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Life Events

Places Where Americans Live the Most Balanced Lifestyles

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

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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Life Events, Mortgage

What is Mortgage Amortization?

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

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The difference between your home’s value and how much you owe on your mortgage is your home equity. With each mortgage payment you make, mortgage amortization — or paying down the loan in installments — is at play, and each monthly payment brings you closer to owning your home outright.

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What is mortgage amortization?

Mortgage amortization is the process of paying off your loan balance in equal installments of principal and interest for a set time period. The interest you pay is tied to the balance of your loan (your principal) and the mortgage rate. When you first start making payments, most of the payment is applied to the interest rather than the principal.

Your principal payments catch up with interest over time until your loan is paid off. Once it reaches a zero balance, it becomes a “fully amortized loan.”

How mortgage amortization works

The easiest way to understand mortgage amortization is to look at how monthly mortgage payments are applied to the principal and interest on an amortization table. There are two calculations that occur every month.

  1. The first calculation measures how much interest is paid based on the rate you agreed to. The interest charge is recalculated each month as you pay down the balance, and you pay less interest over time.
  2. The second calculation reflects how much of the principal you pay. As the loan balance shrinks, more of your monthly payment is applied to your principal.

If you’re a math whiz, here’s the formula:

A mortgage amortization calculator does the heavy lifting for you. You can see the effects of amortization on a 30-year fixed loan amount of $200,000 at a rate of 4.375% below.

In the first year, you pay more than twice as much toward interest as you do toward the principal. However, the balance slowly drops with each additional payment. By the 15th year, principal payments outpace interest and equity starts building at a much faster pace.

How mortgage amortization can help with financial planning

A mortgage amortization table helps you assess the short- and long-term benefits of adjusting your mortgage payments. Making extra payments over the life of the loan or refinancing to a lower interest rate or term could save you thousands in interest charges over the life loan. Even better: you’ll end up with a mortgage free home sooner.

Using a mortgage calculator to configure a few scenarios, here are some financial goals you might be able to accomplish using mortgage amortization.

Calculate how much money you can save by refinancing

If mortgage rates have dropped since you bought your home, consider refinancing. If you’re in your forever home and don’t plan to move for a while, a half-percentage point drop in rates could make room in your budget to boost retirement savings, your emergency fund or put money toward other long-term financial goals.

The example below shows the monthly payment and lifetime interest savings if you replaced a 30-year, fixed-rate loan for $200,000 at 4% with a new loan with a 3.5% interest rate with the same terms.

While saving $56.74 per month on payments doesn’t seem like much, it adds up to $20,426.83 in interest savings over the loan’s lifetime.

See the effect of making extra payments

The amount of interest you pay every month is directly connected to your loan balance. Even a small amount added to the principal each month reduces interest over time. The graphic below shows how much you’d save adding an extra $50 every month to your payment on a $200,000, 30-year fixed loan with an interest rate of 4.375%.

Figure out when you can get rid of PMI

Borrowers who don’t make a 20% down payment on a conventional mortgage typically pay for private mortgage insurance (PMI). The coverage protects a lender against financial losses if you don’t repay the loan.

Once your loan-to-value ratio, or the loan balance in relation to the home’s value, reaches 78%, PMI automatically drops off. Multiply the price you paid for your home by 0.78 to determine where your loan balance would need to be for PMI to be canceled. Locate that balance on your loan payment schedule for a rough idea of the month and year PMI will end.

Decide if it’s time to refinance an adjustable-rate mortgage

Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) are a helpful tool to save money on monthly mortgage payments. However, ARMs make more sense if you plan to refinance the loan or sell your home before the initial fixed-rate period ends and the loan resets to a variable interest rate.

An adjustable-rate mortgage amortization schedule helps you pinpoint when the loan will reset and gives you an idea of the worst-case scenario on payments. If the adjustments are outside of your comfort zone, consider refinancing your ARM into a fixed-rate mortgage.

The difference between a 15-year fixed and 30-year fixed payment schedule

Refinancing to a shorter term, such as a 15-year fixed mortgage, may save you hundreds of thousands of dollars over the life of a loan — but the trade-off is a higher monthly payment.

The graphs below show the difference between a 30-year amortization schedule for a $200,000, fixed-rate loan at 4.375% and a 15-year amortization schedule for the same loan amount at 3.875%.

The lifetime interest savings for a shorter loan payment schedule is $95,447.16. As long as the $468.31 increase in your mortgage payment doesn’t prevent you from meeting other savings or investment goals, the long-term savings are worth it.

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Life Events

When Do You Need to Start Taking Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs)?

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

When you reach age 72, the government requires you to begin withdrawing money from your retirement savings accounts each year. This sum, known as a required minimum distribution (RMD), allows the IRS to begin collecting income tax on the dollars you’ve stashed away in tax-deferred accounts such as a 401(k) or traditional individual retirement account (IRA).

What is a required minimum distribution (RMD)?

Regulations governing most retirement accounts state that you cannot leave funds in the account indefinitely. Even if you don’t need the money, the government requires you to begin reducing the overall balance in most accounts by a set sum each year — the required minimum distribution — once you’ve turned 72.

The precise amount of each person’s required minimum distribution is determined by the IRS based on life expectancy and total savings. The RMD rule only applies to tax-deferred accounts or accounts that allow people to reduce their taxable gross income each year by the amount they set aside in the plan.

Because tax-deferred accounts provide upfront tax savings, the IRS waits to collect taxes on contributions to the accounts and any subsequent investment gains until the money is withdrawn. Here’s a full list of retirement accounts subject to the RMD rule:

  • 403(b)
  • 457(b)
  • Profit-sharing plans
  • Other defined contribution plans

RMDs are not required for Roth IRAs or Roth 401(k)s, since contributions to Roth accounts are made using money on which you’ve already paid income tax. Note, however, that beneficiaries who inherit Roth IRAs must take RMDs.

When do I have to start taking RMDs?

You need to start taking required minimum distributions by April 1 of the year after you turn 72. In subsequent years, you need to take RMDs by December 31st.

If you are still working at age 72 and have a traditional 401(k) or 403(b) account with your current employer, you may not have to take an RMD from that account unless you own 5% or more of the company. Review your plan’s exact terms to see if it allows you to wait until you actually retire to begin taking RMDs or if it follows the same 72 rule regardless of retirement status.

Employment, however, won’t help you delay taking RMDs from any individual retirement accounts outside of your employer retirement account, such as a traditional IRA.

You do not have to take your RMD as one lump-sum payment. The IRS allows you to take out the funds in chunks throughout the year too. As long as the total meets the RMD for the year, you’re in the clear.

You’re also not limited to taking only the RMD amount from your account each year — you can withdraw more than that threshold, if you want.

How do I calculate my required minimum distribution?

Just like filing your taxes, it falls on your shoulders to remember to take the RMD once you reach 72. You can do the math yourself (we’ll explain below) to figure out what your required minimum distribution will be, or you can ask for help from a tax professional or financial adviser.

To calculate your RMD, you need to know exactly how much you have saved in your retirement account as of Dec. 31 of the previous year. Next, use the table below (the IRS’s Uniform Lifetime Table) to find your “distribution period” score, which is based on your life expectancy.

To calculate the RMD, divide your retirement account balance by the distribution period that corresponds with your age. Repeat this step for each of your accounts to come up with the total amount you must withdrawal for the year. Remember, your account balances change over time and the IRS can update its distribution period figures, so redoing this math each year is crucial to ensure you take out the correct sum.

Let’s say you turned 72 in December 2020 and had a balance of $1 million in your retirement account as of Dec. 31. You would then find the distribution period that corresponds to your age in the Uniform Lifetime Table.

According to the table, your distribution period number is 27.4. When you divide $1 million by 27.4, you get an RMD of $36,496.35. That is the minimum withdrawal you must make from that account by April 1, 2021.

However, if you’re married and your spouse is 10 years or more younger than you and is the sole beneficiary of the retirement account, you will need to find your “distribution period” score on this alternate table by locating the spot where your age and your spouse’s age intersects.

For instance, if you turned 72 in 2020 and had that same $1 million balance in your retirement account on Dec. 31, but were married to a spouse who’d just celebrated their 59 birthday, your distribution period number wouldn’t be 27.4, but rather 28.1 to accommodate the longer expected lifeline of your spouse.

And this would mean you’d need to take an RMD of $35,587.19 from your account in 2021, or about $909.16 less than you would if you were single or married to a spouse closer to your own age.

What is the required minimum distribution penalty?

If you don’t take your first RMD by April 1 of the year after you turn 72 or your subsequent annual RMDs by Dec. 31 each year, you’ll be slapped with a 50% excise tax on the amount that was not distributed when you file taxes.

That’s a steep fine when you consider that the top tax rate is 37%, which is why it is so important to accurately calculate your RMDs each year, as the tax applies whether you fail to take any money from the account or simply don’t take enough.

For example, if your RMD was $10,000, but you only took out $5,000, you will be assessed that 50% tax on the $5,000 that you did not withdraw.

Remember, if you delay taking your first RMD until April of the year following your 72nd birthday, you’ll be required to take two withdrawals in the same year, one for your 71st year and one for your 72nd year, which could raise your gross income and move you into a higher tax bracket. To avoid this, you can opt to make your first withdrawal by Dec. 31 of the year you turn 71, instead of waiting till the following April.

Alternatively, you could reduce your taxable income by making a qualified charitable distribution paid directly from the IRA to a qualified public charity, not a private foundation or donor-advised fund. The charitable distribution can satisfy all or part of the amount you are required to take from you IRA and won’t count as part of your income.

If you withdrawal the RMD first, then donate it, this trick won’t work as the money will count toward your gross income.

What if I have multiple retirement accounts?

If you have more than one retirement account, things can get a little more complicated. You still need to take an RMD, but you don’t have to take one out of each IRA account. Instead, you can total the RMD amounts for all your IRAs and withdraw the whole amount from a single IRA or a portion from two or more.

However, you can’t do the same with most defined contribution plans, like 401(k)s. With these accounts, you must take an RMD from each plan separately. One exception to this rule, though, is 403(b) tax-sheltered annuity accounts. If you have multiple of these accounts, you can total the RMDs and withdrawal from a single account.

If you own several different kinds of retirement accounts with RMDs, it’s probably a good idea to seek advice from a tax or financial adviser professional who can help you make the wisest decision for your finances.

I inherited a traditional IRA — what should I do?

While it’s great to be left the generous gift of a retirement account by a loved one, inheriting an IRA comes with its own set of tricky RMD rules that can vary greatly depending on your relationship with the original owner and how you chose to use the account.

I inherited a traditional IRA from my spouse

If you’re a spouse and sole beneficiary, you have the most flexibility in how to handle your new IRA. You can choose to treat the IRA as your own by designating yourself the account owner and making contributions or by rolling it over into an existing IRA account that you own. If you choose this option, you can follow the standard RMD rules — meaning you can wait until you turn 70½ to begin taking money from the account.

Alternatively, you can roll the assets into what’s known as an inherited IRA. With this kind of account you can start taking distributions immediately and not face the typical 10% early-withdrawal penalty the IRS applies if you’re under age 59½.

To calculate the RMD you’ll need to take with this kind of IRA, use the IRS’s Single Life Expectancy Table, which has different distribution period figures than the standard table you would use if you were the original account owner. You can opt to use your own age for these calculations or your partner’s age as of their birthday in the year they died, reducing life expectancy by 1 each subsequent year.

But you may not need to take RMDs right away depending on how old your spouse was when they died. If they were older than 70½ then you’ll need to start withdrawing funds by Dec. 31 of the year following their death. But if they were younger, the IRS lets you leave the money in the account until your spouse would have reached 70½.

I inherited a traditional IRA — but I’m not a spouse

Beneficiaries who are not a spouse are required to move the assets into an inherited IRA and begin taking RMDs regardless of the original owner’s age. If the person passed before age 70½ you can opt to withdraw the full balance within the five years following the year of their death. Or you can prolong the payouts by taking RMDs annually based on your age, reducing beginning life expectancy by 1 for each subsequent year, using the Single Life Expectancy Table.

If the original owner was 70½ or older, how you calculate your RMDs depends on whether you or the deceased was younger. The lowest age is what you’ll base your life expectancy figure found in the Single Life Expectancy Table on, though you will need to reduce beginning life expectancy by 1 every subsequent year.

I inherited a Roth IRA — what should I do?

The original owner of a Roth IRA never has to take RMDs but that can change when the account passes to a beneficiary. A surviving spouse who inherits a Roth IRA can opt to treat the account as their own, meaning they won’t ever need to take an RMD, if they contribute to the account or roll into an existing Roth IRA.

Non-spouse beneficiaries, however, do have to take RMDs from an inherited Roth IRA, following the same rules as those who inherit traditional IRAs where the owner passed before reaching age 70½.

That means these beneficiaries can either withdraw the entire balance from the Roth IRA within the five years following the year of the original owner’s death or begin taking RMDs based on your life expectancy, as outlined in the Single Life Expectancy Table, by the end of the year following the owner’s death.

The final word on required minimum distributions

Whether the retirement account was yours to begin with or you’ve inherited it, calculating the correct RMD amount to withdraw from it every year can be tricky, but spending the extra time to make sure you understand the rules and check your math can pay off big time when you’re not losing 50% of your savings to Uncle Sam in the form of a tax penalty.

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.