10 Most Affordable Big Cities (So You Can Pay Off Student Debt)

Marissa Daniel
Jun 17, 2021

A college education offers many enhanced life opportunities, but it also comes at an increasingly high cost. It's estimated that a newly graduated student leaves college with an average of $37k in student loan debt, which can take decades to clear.

Many people head for the high-paid jobs in major cities to clear their debt faster, but it's a simple fact that the cost of living in these more attractive areas can effectively wipe out the extra earnings you make. But there's another way. Moving to a more affordable major city can make it easier to tackle your student debt, even if your income is lower than you'd like it to be.

If you're looking to cut the cost of living well to clear your student loans more quickly, here are ten of the most inexpensive big cities in America that you could consider relocating to.

1) Louisville, KY 

Quick Stats: 

Population: 600,000

Median Home Price: $276,559

Average Rent Cost: $866.34/month

Unemployment Rate: 6.4%

With a population of over 600,000, Louisville certainly fits into the category of big city, while its cost of living is affordable at 8.6% below the US average. What's more, the average home value is around 23% lower than in the rest of the country, making for attractive rents. Lower housing costs also mean living closer to your work is more affordable, leading to a typical commute time of 22 minutes, around 10% lower than the USA average.

There are several major companies based in the city, including Humana and Kindred Healthcare, so graduates with the right qualifications can secure well-paying jobs.

However, the overall unemployment rate is slightly above the national average at 6.4%, so it's important to research the local job opportunities before committing to a move.

2) Oklahoma City, OK 

Quick Stats: 

Population: 610,000

Median Home Price: $247,758

Average Rent Cost: $776.12/month

Unemployment Rate: Below 4.60%

Oklahoma City benefits from the presence of both the Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma, and the city's 610,000 inhabitants contains a large number of students. This helps keep living costs down to meet college life budgets, but also generates a thriving economy with an unemployment rate below 5%. 

Living costs are moderate at 9.7% below the national average, while housing costs are an attractive 28% lower than average for a median value home.

The educated workforce also attracts many large companies to the area, particularly in the areas of aviation and aerospace, entertainment and hospitality, biotechnology, and healthcare.

3) Phoenix, AZ 

Quick Stats: 

Population: 1.633 million

Median Home Price: $330, 344

Average Rent Cost: $1,035/month

Unemployment Rate: 6.6%

At present, Phoenix offers a tempting combination of low rents and a quickly developing economy. In particular, rents on smaller apartments outside of the central zone are considerably cheaper than the USA average.

The two major industries are tourism and manufacturing, with a focus on electronics, semi-conductors, and aerospace. Tourists are attracted by the exceptionally mild winters and almost guaranteed year-round sunshine, although summer conditions can be uncomfortably hot. This summer heat can push up energy bills through air conditioning, which strips back some of the advantages given by lower rents.

4) San Antonio, TX 

Quick Stats: 

Population: 1.508 million

Median Home Price: $262,332

Average Rent Cost: $821.77/month

Unemployment Rate: 6.6%

San Antonio may not be as well known as its Texas neighbors Dallas or Austin, but it actually has a higher population than either with a total of more than 1.4 million. The cost of living is around 11% below the national average, while the median home value is a highly attractive $113,000. Unemployment stands at around 5%, so there are likely plenty of opportunities for a newly graduated candidate, with telecommunications a major industry in the area.

Quality of life is high in this busy, multicultural city, with the downtown area in particular known for its dense collection of trendy bars, restaurants, and small businesses. However, rents in this area are higher than average, although prices quickly drop as you move outward to suburban locations.

As with Phoenix, summer temperatures could be a downside, with occasional droughts leading to water restrictions.

5) Tulsa, OK 

Quick Stats: 

Population: 402,324

Median Home Price: $225,203

Average Rent Cost: $705.46/month

Unemployment Rate: 6.9%

Tulsa has a healthy population of just under 400,000, and an even healthier unemployment rate of 4.5%. The cost of living is rated at nearly 12% below the American average, a figure that's largely down to cheap housing costs. The median home value is only $121,700 against a national average of $181,400, and a studio apartment can be rented for as little as $600 a month.

6) Nashville, TN 

Quick Stats: 

Population: 692,587

Median Home Price: $316,117

Average Rent Cost: $990.26/month

Unemployment Rate: 8.5% 

Nashville is famous as the "Music City", and much of the local economy is built around entertainment and hospitality. This feeds through into a low cost of living if you like to get out and about, with a figure around 12.4% below the national average. Set against this is the relatively high median home value of $165,000, only 12% below the US average, and an unemployment rate of over 6%. That said, opportunities for affordable living are fairly easy to find in Nashville, particularly if your college degree has uses in the entertainment industry.

7) Lincoln, NE 

Quick Stats: 

Population: 283,839

Median Home Price: $286,622

Average Rent Cost: $897,86

Unemployment Rate: 2.8%

Moving from the South to the Midwest, Lincoln is at the lower end of major city size with a population of around 280,000. However, it also has a low unemployment rate of under 3%, and so wages tend to be attractive. What's more, the average home value of $142,000 is comfortably a fifth below the national average, making it one of the most affordable places for first-time buyers or renters new to the market.

The main industries are centered around grain and transport, although manufacturing has diversified into a wide variety of sectors. Healthcare, insurance, and business services are also growing areas with plenty of job opportunities.

8) Omaha, NE 

Quick Stats: 

Population: 478,192

Median Home Price: $308,136

Average Rent Cost: $965.26/month

Unemployment Rate: 3.3%

Staying in Nebraska, Omaha boasts a great combination of low living costs, low unemployment rates, and relatively high incomes compared to the cost of living. The typical home value is an impressive 27% below the American average, with overall living costs 12.8% lower.

As with its Lincoln neighbor, Omaha's economy is centered around agriculture, specifically grain, although food processing, healthcare, insurance, and transportation are all thriving areas.

9) Columbus, OH 

Quick Stats: 

Population: 878,553

Median Home Price: $266,496

Average Rent Cost: $834.82/month

Unemployment Rate: 5.7%

Columbus scores high marks on all the cost of living measures. An unemployment rate of 4.4% means employers are competing for high-caliber staff, and so incomes are reliably attractive for good jobs. The average home value is a touch under $135k, more than a quarter below the national figure, and the overall cost of living measure is 12.8% below the USA average.

While Ohio may be far from Silicon Valley, the Columbus area has seen major recent growth in the e-commerce and advanced computing sectors, as well as being a leading area for the automotive and bio-medical industries.

And while the living costs may be in the small-town league, its size of 822k inhabitants means there's plenty to do in Columbus, and quality of life is high.

10) Memphis, TN 

Quick Stats: 

Population: 651,932

Median Home Price: $228,326

Average Rent Cost: $715.25/month

Unemployment Rate: 8.0%

Lastly, Memphis has a cost of living index that's a whopping 14.6% below the national average figure, largely thanks to its low housing costs. Typical home values are close to 50% lower than national prices, with an average apartment costing just $709 per month in rent.

The city has a large population of over 650,000, but with its unemployment rate of nearly 10% highly paid jobs can be difficult to find. Nonetheless, there are many thriving industries including advanced manufacturing, medical technology, agribusiness and tech, transportation and logistics, and professional and corporate services.

Memphis isn't an easy city to succeed in, and the poverty rate is relatively high, but if you can land a well-paid job then a few years or longer in the area can help you make fast inroads into your student debt.

Of course, there's more to life than paying off student loans. But moving to one of the more inexpensive major cities in the US will improve your quality of life as well as providing the foundation for becoming debt free more quickly.

Paying Off Student Loans Debt by Living in the Most Affordable Cities in the US

You don't want to be in student loan debt forever, but you also want to live in a city that you can advance your career in and put that degree to good use. We understand that importance of career growth and affordable living so you can pay off your student loans faster.

The cities that have been listed above have been analyzed and compared to the average cost of living in the US. Housing budgets on average account for about 30% of household income, which is why it is the most heavily weighted item when it comes to cost of living.

You might notice a lot of the most affordable cities are located in the Midwest. Coast cities tend to be a lot more expensive to buy and rent in. A lot of the most popular cities to live in are on the coast and might distract you in your search for a home, apartment, or condo to rent or buy. Looking at some of the mid-sized cities like these ones listed can save you money month-over-month and be a lot less competitive for your search. 

Refinancing Your Student Loans Will Save You More Money

Sometimes even just living in an affordable city with a strong income may not be enough. If you want to save even more money month over month, or simplify your student loan debt payments, consider refinancing your student loans.

Confidently manage your finances without sacrificing any of your favorite things. Refinancing is a great option if you are ready to pay your student loans off faster at a lower interest rate.