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America’s Biggest Boomtowns

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 story of the United States is the story of people migrating to different cities and towns to build new lives through new opportunities. From the promise of gold to the promise of big tech in Northern California; from trading furs to building cars in Detroit; from the prosperity of shipping to the prosperity of hospitality in Charleston, the country is built on boomtowns.

We wanted to find out where Americans are gathering now to take advantage of growing prosperity and improved lifestyles to achieve the American dream.

Key findings

  • Austin, Texas; Provo, Utah and Raleigh, N.C., top our list of America’s boomtowns.
  • Scranton, Pa.; Syracuse, N.Y. and New Haven, Conn., fall to the bottom.
  • Americans are flocking to and prospering in Texas.
    • Texas metros take up one-third of the top 15 spots.
  • Parts of the Mountain region are also booming, comprising four of the top 15.
    • Two of the three Utah metros we reviewed are in the top 15 (Provo in 2nd place and Ogden in 12th), with Salt Lake City not far behind in 18th.
    • Denver came in 6th, and Boise, Idaho came in 8th.
  • The Carolinas are also attracting workers and businesses, with Raleigh taking the 3rd spot, Charleston the 4th and Charlotte the 13th. Durham, Raleigh’s neighbor, is in 16th place.
  • On the other end of the spectrum are the Northeast and some neighboring states, including Ohio, where four of six metros in our study saw their labor forces and the number of businesses shrink, and only one saw appreciable growth (Columbus, Ohio).
  • Every metro in Connecticut and Pennsylvania falls in the bottom quarter of our list, as did every metro in New York except for New York City. In fact, the only Northeast city to fall in the top half of our list was Boston.

The elements of a boom

To find out which of America’s metros are booming, we looked at how much each metro has changed between 2011 and 2016 (the most recent year for which all data is available at the metro level) in three different categories, which we scored independently before combining the results to reach a metro’s final score.

Growing industry

The first thing we looked at was how much business and industry has grown locally. We not only wanted to know how many new businesses there are but also how businesses in general are doing, as measured by their increase in hiring and — for businesses that don’t have employees, known as non-employers — how much revenue has increased.

More people and housing

The most essential component to a boomtown is this: Are people coming, and is the metro growing to keep up? To figure that out, we used the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) to measure changes in total population and the number of housing units.

Growing workforce and employment opportunities

People generally enter a local workforce because they seek better opportunities, so we wanted to see how that changed, along with improvements to the unemployment rate and the increase in earnings.

Why some of our results might surprise you

Some of the metros that have been declared among the “fastest growing” in the news may fall lower on our list on than one would expect. For example, Greenville, S.C., has been touted as one of the fastest growing cities in America, but we see a population growth of 5.5% over the five-year period. Nothing to sniff at, but it’s the 13th highest on our list rather than in the top five.

One reason is that we looked at the five-year growth period rather than one year. Another is that the Census changed the area of some metros, so additional counties were added between 2012 and 2013. To make sure we were actually talking about the exact same footprint, we used and compared the data for counties that are currently in each metropolitan statistical area.

The biggest boomtown in America

These are the metros that are seeing the biggest influx of people, work opportunities and business growth.

1. Austin, Texas

Final Score: 87.8

Austin jumps way out ahead of all the metros we reviewed, showing the greatest five-year growth in population and housing, earning a perfect Population & Housing score of 100. Even so, the increase in housing units of 10% isn’t keeping up with the population growth of almost 16% over a five-year period. Interestingly, almost all of those gains in population have gone directly to the local workforce, and that, combined with a 23% drop in unemployment and an almost 9% increase in median wages, gives Austin the highest Workforce & Earnings score (70.3) on our list. While the metro comes in second for Business Growth, it’s with an A score of 93, thanks to a 21% increase in the number of businesses and a 24% increase in the number of employees those firms hired.

2. Provo, Utah

Final Score: 75.7

Business is booming in Provo, with 20% more businesses in 2016 than in 2011 employing 30% more workers. This gives the metro the top Business Growth score of 95.1. It also ranks high in Population & Housing, coming in third with a score of 79.9 thanks to a population increase of 12% and a housing increase of 8%. The Workforce & Earnings score is a respectable 52.2 (8th highest on our list), thanks to 13% growth in the workforce, and an OK drop in unemployment compared with other metros, at 20% (32nd). But wages don’t seem to be keeping up, as the median earnings for workers is only 3.5% higher than it was five years earlier (63rd).

3. Raleigh, N.C.

Final Score: 67.7

The second biggest population and housing increases — 13% and 9%, respectively — give Raleigh the second highest Population & Housing score of 84.1. North Carolina’s capital ranks No. 5 in Business Growth with a score of 70.8, boasting a 13% increase in establishments and a 21% increase in paid employees. Raleigh earned the 10th highest Workforce & Earnings score (48.3), thanks to 12% increase in the civilian labor force, which offset the mediocre (relative to the other metros on our list) 18% drop in the unemployment rate and a median earnings growth of under 4%.

4. Charleston, S.C.

Final Score: 66.4

Nipping at Raleigh’s heels, the historical coastal city saw its population jump by 11% between 2011 and 2016. The increase in housing units hasn’t kept up, at just over 6%, giving Charleston the fifth-highest Population & Housing score (66.9). The Business Growth score is the fourth highest on our list, at 71.7, due to a 14% increase in business establishments and 17% increase in paid employees (the fifth and 18th highest gains on our list, respectively). Charleston shines even more in Workforce & Earnings category, with a score of 60.6, the third highest on our list. The healthy 22% drop in unemployment and an 11% increase in the workforce (closely matching the overall population increase) are matched by the seventh-highest median wage increase of over 9%.

5. Nashville, Tenn.

Final Score: 60.7

Business is good in Nashville, where firms grew their staff by 21% (fourth highest), numbers that seem to be in excess of the 10% increase in establishment (22nd highest). That earned Nashville a Business Growth score of 72.9, the third highest among the metros we reviewed. It follows that the metro, which has long been diversifying from its country music legacy, has the fifth highest Workforce & Earnings score of 54.6, thanks to a 9% increase in workforce (ninth highest), a 25% drop in unemployment (14th highest), and 7% increase in median earnings for workers (16th highest). An interesting note is that the increase in the workforce is actually greater than the overall increase in population of just under 9% (14th highest), suggesting that the boom may be luring people to work. Although at 5%, housing growth isn’t keeping up with the influx of people, it is the 13th biggest increase on our list and adds up to a Population & Housing score of 54.5.

The most sluggish places

Not every metro is growing, and some are even contracting. These are the five most sluggish of the metros we reviewed.

100. Scranton, Pa.

Final Score: 9.9

Believe it or not, Scranton’s 0.4 Population & Housing score wasn’t the lowest on our list (Toledo, Ohio earned a perfect 0.0), but it is the result of a population drop of 0.4% and a 0.1% increase in housing units. At 14.3, Scranton had the third lowest Business Growth score (Pittsburgh and Syracuse, N.Y. fare worse at 13.2 and 14.1 respectively), thanks to an incremental 0.6% increase in business establishments. However, businesses did slightly better in hiring 5.5% more employees, the 15th lowest on our list. One bright spot is the rise in median earnings for workers — at 8.4%, it was the 11th highest of all the metros we reviewed. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to counter the 1.4% drop in labor force that presumably followed the drop in population, or the slight increase in unemployment (the fifth and sixth smallest gains on our list). That adds up to a Workforce & Earnings score 15.1, the 12th lowest on our list.

99. Syracuse, N.Y.

Final Score: 10.8

Business isn’t great in this upstate college town; only one other metro (Pittsburgh) got a score lower than Syracuse’s Business Growth score of 14.1. The metro saw no change in the number of business establishments, and businesses only increased their staff by 4% (the eighth lowest on our list). The population stayed steady with a 0.1% increase and was slightly outpaced by new housing units (0.9%), earning the metro a Population & Housing score of 4.6, the 12th lowest on our list. A 0.4% decrease in workforce and a marginal decrease in the unemployment rate of 3.2% offset the metro’s respectable 5.9% gain in median earnings (33rd highest), leaving Syracuse with the eighth-lowest Workforce & Earnings score (13.6).

98. New Haven, Conn.

Final Score: 11.6

People aren’t moving to this Ivy League community, and the people there seem to be leaving the workforce. Unemployment was down almost 9%, which seems great, but 72 other metros on our list saw bigger improvements, and 66 other metros had their median earnings increase by more than the 3% New Haven did. Business establishments grew by almost 2% in New Haven in five years (80th out of 100), but they only took on 5% more workers (90th place). That general stasis earned New Haven a score of 3 for Population & Housing (10th lowest), 13.9 for Workforce & Earnings (ninth lowest) and 17.9 in Business Growth (ninth lowest).

97. Cleveland

Final Score: 13.1

People seem to be leaving metros in Ohio, and Cleveland is no exception, experiencing a population decrease of just under 1%. In fact, it was the biggest population loss of all metros we reviewed. There was a small increase of 0.2% in housing units (fourth lowest), which is why Cleveland’s Population & Housing score of 1.1 came in ahead of Toledo, Ohio and Scranton, Pa. The number of establishments actually went down by about 1% (second only to Toledo’s loss of 1.4%), and the remaining businesses only increased their staff by about 4% (the fifth lowest gain). Overall, Cleveland’s Business Growth score of 15.6 was the sixth lowest on our list. On a brighter note, Cleveland earned a Workforce & Earning score of 22.7 (71st out of 100), thanks to a substantial 17% reduction in unemployment (46th out of 100) and over 4% more in median earnings (52nd), but these results were dragged down by a workforce that shrank by 1.4%, the fourth biggest loss on our list.

96. Hartford, Conn.

Final Score: 13.3

The good news is that median earnings for workers in Hartford went up by 6.6%, the 23rd highest on our list. The drop in unemployment was almost 9%, which seems like a lot, but 74 metros on our list did better. That, combined with a barely perceptible 0.3% increase in the workforce gave Hartford a Workforce & Earnings score of 20.6, which ranks 76th out of 100. Unfortunately, it’s downhill from there, with 90th place in the Population & Housing score because of a population growth of 0.3% and a housing unit increase of 0.6%. Connecticut’s capital had the 5th lowest Business Growth score of 15.1, thanks mostly to a lackluster 7% increase in receipts by non-employer businesses (second lowest on our list).

Comparing the 100 biggest metros in the U.S.

Methodology

Limiting our research to the current 100 largest metropolitan statistical areas (“MSAs”), we tracked the five-year change between 2011 and 2016 (the last year for which all data was available) using data from the U.S. Census American Community Survey and County Business Patterns in the following categories:

Population & Housing:

  • Total population
  • Total housing units

Workforce & Earnings:

  • Total civilian labor force
  • Unemployment rate
  • Median earnings for workers (dollars)

Business Growth:

  • Number of establishments
  • Paid employees per pay period
  • Total receipts for non-employers

Because the U.S. Census has changed the boundaries of some MSAs in the intervening years, we collected the data at the county level and then mapped it to the current MSA borders.

Each data series was scored relative to the other metros so that the biggest positive change received a score of 100 and any zero or negative changes received a score of 0 (except for unemployment rate, where this was reversed). For each category, these scores were summed and then divided by the number of series in each category, for a highest possible category score of 100 and a lowest of 0. The three category scores were then summed and divided by three for a final score. The highest possible final score was 100 and the lowest was 0.

How the metros have changed

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Survey Reveals How Consumers Will Spend Stimulus Money: Groceries, Bills and Savings Top the List

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.

In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, many Americans are dealing with furlough, unemployment, reduced pay or climbing health care costs. To offer support, Congress has passed a historic $2 trillion relief package that includes direct payments for eligible Americans.

With millions of taxpayers slated to receive relief checks in the coming weeks, many are making plans for how to spend the unexpected windfall. A new survey from MagnifyMoney of more than 1,000 Americans reveals that for most, the relief check is a necessity. Nearly half of survey respondents said they plan to use the money on essentials like groceries and bills, underscoring the current fragile state of Americans’ finances.

Key findings

  • We asked consumers how they’ll spend their stimulus check, should they receive one. The top two responses were paying for groceries and paying for bills. Additionally, 44% plan to save at least some of the money.
  • The checks are a necessary reprieve for most of the survey respondents, as nearly 7 in 10 (69%) said they need the stimulus money. Another 26% said that while they don’t necessarily need the money, it will help. Just 6% said they don’t need it.
  • While many said the check will help, they aren’t necessarily certain it will be enough. Most of our respondents (40%) said the stimulus check will relieve “a few” of the difficulties they’ve been facing, while 10% said they’ll still be experiencing a significant level of financial difficulty. The good news is that 18% said the stimulus money will remove all of the difficulties they’re facing due to the pandemic, and another 17% said it will alleviate most financial difficulties.
  • Consumers are split in terms of satisfaction with the monetary value of the stimulus checks. About 41% think the check amount is “just right,” though 39% think it’s too small. Only 4% thought the amount was too large.
  • About half (49%) of respondents agree with the income limit proposed by the government. However, 21% think the threshold should be lowered so that higher income individuals would receive even less. On the other hand, 11% said there should not be an income limit.
  • Some will have to wait longer than others to receive their funds. About 8% of our survey respondents don’t have a bank account, which would slow down the time it takes for them to have access to those funds because they’ll be waiting for a check to arrive in the mail instead of the funds being direct deposited in their bank account. Meanwhile, less than 60% have direct deposit set up with the IRS.
  • Nearly all consumers we surveyed (85%) think the government’s plan is a good idea. The intention of the stimulus checks is to help counter the negative financial and economic impacts of coronavirus.

How Americans are spending their stimulus checks

Our survey found that the stimulus checks, being distributed as part of the coronavirus relief package, are acting as a safety net for many Americans. When we asked respondents what they plan to spend their stimulus check on (they could select all answers that applied), the top two answers were to pay for groceries (45%) and to pay for bills (43%).

Meanwhile, we found that 29% of respondents plan to use their check to make their rent or mortgage payment, 26% are going to put some of it in savings and 18% plan to put all of the money in savings.

Generational and income-level differences in stimulus check spending

When looking at how different generations intend to spend their relief checks, we found that millennials were more likely than any other generation to say that they plan to use their relief check to pay for bills (49%) and to pay their rent or mortgage (37%). Understandably, the youngest generation — Gen Z — was the age group most likely to plan to use their relief check to pay off student loans (11%). They were also the generation most likely to put either all of their check in savings (21%) or most of it (39%).

Our survey also revealed that households with lower incomes were, for the most part, more likely to use their relief checks to pay for necessities, such as groceries, bills or housing costs. Meanwhile, we found that 7% of households that make $100,000 or more annually plan to donate their entire relief check to charity or someone in need.

Americans that need stimulus checks the most

Overall, our survey revealed that the relief checks are much needed, with 69% of survey respondents saying that they personally need the financial assistance. That’s in comparison to 26% of respondents who said that they don’t really need the check but that it will help and just 6% who say they don’t need it at all.

Across all generations, the overwhelming majority of respondents said they indeed needed the relief payment. However, Gen Zers were far more likely to say that they didn’t need the relief check (10%) compared to millennials, Gen X and baby boomers. One possible explanation for this could be that Gen Zers could have parents or other older adults supporting them financially. Not surprisingly, our survey also found that households with less than $25,000 in annual income were far more likely to say they needed the relief check (80%), compared to 50% of households that make $100,000 or more.

Of survey respondents who said they did not need the relief check, nearly half (45%) said they still do not feel guilty about receiving one. However, 10% of those who said they do not need the check admitted to feeling guilt over receiving the check and plan to donate it. Another 10% that feel guilty, though they still intend to use their check. Meanwhile, 35% of respondents who said they don’t need a check don’t expect to receive one — which are likely people who make too much money to qualify.

Do Americans think the stimulus checks are enough?

While Congress moved swiftly to provide relief to families facing financial turbulence, our survey found that many Americans (39%) do not think the checks are enough. The checks are for up to $1,200 per eligible adult and up to $2,400 for couples filing joint returns, with an additional $500 per child under the age of 17.

Though many are dissatisfied with the amount of the checks, 41% of Americans think that the amount of the stimulus checks is just right. Another 4% even said that the amount is too much.

As for the income thresholds that apply to the relief checks — which start at $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for jointly filing married couples — nearly half (49%) of survey respondents said that they agree with the U.S. government’s decision to implement income thresholds as well as with the income limits they chose. Another 21% agreed that there should be income limits but thought those limits should be lower, while 9% thought the limits should be higher. In contrast, 11% said that there should not be an income limit at all.

As a glimmer of good news, our survey found that the majority of respondents (74%) said that the relief checks will help relieve either some or all of the difficulties they’ve been facing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. However, 10% of respondents said they will still be facing a significant level of financial difficulty despite the relief check.

When will the stimulus checks go out?

On March 30, the IRS announced that payments will be disbursed within the next three weeks. Those who chose to receive their tax refund via direct deposit, as opposed to mailed checks, can expect to receive their relief check faster.

If you did not share your bank account information with the IRS when filing your taxes, the Department of the Treasury plans to open an online portal that will allow you to share your direct deposit information with the IRS, enabling you to get your relief check faster.

What you should do with your stimulus check

While our survey’s findings revealed that many taxpayers already plan to spend their stimulus checks on necessities like bills and groceries, some might feel uncertain about how to prioritize competing financial needs. Matt Schulz, the chief credit analyst for LendingTree, acknowledges there is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to how people should use their stimulus checks, but says it’s important to carefully plan what you do with it.

“If you can put some of the check away to start an emergency fund or build up your current one, that’s probably ideal,” Schulz said. “That’s not reality for millions of Americans, though. For many, this will be about keeping the lights on or putting food on the table. That’s why these checks are so, so important.”

If you’re focused on using your check to demolish debt, Schulz emphasizes the importance of having an emergency fund in place as well. “It’s obviously great to pay down debt, but far too often, people pay off debt and have no savings at all,” Schulz said. “That means that if an unexpected expense comes up, that cost goes right back on the credit card and the person is right back in debt. Having even a little bit of cash in savings can help avoid that situation.”

If you’re on good financial footing, Schulz points out a number of good uses for that money, including:

  • Growing your rainy-day fund
  • Paying off credit card debt
  • Bulking up your retirement savings
  • Supporting your community by spending on small businesses or nonprofits

Methodology

MagnifyMoney commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 1,038 Americans, with the sample base proportioned to represent the overall population. We defined generations as the following ages in 2020:

  • Gen Z: 18 to 23
  • Millennials: 24 to 39
  • Gen X: 40 to 54
  • Baby boomers: 55 to 74
  • Silent generation: 75 and older

The survey was fielded March 26-27, 2020.

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Places Where Taxpayers May Wait Longer for Their Stimulus Checks

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.

The CARES Act stimulus checks may offer some relief to taxpayers amid the coronavirus outbreak, but distribution may pose a problem for the millions who don’t use direct deposit to receive their tax refunds. In 2019, 19.8 million taxpayers waited longer for their tax refunds to arrive via paper check. Today, these same taxpayers will have to wait longer again — potentially up to an additional three months — for their stimulus checks.

MagnifyMoney looked at the 100 largest metro areas in the U.S. to determine where taxpayers used direct deposit the most (and least) to receive their 2018 tax refund. Cities with the highest percentages of check-receiving taxpayers are where people will likely wait longer for financial relief to arrive.

Key findings

  • Visalia, Calif., has the highest percentage of taxpayers that will have to wait a little longer for their relief rebates. About a quarter of taxpayers there (25.9%) didn’t use direct deposit to receive their tax refunds in 2018.
  • Fresno, Calif., isn’t far behind — 23.4% of taxpayers there will likely have to wait longer for a check.
  • While Visalia has the highest percentage of check-receiving taxpayers, the New York City metro area, which ranks 11th, has the highest total number of taxpayers who received a check refund in 2018. Approximately 1.78 million taxpayers in the New York City area may have to wait for a paper relief check, compared with the 46,330 taxpayers in Visalia.
  • Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Okla., were the only two cities out of all the metro areas we looked at where the percentage of check-receiving taxpayers was under double digits. Only 9.8% of taxpayers in Oklahoma City and 9.6% of taxpayers in Tulsa didn’t use direct deposit to receive their tax refunds in 2018.
  • When it comes to the actual number of taxpayers waiting the longest for their stimulus checks, our 93rd-ranked metro area of Davenport, Iowa, has the smallest number of check-receiving taxpayers. In Davenport, 21,690 taxpayers will wait longer, or 12.2% of the metro area’s tax-paying population.

Where taxpayers may have to wait longer for their stimulus checks

On the map below, you’ll find the 100 largest American metro areas ranked in order of highest to lowest percentage of taxpayers who opted to receive their 2018 tax refund by check. The places ranking highest on the list are where taxpayers are most likely to experience delays receiving stimulus payments, given the lag in getting a paper check in the mail compared with money that’s direct deposited into your account.

Taxpayers in California are more likely to be left waiting for their stimulus checks, with half of the top 10 metro areas located in the Golden State. This includes Visalia, Fresno, San Jose/San Francisco, Modesto and Sacramento.

The cities in the bottom 25 — where the lowest percentages of taxpayers within the 100 largest metro areas received refunds by check — are scattered among states in the South and Midwest. Tennessee taxpayers, in particular, seem well-positioned to receive their relief payments quickly — four metro areas in the bottom 15 are in Tennessee, including Chattanooga, Nashville, Johnson City and Knoxville.

What to do if you didn’t use direct deposit

If you’re one of the millions of U.S. taxpayers who don’t use direct deposit for your tax refunds, there are some actions that you can take and options available to ensure you receive your economic impact payment sooner rather than later.

1. File your 2019 tax return as soon as possible

The IRS will distribute these economic impact payments according to the information on taxpayers’ 2019 or 2018 tax returns, whichever is most recent. They will pull your income information as well as your payment method, whether that is direct deposit or paper check. You will need a valid Social Security number to be eligible for the payment.

If your information has changed since your 2018 tax return, it’s best to file your 2019 taxes before the IRS starts automatically sending out payments within the next three weeks. Expediting your filing is even more beneficial when you’re expecting a tax refund, which can provide some extra cash relief. However, the federal tax return deadline has been extended to July 15, 2020.

Individuals who typically don’t have to file a tax return do not need to file a simple tax return to receive the rebate. Instead, the IRS will pull information from Form SSA-1099 or Form RRB-1099 to determine benefits for senior citizens, Social Security recipients and railroad retirees. If you do not typically file a tax return but do not use those forms, you may want to file a simple tax return anyways.

2. Provide your banking information to the IRS online

The U.S. Department of the Treasury is expected to release an online portal “in the coming weeks” for individuals to provide their banking information to the IRS. This will allow you to easily update the IRS on any changes to your banking information.

You can check the IRS’s coronavirus information page for the latest updates.

3. Open an online bank account

Unfortunately, the reality in the U.S. is that about 8.4 million households don’t even have a checking or savings account into which they can direct deposit their tax refund according to the 2017 FDIC National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households. These tend to be lower- or volatile-income households, meaning those already vulnerable and at-risk households may have to wait longer for the government’s stimulus payments to arrive.

If you or someone you know does not have a bank account, consider opening an online bank account so you can more quickly benefit from the stimulus payments. Online bank accounts are less likely to charge monthly service fees, which is often a reason why households are unbanked in the first place. Online savings accounts are also more likely to pay more in interest, which means your money grows while staying safe inside the account. Plus, opening an online bank account doesn’t involve visiting a bank branch, so you can maintain social distancing.

If you’re having trouble opening a traditional bank account due to a rocky financial past, second chance bank accounts are made to help you get back into the banking world. Issuers of these accounts have less strict background requirements, which opens up the opportunity to continue banking even if you have a history of account closures. These accounts are more likely to come with fees, however, which helps issuers cover potential losses.

Methodology

In March 2020, MagnifyMoney examined local-level 2018 tax filing season data from the IRS to identify where taxpayers in each of the 100 largest metros were more and less likely to receive their tax refunds by direct deposit.

For more information on the rest of the stimulus package, refer to our hub page.

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.