diabetes

For the most part it’s chronic illness that causes disability, not the kind of major accident that typically comes to mind. And the odds of it happening before you’re financially independent are fairly high, though there are some situations in which your personal odds may be lower.

So the big question is this: If you’re one of the 33% of people who faces an extended disability, where would the money come from to pay your bills and put food on the table? How long would your savings be able to support you, and what would you do if you needed help past that point?

Most people would struggle to make it more than a few months, which is exactly why disability insurance is so valuable. By replacing your income for potentially years at a time, it ensures that you’ll be able to continue taking care of your family no matter what.

Short-term disability insurance vs. long-term disability insurance

There are two main types of disability insurance: short-term and long-term.

Both can be helpful, but they play very different roles in your financial plan. Here’s an overview of each.

Short-Term Disability Insurance

Short-term disability insurance only offers benefits for a relatively limited amount of time. Most short-term disability insurance policies cover you for 3-6 months, though they can provide coverage for up to two years.

There is typically a waiting period of up to 14 days before the insurance kicks in to prevent it from covering minor illness and injury. After that waiting period, it will typically start to pay 50%-100% of your regular income until you either return to work or your coverage period ends.

One of the most common uses of short-term disability insurance is during maternity leave. Many, though not all, short-term disability policies cover the latter parts of pregnancy and the period after childbirth, which can help replace your income while staying home with your newborn.

Most short-term disability insurance policies are offered as an employer benefit, and in some cases that coverage may even be free. Private coverage is also an option if you aren’t able to get coverage through work, though those policies can be expensive. For example, a healthy 38-year-old male might pay a $2,300 annual premium for a $5,000 monthly benefit and 12 months of coverage.

One alternative to short-term disability insurance is building an emergency fund. A 3-6 month emergency fund would provide the same protection as a 3-6 month short-term disability insurance policy, with the added benefit of not having a monthly premium.

Long-Term Disability Insurance

Long-term disability insurance is where you typically find the most value. Because while a short-term disability could be covered by a healthy emergency fund, an extended disability is much more likely to deplete your family’s savings and put you in a difficult position unless you have some way of replacing your lost income.

Long-term disability insurance picks up where your emergency fund or short-term disability insurance leaves off. There’s typically a 3-6 month waiting period during which you would have to replace your income by other means.

But once you’re past that waiting period, your long-term disability insurance would start replacing your monthly income and would continue to do so for years at a time, as long as you remain disabled.

This is a big potential benefit. A long-term disability policy that replaces $5,000 per month in income will potentially pay you $60,000 per year for as long as you’re disable. That would go a long way toward keeping your family on the right track.

Given that potential value, it’s usually more important for families to secure long-term disability insurance than short-term disability insurance. For that reason, the rest of this guide will focus primarily on long-term disability insurance.

10 Questions To Ask When Shopping for a Long-Term Disability Insurance Policy

Long-term disability insurance is a complicated product with a lot of terms and conditions that vary policy to policy. Finding a good, independent disability insurance agent who isn’t beholden to any particular insurance company can help you secure the right policy at the right price for your specific situation.

But whether you’re looking on your own or with the help of an agent, there are 10 key features you’ll want to evaluate.

1. Your Monthly Benefit

Your monthly benefit is the amount of money your long-term disability insurance policy would pay you each month in the event of disability. And there are a few key factors that go into deciding how big a benefit you need:

  1. What are the monthly expenses you would have to cover if you lost your income? Consider the fact that you may be able to cut back on certain discretionary expenses, but also that you may have additional medical expenses in order to treat the disability.
  2. What other income sources do you have? You can factor in your spouse or partner’s income, your savings, and possibly even help from family.
  3. Would your benefit be taxable or tax-free? The benefit from an individual policy you purchase on your own would almost certainly be tax-free. The benefit you get from an employer policy would likely be taxable. The difference affects how much money you would actually have available to spend.

2. How They Define ‘Disability’

Believe it or not, there is no one way of defining disability. There are a lot of variations, but most policies fall into one of three main groups:

  • Any occupation – This is the most restrictive of the three definitions. It defines disability as the inability to perform any job, no matter what it is or how much it pays. It’s hard to qualify for benefits under this definition.
  • Own occupation – This is the broadest of the three definitions. It defines disability as the inability to perform the main duties of your current job. It’s easiest to qualify for benefits under this definition.
  • Modified own occupation – This is a middle ground that defines disability as the inability to perform a job for which you are reasonably suited based on education, training, and experience. In other words, not just any job will do. You have to be able to work in a job that fits your level of experience and expertise before benefits stop.

Understanding your policy’s definition of disability is key to understanding the protection you’re actually receiving. A big benefit with a strict definition of disability may be less valuable than a smaller benefit with a definition that’s easier to meet.

3. The Elimination Period

The elimination period is that amount of time you have to be disabled before you can start to collect your benefit.

Typical elimination periods range from 60 to 180 days, with longer elimination periods leading to a smaller premium. You should consider how long your savings and/or short-term disability insurance would cover you when deciding how long an elimination period to choose.

4. The Benefit Period

This is the maximum amount of time you would be able to collect benefits as long as you continue to meet the policy’s definition of disability.

Many long-term disability insurance policies pay out until age 65 or 67 to coincide with the standard Social Security retirement age. Other policies will only pay benefits for 5-10 years.

Longer benefit periods are more valuable, but also more expensive. You should consider the likelihood of being able to replace your income in other ways, such as transitioning to a different job, when deciding how long you’d like your benefit period to last.

5. What isn’t Covered

Most long-term disability insurance policies will exclude certain types of conditions from coverage. For example, mental health conditions are often not covered or are subject to a shorter benefit period.

Sometimes the exclusions will only last for a period of time, such as the first two years of the policy being in place. Sometimes they last for the life of the policy. You should evaluate these exclusions in relation to your personal and family health history to understand how likely you might be to run into them.

6. Premium Guarantee

Some long-term disability insurance policies are non-cancelable, which means that you are guaranteed a fixed premium until your coverage period ends. The insurance company cannot cancel your coverage and cannot raise your premium.

Other policies are guaranteed renewable, which means that the insurance company can’t cancel your policy, but they can increase the premium as long as they increase the premium for all policies across an entire class of policyholders (such as all policyholders in a given state or all policyholders in a given occupation category).

If you don’t have either of those guarantees, it means that your premium could increase each and every year and that those changes are at the discretion of the insurance company.

7. Residual Benefit

A residual benefit feature means that you could receive partial benefits if you return to work at a reduced salary.

This feature can help you build your workload over time, making for an easier and smoother transition.

8. Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA)

Policies that come with a cost-of-living adjustment will increase your benefit each year based on the rate of inflation. This is meant to ensure that you are able to pay for the same amount of goods and services each year, even as the cost of those things increase over time.

Some COLA riders have a maximum annual increase and/or a limited amount of time for which they are applied. For example, a policy might cap the annual increase at 3%, and it may only increase the benefit for a certain number of years before leveling off.

9. Future Purchase Option

Many long-term disability insurance policies guarantee you the right to increase your coverage in the future if your income increases, without any medical underwriting. This is a valuable benefit because it eliminates the risk that a decline in health could prevent you from getting more coverage when you need it.

10. Insurer’s Financial Rating

Finally, you should make sure that the insurer is in good financial condition. The last thing you want is to have the insurance company flake out on you when it’s time to collect.

You can look up an insurer’s rating through any of the following companies: A.M. Best, Fitch Ratings, Moody’s, and Standard & Poor’s.

The Pros and Cons of Group Disability Insurance

There are two ways you can get long-term disability insurance:

  1. Through your employer as an employee benefit (referred to as group disability insurance)
  2. On your own through an insurer of your choice

Both have their pros and cons. Here’s a breakdown.

The Pros of Group Coverage

1. Cost

Group disability insurance is often less expensive, and the premiums are typically tax-deductible. Many employers even offer a base level of long-term disability insurance coverage for free.

The lower premium can come with some negative trade-offs, as you’ll see below, but in the best cases it simply makes the insurance easier to afford.

2. No Medical Underwriting

Your ability to get group coverage is in no way affected by your current health. Eligibility is solely dependent on your employment status with the company.

This can be an especially big benefit if you have significant health issues that would make individual coverage either prohibitively expensive or impossible to get.

3. Simplicity

Group coverage is easy to get in place. All you have to do is sign up during open enrollment, choose the level of coverage you’d like, and you’re done.

The Cons of Group Coverage

1. Benefits Are Taxed

In most cases, your group disability insurance premiums are tax-deductible, and the benefits you receive are taxed. Which means that you won’t actually receive the full benefit.

So while group long-term disability insurance can be affordable on the front end, sometimes that comes at the cost of smaller benefits on the back end.

2. May Not Cover You Completely

In addition to the benefits being taxable, your employer may not offer enough coverage to meet your full need to begin with. You may need to get an additional policy if you want to be fully insured.

3. Lack of Control

Your group disability insurance policy is what it is, and you don’t have much, if any, say in the features it offers.

Sometimes this won’t matter, since the policy will have everything you want. But sometimes it will be lacking in certain areas, which could leave you with weaker coverage than you’d like.

4. Can’t Take It with You

You typically can’t take your group disability insurance coverage with you when you leave the company, and your employer could also choose to stop offering it at any time.

All of which means that you could find yourself without coverage somewhere down the line. And if your health status has declined or your next employer doesn’t offer group coverage, you may find it hard to get affordable disability insurance elsewhere.

The Pros and Cons of Individual Disability Insurance

The Pros of Individual Coverage

1. Portability

Individual long-term disability insurance policies are portable, meaning that they’re yours as long as you continue to pay the premiums, even if you change jobs. This is crucial to making sure that you always have coverage when you need it.

2. Definition of Disability

With an individual disability insurance policy, you have the opportunity to choose a broader definition of disability that increases your chances of receiving benefits. This can be particularly helpful if you work in a highly specialized field where having an own occupation definition would be beneficial.

3. Tax-Free Benefits

Individual disability insurance premiums are not tax-deductible, but the upside is that any benefits you receive are tax-free. This ensures that you get as much money as possible when you really need it.

4. Control over Other Features

You have a lot more control over all the policy features when you buy individual coverage. You can often pick and choose whether you want residual benefits, cost-of-living adjustments, and the like, allowing you to customize your coverage to your specific needs.

The Cons of Individual Coverage

1. Cost

Individual disability insurance is typically more expensive than group coverage, particularly if you have pre-existing medical conditions or you work in a high-risk occupation.

While it can vary greatly depending on the specifics of your circumstances, a reasonable rule of thumb is to expect $2-$2.50 in monthly benefits for every $1 in annual premium.

2. Complexity

Long-term disability insurance is a complicated product, and unfortunately, it’s hard to shop around and get a true apples-to-apples comparison of policies.

Your best bet is to look for a truly independent disability insurance agent who isn’t tied to any particular insurance company, and who can guide you through the process and help you understand the pros and cons of the various policies offered by different companies.

3. Medical Underwriting

Applying for individual long-term disability insurance includes a medical exam and a review of your medical history, after which the insurance company may ask more questions to get a better understanding of your current medical condition.

This can be time-consuming, can feel invasive, and in some cases can lead to a more expensive policy or even a denial of coverage altogether. It can also lead to an attractive offer if you’re in good health, but regardless, it’s a cumbersome process you have to go through.

A Quick Note on Social Security Disability Coverage

While Social Security does offer long-term disability coverage, it’s generally not a good idea to rely on it.

The main reason is that it has a strict definition of disability, requiring you to be unable to work in any job for at least one year. It only pays out under the most extreme of circumstances.

You also need to have worked long enough to qualify for any coverage at all, and even if you do qualify, it often won’t meet your full benefit need.

All of which is to say that if you truly want financial protection from disability, getting some combination of group and individual coverage is likely the way to go.

Are You Protected?

No one likes to think about the possibility of being sick or disabled, but protecting your income is a crucial part of building true financial security.

Disability insurance can be an effective way to get that protection. When it’s done right, it ensures that you’ll have money coming in no matter what, allowing you to continue providing for your family even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Matt Becker
Matt Becker |

Matt Becker is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Matt here

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Life Events

Places Where Adults Still Live With Their Parents

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Moving out of your parents’ home has long been considered the ultimate rite of passage into full-fledged adulthood.

But today’s young adults are more likely to live in a parent’s household — and to live with their parents for a longer period, according to the Pew Research Center. A range of potential explanations has been offered for this generation’s “failure to launch,” from a desire to prolong adolescence to an aversion to marriage and commitment.

While these factors might play some role, the reality for most adults ages 25 to 40 living with their parents is that they lack the money to move out and establish their own households. Some might be unemployed and looking for work, while some have left the labor force altogether. Other young adults have their own children and live with parents out of a need for child care and support.

MagnifyMoney wanted to find out where U.S. adults are most likely to still be living with their parents, and what factors could be holding them back from leaving the nest.

We surveyed the 50 largest metros in America to identify the largest portion of adults ages 25 to 40 living with their parents along with some other statistics about them. We excluded people in this age group who identified themselves as active students.

Key findings

  • In Riverside, Calif., 28% of adults ages 25 to 40 live with their parents, earning this city the No. 1 spot on our list. High unemployment among these young adults – and for the metro, more generally – appears to be a leading factor.
  • Young adults in Miami, Los Angeles and New York follow, with more than 1 in 4 residents ages 25 to 40 living in their parents’ home.
  • Minneapolis stands at the other end of the spectrum, with fewer than 12% of young adults in this age range living with their parents.
  • Seattle is another city with just under 12% of young adults (ages 25 to 40) living under their parents’ roofs. Then there’s a four-way tie for third place among cities where adults are least likely to live with parents: Denver, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Mo. and Raleigh, N.C. all have 12.3% of these adults living at home.
  • Across the board, about 1 in 4 adults living with their parents have children of their own in the home.
  • Men between the ages of 25 and 40 are more likely to live with their parents in every metro we reviewed (except Austin, Texas).
  • The average unemployment rate for this age group across the 50 metros is 8.6%. That’s more than twice the national unemployment rate of 4% as of January 2019.
  • Nearly 1 in 5 adults who live at home don’t participate in the labor market at all, on average across the 50 metros.
  • Adding together the unemployed and the people who don’t participate in the labor force, only 72% of these adults are currently working while living with parents.

Understanding the metrics

The list is ranked strictly on the percentage of adults aged 25 to 40 who live with their parents. To inform our findings, we also present the following information for this same population (which did not affect rankings). We excluded anyone from the analysis who was identified as a student.

  • Percentage who have their own children at home.
  • Percentage who are unemployed. This refers to people who want to work but are unable to find work. They are part of the active labor force in their communities.
  • Percentage who don’t participate in the labor force. These are people who don’t work outside of the home and are not seeking to work. This is different from the unemployment rate, and people counted in that rate are not included in this metric. We excluded people who are identified as students from our analysis as well, so these statistics don’t include people not looking for work due to educational pursuits.
  • Breakdown of people who live with their parents by sex.

In the 10 cities with the largest shares of young adults ages 25 to 40 living in their parents’ homes, eight were split between two regions: the South and the Northeast. In the South, more adults live with parents in Miami, San Antonio, New Orleans and Orlando, Fla. The four top cities in the Northeast include New York, Philadelphia, Providence, R.I. and Baltimore.

Here are some other highlights of these 10 cities with the highest portions of adults (ages 25 to 40) living with parents:

  • San Antonio, Orlando and Riverside had the highest rates of parenthood among young adults living with parents, out of the top 10 cities overall. In these cities, nearly three in 10 young adults who live at home with parents also live with a child of their own.
  • Of the top 10 cities where more adults are living with parents, the highest unemployment rates among this cohort are found in New Orleans (11.2%), Riverside (10.8%) and Baltimore (10.6%). In these cities, more than 1 in 10 of these adults living under their parents’ roofs are unemployed and actively seeking work.
  • The cities among the top 10 with the highest rates of nonparticipation in the labor force among adults living with their parents are San Antonio (25.3%), New Orleans (24.1%) and Orlando (19.5%).
  • Across the board, men make up the bigger share of adults who live with their parents, but the difference was more pronounced in some of the top 10 cities. In both Providence and Philadelphia, men make up a larger majority (56.7%) of adults living with parents. New York follows close behind, with a 56.2% male majority of adults living with their parents.

Then there are the cities where fewer adults (ages 25 to 40) are living with their parents, and are more likely to be living on their own. Four of these cities are located in the Midwest: Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Mo. and Columbus, Ohio. The South and West are also well represented in this list. In each region, there are three cities where these adults are less likely to be living in their parents’ homes.

Here is a closer look at other metrics that can inform these top 10 cities and their low rates of adults living with parents:

  • In these 10 cities, adults living with parents were more likely to be parents themselves, compared with the 10 cities where more adults live with parents. In Austin and Denver, 30% of adults living with parents had at least one child of their own living with them.
  • Raleigh and Indianapolis had the highest unemployment rates among these adults of the top 10 cities, at right around 12%. Austin and Kansas City had the lowest rates of unemployment among adults living with parents, at 5.4% and 5.6% respectively.
  • Among these 10 cities, Austin did have the highest share of adults living at home who aren’t participating in the labor force, however, at 22.5%. Portland and Indianapolis also had higher rates of labor nonparticipation among these adults living in parents’ homes, at just over 20%.
  • Minneapolis and Portland have the most uneven breakdown by sex of adults living with parents. Austin, on the other hand, is the only city we surveyed where a majority of adults living with parents are women, at 51.1%.

Full rankings

Our rankings surveyed the 50 most populous metro areas in the U.S. to find the proportion of adults (ages 25 to 40) living with their parents for each. See the table below for the full rankings for all 50 cities, along with key statistics on local adults who live with their parents.

How to prepare your money to move out on your own

Most adults living with parents hope to eventually move out on their own. If that’s you, careful planning can help you prep your finances, pay down debt and save enough money to make this happen sooner.

Here are some specific steps to take while you’re living with your parents to get financially healthy and launch your solo stage of life.

Make a plan to deal with debt

If you’re hoping to move out, you’ll have to deal with your debt first. The monthly payments on debt can be a burden that makes it harder to afford to live on your own.

Living at home is the perfect time to make extra payments toward debt and pay off some balances. Target your high-interest debt first, such as credit cards — these balances will cost you the most to carry from month to month.

Paying down debt is a great start, but your payoff date might still be years away while you’re hoping to move out much sooner. In these cases, you could refinance or consolidate debt to adjust your monthly payments or even secure a lower interest rate. Here are some options worth looking into:

Seek out a better job or side hustle

Unemployment, underemployment or exiting the labor force are among the biggest reasons adults live with their parents — and can’t move out. The only way to find your next gig is to apply, so keep your hopes and efforts up.

Applying for jobs can be tough, however, especially if you’re met with rejections. If your efforts seem to be going nowhere, see what you can do to make yourself a more attractive job candidate. Read up on job-seeking advice and ask for feedback from mentors or potential employers to improve your resume and prep for your next opportunity.

On top of actively seeking new or better employment, you can also consider picking up a side hustle or part-time job. This can help you develop new skills, build a portfolio and avoid a gap in employment — all while earning additional income and keeping money coming in.

Take advantage of low-cost living with parents

Living with parents isn’t always easy, but it comes with one major perk: low costs. Most adults who live with parents do so to benefit from either sharing living costs or skipping typical bills such as rent, groceries or utilities.

This lack of costs leaves more of your money available to tackle other financial goals. You can start building your move-out fund, saving for expenses like a deposit on an apartment and purchasing furnishings for your own place. Having an emergency fund in place before moving out can also be a wise move. Or you can use savings from living at home to pay down student loans or other debt.

Whatever your goal, set your sights and start using your freed-up funds to work toward it.

Methodology

Analysts used 2017 American Community Census microdata hosted on IPUMS to calculate the following percentages for people aged 25 to 40 and who did not identify as students: 1) Percentage who live in the same household with at least one of their parents. For those who both do and do not live with their parents, we separately calculated: 1) Percentage who live with their own children, 2) percentage who are unemployed, 3) percentage who are not part of the labor force, 4) percentage who are men, 5) percentage who are women.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Elyssa Kirkham
Elyssa Kirkham |

Elyssa Kirkham is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Elyssa here

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Life Events

Places Where Americans Live the Most Balanced Lifestyles

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

U.S. Household Incomes
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As Americans, we’re often focused on status markers, such as the amount of money we make. But research indicates that the time we spend with people we care about, good health and income equality are some of biggest factors that lead to happiness. Feeling fulfilled is about so much more than how much we earn. It comes down to what we have to do to earn it, what we get in exchange for it and whether we have the time and health to enjoy our friends and family.

In other words, a balanced life.

To figure out where people are most likely to find that kind of balance, we compared seven measures in the 50 biggest metropolitan areas of the U.S.

We looked at the following (full methodology below):

  • Average commute times
  • How much of their income residents spend on housing
  • How many hours people work compared with how much they earn
  • Local income inequality
  • How many people are in very good or excellent health
  • Whether they get enough sleep at night
  • How local prices for typical consumer goods and services (excluding housing) compare with the national average

Below are the places that ranked highest — and lowest — for 2019.

Key takeaways

  • Minneapolis takes the top spot for places with the most balanced lifestyles with a final score of 77.4, mainly due to good health and high incomes combined with a moderate cost of living.
  • Kansas City, Mo., and Salt Lake City came in closely behind, with final scores of 76.0 and 75.7, respectively
  • Miami ranked as the metro with the worst lifestyle balance, with a final score of 24.0. High economic inequality, expensive housing and lower incomes are the primary hindrances to the balance.
  • New York and Riverside, Calif., filled out the bottom three, with final scores of 25.4 and 26.0, respectively. Last year, Riverside was included in the Los Angeles combined statistical area.
  • Midwesterners might find it easier to lead balanced lives. Five of the top 11 cities in this study are in this region: Minneapolis, Kansas City, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Columbus, Ohio.
  • The high costs of living in coastal cities can make it trickier to find the right balance between quality of life and financial demands. Of the 10 cities with the least balanced lifestyles, nine are on or near the coastline.

Metros that offer a balanced lifestyle

The map above includes the 11 major cities (with the last two tied) that provide the most balance to residents — where it’s less of a grind to just make a living:

1. Minneapolis
2. Kansas City, Mo.
3. Salt Lake City
4. Cincinnati
5. Raleigh, N.C.
6. St. Louis
7. Portland, Ore.
8. Denver
9. Hartford, Conn.
10. Virginia Beach, Va. (tied)
10. Columbus, Ohio (tied)

If you’re in search of a more balanced lifestyle, you might want to consider a move to the Midwest. Five of the top cities are located here.

Overall, these cities score best in some categories but not others. They score well by having low income equality, low housing costs relative to income, better health outcomes and shorter commutes. Here’s a look at which cities stand out for different factors:

  • Minneapolis was No. 1 overall, and the second-highest city for percentage of residents in very good or excellent health at 57.1%, second only to Washington, D.C. Denver was the other top city that ranked well for residents’ health outcomes, with 56.6% in optimal health.
  • Cincinnati offers the lowest relative housing costs of the top-ranked cities, with a typical resident spending 19.3% of income on housing costs. Kansas City and St. Louis also score well here, with housing costs at 19.5% of income.
  • Cincinnati’s low costs don’t stop at housing. It has the lowest prices on goods and services of any major city, with costs 7.3% below the national average. St. Louis had the next lowest costs, with prices 7.2% below national levels.
  • Hartford. (No. 9) is the city ranked in the top 11 with the highest hourly wages — on average, workers here can earn $50,000 a year with just 24.9 hours per week. Minneapolis (No. 1) also scores above-average here, with a typical worker working 26.8 hours in a week to earn a $50,000 annual income.
  • Denver is where residents are the most well-rested, as only 26.9% of residents say they get fewer than seven hours of sleep a night. Cincinnati and Raleigh locals are also among the U.S. city dwellers more likely to be getting sufficient sleep.
  • Salt Lake City (No. 3) and Kansas City (No. 2) have the shortest commute times of the top group, at 22.4 minutes and 23 minutes, respectively.

10 worst metros for a balanced lifestyle

There are also the cities where high costs can make it hard to get ahead, block locals’ efforts to build up savings and add up to more stress and a bigger mental labor load. The table above shows the 10 cities that scored the worst for lifestyle balance.

One commonality stands out: Many of these are coastal cities. From Miami and Tampa in Florida to San Francisco and Los Angeles in California, down to Houston and New Orleans in the Gulf Coast, these cities prove that it takes more than proximity to a beach.

The 10 worst cities scored poorly across several ranking factors: housing costs relative to income, prices on goods and services, income inequality and commute times. Some of these cities do manage to pull ahead with higher wages — meaning a typical worker can earn $50,000 per year in fewer hours.

Here are some key points on the worst cities:

  • Miami, Los Angeles and Riverside earned their spots thanks to high housing costs. Miami has the highest housing prices relative to local incomes, with these living costs eating up 28.8% of earnings. But Los Angeles is right behind it at 28.7%, followed by Riverside with 27.0%.
  • New York City is ranked second worst for a reason. Of all the 50 major metropolitan areas we studied, the Big Apple has the highest costs on goods and services at 12.9% higher than the national average. It also has the worst commutes and least favorable score for income inequality.
  • The worst cities had some of the worst health outcomes, too. Houston, in particular, has the fewest proportion of residents reporting very good or excellent health — just 39.2%.
  • Some of the worst cities have high costs but also offer higher incomes. That put a few of them among the cities where it takes fewer weekly hours to earn $50,000 per year: San Francisco, New York and Philadelphia. In San Francisco, earning that amount can be done in just 20.5 work hours.
  • Philadelphia and Memphis, Tenn., are among the cities where people are less likely to get enough sleep. In both cities, around 41% of locals get less than seven hours of sleep each night.

How the 50 biggest U.S. cities stack up for balanced living

Our rankings show how local labor markets, pay, costs and other living conditions can add up to have big effects on residents’ lifestyles.

In more balanced cities, locals can more easily cover bills without overworking and economic opportunity is more accessible, which helps create positive health outcomes. But in cities that rank poorly for balance, residents have to make significant personal sacrifices: working more, accepting longer commutes or spending more of their income on housing.

Here are the full rankings:

4 tips to balanced finances and living — in any city

Leading a balanced life is easier when you’re managing your money well and your finances are functioning as they should be. No matter where you live, you can find ways to build a better financial foundation to lead a balanced life. Here are some suggestions to get you started.

Keep recurring living costs affordable. While you can’t decide what your local housing market and rent costs are doing, you do have some control over how they affect your budget. When choosing a home, for example, prioritize affordability over other factors.

Look for other major costs to cut out, too. Can you get a cheaper phone plan that still meets your needs? Would it be cheaper to use public transit than continue to keep and make payments on a car? Lowering these kinds of costs will help you save now, and in the months going forward.

Check your discretionary spending. On top of inspecting monthly costs, track your spending day to day, too. Pay attention to where you tend to spend a lot on “wants.” These could include categories like dining out, purchases on alcohol or tobacco, entertainment and apparel and accessories.

These optional expenses could be opportunities to rein in costs a little to build more of a buffer into your budget. You can cancel subscription services you rarely use, whether it’s video streaming or a neglected gym membership. Cutting back on eating out just once a week could be a fairly painless way to free up $50 or more per month, for example. Instead of heading to a bar or club and paying upward of $10 per drink, you might host a bring-your-own-booze get-together instead.

Limit and pay down debt. Paying down debt can be a burden on your budget and your stress levels. It’s wise to avoid debt whenever possible and prevent taking out new loans or racking up balances on credit cards.

Already have debt? Focus on paying it down. The most effective way to pay debt off quickly is by making extra payments above the monthly minimum. You can also look for ways to lower your debt costs, such as refinancing or consolidating debt. If you consolidate credit card balances, for instance, you can combine them into a single loan that could have a lower interest rate. You’ll also have the chance to choose a different loan term that could lower monthly payments to keep them more affordable.

If you’re truly struggling with debt and don’t see a way you can reasonably afford to pay it back, it can be hard to find a way out. Consider working with debt relief programs that can help you manage debt more effectively and lift some of the burden.

Focus on more than financial health. Working toward raises and making progress on money goals can be worthwhile investments in your financial future. But these objectives don’t have to come at the expense of your health and well-being.

Building strong relationships and a sense of community can help you establish a life of connection and meaning, for example. And investing in physical health through sufficient sleep, nutritious eating and an active lifestyle will help you feel better now and is a worthy investment in your long-term wellness.

Living a balanced life, after all, is about giving appropriate attention and resources to important areas of our lives. Balance efforts at work and in your finances with care for your physical, mental, emotional and social health.

Methodology

The top 50 metropolitan statistical areas (“MSAs”) are ranked on a 100-point scale on the following seven measures:

  1. Average commute time, as reported in the 2017 American Community Survey (“ACS”) from the U.S. Census.
  2. Percentage of income spent on housing, calculated as (the median monthly housing cost) / (median household income / 12 months), as reported in the 2017 ACS.
  3. The average number of hours per week a person would have to work to earn $50,000 a year, calculated as (average earnings for full-time workers) / (average hours worked per week), as reported in the 2017 ACS.
  4. Gini coefficient to represent income inequality, as reported in the 2017 ACS.
  5. Goods and service costs, relative to the national average, calculated as a simple average of Price Index for Goods and Price Index for Other, as reported by the Bureau of Economic Analysis in the “Real Personal Income for States and Metropolitan Areas, 2016” release.
  6. Share of the population in very good health, calculated as (percentage of the population in very good health) + (percentage of the population in excellent health), as reported in the 500 Cities Project (2017) from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”). Data was missing for the following MSAs, and so the state averages were used: Raleigh, N.C.; Las Vegas; Dallas; Detroit; Seattle; San Diego; San Jose, Calif.; Boston; Philadelphia; San Francisco; and New York.
  7. Share of the population that gets fewer than seven hours of sleep a night, as reported by the CDC.

The sum of all ranks was then divided by seven, for a maximum possible score of 100 and the lowest possible score of zero.

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Elyssa Kirkham
Elyssa Kirkham |

Elyssa Kirkham is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Elyssa here

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