Updated February 8, 2014

Study: Best Cities to Rent

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For some people, at certain times in their lives, renting makes the most financial sense. It may depend on their preferences: Renters don't have to worry about shoveling out driveways or making house repairs. It may depend on their credit history – a low credit score may make borrowing money for a mortgage too expensive. Or it may just have to do with where they live.

The following 10 cities are the top metro areas for those who want to be smart with their money and view renting as their best housing option.

Study Methodology

  • Affordability (measured by the Center for Housing Policy’s Rental Affordability Index)
  • Property tax (measured by taxes paid as percentage of median home value)
  • Average credit score

First, we looked at rental affordability to determine how rent prices compared to occupations available in the area that can afford the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment. A higher score means there are a greater number of jobs that can support most rents.

Next, we found the cities with the highest property taxes, where it may behoove some people to rent rather than incorporate extremely high taxes into their monthly payments. For example, on a $250,000 home, a 1% tax rate amounts to $2,500 – over $200 a month.

Finally, we looked at the average credit scores across U.S. cities. Rather than worrying about having to pay a high interest rate on a mortgage because of bad credit, folks in these towns may be better off renting.

10 Best Cities for Renters

1. Toledo, OH

  • Rental affordability score: 58
  • Property tax (percent of median home price): 1.84
  • Average credit score: 750

Toledo comes in on top as the best city for renters. While the city’s average credit score is slightly above the national average of 749, its rental affordability scores 58. Paired with a relatively high tax rate, Toledo renters can rejoice in the fact that they are in a market favoring tenants.

2. Lansing, MI

  • Rental Affordability Score: 52
  • Property Tax: 2.25
  • Average Credit Score: 750

Trailing Toledo by just a hair, Lansing is similarly affordable compared to our number-one spot. As Michigan’s capital and home to the nation’s largest law school (Thomas M. Cooley Law School), this city attracts a wide variety of future politicos and government workers. Whether you are just stopping by to get that JD, or settling down for a permanent job, Lansing is a great place to find the perfect apartment at an affordable price.

3. Dayton, OH

  • Rental Affordability Score: 57
  • Property Tax: 1.9
  • Average Credit Score: 753

Ohioans are once again in luck with Dayton rounding out our top three. As the sixth largest city in the state, it’s also a great place for those who love the amenities of larger city living. Credit scores are above the national average, but the rental affordability score is still high — meaning that Dayton has the jobs to support its residents.

4. Buffalo, NY

  • Rental Affordability Score: 52
  • Property Tax: 2.65
  • Average Credit Score: 758

With the highest property tax in our top 10, Buffalo residents may be better off renting instead of spending so much on their tax bills. In its favor, Buffalo is New York’s second most populous city (after NYC, of course) and has strong education and healthcare industries.

5. Youngstown, OH

  • Rental Affordability Score: 64
  • Property Tax: 1.43
  • Average Credit Score: 751

Youngstown is the third of four Ohio cities on our top 10 list and has the highest rental affordability score out of all the metropolitan areas we evaluated. It is also just an hour away from both Cleveland and Pittsburgh, serving as an affordable area with big-city living just a short drive away.

6. Wichita, KS

  • Rental Affordability Score: 60
  • Property Tax: 1.26
  • Average Credit Score: 749

With a high rental affordability score and an average credit score lower than the national average, Wichita is a great place for renters. Not only is it the largest city in Kansas, Wichita is also home to a number of universities, including Wichita State University, ensuring a bustling nightlife and cultural opportunities.

7. Cleveland, OH

  • Rental Affordability Score: 57
  • Property Tax: 2.08
  • Average Credit Score: 760

Cleveland’s property taxes are relatively high, just like its rental affordability score. In addition to being home to the Cleveland Browns and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it’s also close to Lake Eerie, making this affordable city a Midwest “beach” destination in the warmer months.

8. Rockford, IL

  • Rental Affordability Score: 57
  • Property Tax: 2.43
  • Average Credit Score: 761

Rockford is another example of high taxes and prominent rental affordability. As one of the smaller cities in our top 10, Rockford’s downtown is situated right on the Rock River. Young professionals may even be able to afford water views otherwise unavailable to them in more urban settings.

9. Greensboro, NC

  • Rental Affordability Score: 60
  • Property Tax: 1.04
  • Average Credit Score: 748

Here we finally welcome the South into our list. Property taxes actually are not too high for homeowners, but rental affordability paired with below-average credit scores make Greensboro an ideal place for renters. It is also a good option for thin-skinned folks who aren’t ready to brave the blustery Midwest winters.

10. Syracuse, NY

  • Rental Affordability Score: 48
  • Property Tax: 2.55
  • Average Credit Score: 755

Syracuse finishes our list with one of the highest property taxes of the top 10. Home to Syracuse University and a host of other colleges, this rental market is sure to have a variety of options for many types of renters. Syracuse also holds the annual New York State Fair – just one of many attractions in this small, central-New York City.

This list offers a wide variety of options for folks who do not want to buy a home or are not ready to do so. Note that the rental affordability score measures each city’s percentage of jobs with a median income that can afford a two-bedroom apartment. There’s no guarantee that such jobs are highly available for hiring, or what type of qualifications are needed. In addition, if you do have a high credit score, you may qualify for low financing rates, which is a consideration when thinking about renting versus buying.

And if you’re just starting out in the job market, check out our list of Best Cities for Young Professionals and see how many locales overlap.


Lauren Ward is a research analyst at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and reviews website. Write to Lauren Ward at lauren@creditdonkey.com

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