Top 7 Cities That Will Pay You to Live There

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The average college graduate leaves school with $39,400 in student loans. When you’re struggling with such a high balance, the idea of becoming debt-free or saving for a down payment on a home can seem impossible.

But where you reside plays a huge role in your cost of living and what you can afford. In fact, several cities in the U.S. will even pay you to relocate, helping you improve your finances.

In our latest study, we put together a list of the top seven city incentive programs. Find out if moving to one of these regions makes sense for you.

Finding the best moving incentives in the country


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, housing is the highest annual expenditure for most Americans each year.

Because housing is such a major expense, we highlighted the top areas by calculating the cost-of-living ratio. To do so, we compared the median household income to the median home value.

Using this information, we ranked the top seven of the 14 cities and counties that offer relocation incentives based on their cost-of-living ratios, as well as the total value of the incentive programs.

We also identified the unemployment rate and state and local tax rate for each city and county. Although this information didn’t affect the rankings, we included them for illustrative purposes.

7 cities and counties that offer the best incentives


Moving to a city or county that offers incentives to live there is one way to pay down your debt more quickly or to make homeownership more affordable.

All seven of the top cities that offer incentive programs are in the Midwest, where farming and agriculture are still primary economic drivers.

Most of the cities or counties are small or have declining populations, so they offer these programs to entice new residents. Depending on the area, you could receive thousands of dollars as an incentive to relocate.

Here are the seven cities and counties that offer the best incentives to new residents.

7. St. Clair County, Michigan

  • Incentive: Up to $15,000 in student loan repayment assistance

  • Median household income: $50,930

  • Median home value: $126,900

  • Cost-of-living ratio: 40.1%

  • State and local tax rate: 6%

  • Unemployment rate: 3.9%

If you graduated with a degree in science, technology, engineering, arts, or math, you could receive up to $15,000 in student loan repayment assistance by moving to St. Clair County.

To qualify, you must not already live in the area and must have graduated within the past 10 years and still have student loan debt. If you win the award, you are expected to live and work in the area. You are given 120 days to get a job or create a business.

For more information or to apply, visit the Community Foundation of St. Clair County website.

6. Marquette, Kansas

  • Incentive: Free land lot to build a home

  • Median household income: $56,783

  • Median home value: $138,800

  • Cost-of-living ratio: 40.9%

  • State and local tax rate: 9%

  • Unemployment rate: 2.5%

If you dream of wide-open spaces, Marquette’s free lot program can help you build the perfect home. Through this program, new residents can get a free land lot to build a home on or to use as a base for a manufactured home.

The value of the program is dependent on the lot size you choose. After the city approves your application, construction on your new home must start within 180 days. Once your house is completed, you must live there for at least 12 months.

For more information or to apply for a land lot online, visit the city’s website.

5. Marne, Iowa

  • Incentive: Free land lot to build a home

  • Median household income: $45,469

  • Median home value: $91,600

  • Cost-of-living ratio: 49.6%

  • State and local tax rate: 7%

  • Unemployment rate: 2.3%

A tiny city with a population of just 120 people, Marne is offering new residents free land lots. On average, the lots are 9,600 square feet. Similarly sized lots within hours of Marne can cost you thousands of dollars.

For more information and to apply, visit the city’s website.

4. Tribune, Kansas

  • Incentive: Up to $15,000 in student loan repayment assistance and exemption from Kansas state income taxes for up to five years

  • Median household income: $47,000

  • Median home value: $89,100

  • Cost-of-living ratio: 52.7%

  • State and local tax rate: 7.5%

  • Unemployment rate: 2.2%

As a new (or returning) resident of Tribune, you can qualify for a five-year exemption from Kansas income taxes. This temporary exemption can help you take home more of your paycheck each month. If you have student loans, you could qualify for up to $15,000 in debt repayment assistance.

Plus, Greeley County — in which Tribune is the county seat — has a lower-than-average unemployment rate. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national rate is 3.8%, but Greeley County boasts a 2.2% rate.

For more information, visit Greeley County’s website.

3. Curtis, Nebraska

  • Incentive: Free land lot to build a home

  • Median household income: $51,192

  • Median home value: $95,000

  • Cost-of-living ratio: 53.9%

  • State and local tax rate: 6.5%

  • Unemployment rate: 2.4%

Through Curtis’ free land lot program, you can get a free plot to build a single-family home.

Although many free land lot programs require you to pay for the installation of sewer and utility lines, the Curtis program at Roll’n Hills doesn’t. All lots are on paved streets and are already set up with utilities. You’ll save more money than if you had to handle the installation yourself.

Also, Curtis has a lower-than-average unemployment rate at 2.4%, making it more likely you’ll be able to find work.

For more information, email Consolidated Telephone Co.

2. Loup City, Nebraska

  • Incentive: Up to $20,000 in down payment assistance and a free land lot to build a home

  • Median household income: $46,299

  • Median home value: $84,900

  • Cost-of-living ratio: 54.5%

  • State and local tax rate: 7%

  • Unemployment rate: 2.3%

If you want to become a homeowner but are having trouble saving the necessary down payment, Loup City might be for you. The city offers two programs:

  • Workforce Homes: Those who meet income guidelines can qualify for up to $20,000 in down payment assistance to build a home on a free land lot. For a family of three, your income must be $61,560 or less.

  • Market Rate Homes: If your income exceeds the guidelines established for the Workforce Homes program, you can still qualify for incentives through the Market Rates Homes program. With just a $1,000 deposit, you can claim a free land lot. Once your home is completed, the city will refund your deposit.

For more information and to apply, visit the city’s website.

1. Lincoln, Kansas

  • Incentive: Free land lot to build a home

  • Median household income: $49,583

  • Median home value: $69,300

  • Cost-of-living ratio: 71.5%

  • State and local tax rate: 8.5%

  • Unemployment rate: 2.2%

If you’ve always wanted to see the buffalo roam, moving to Lincoln might be a dream come true. Through the Free Home Site program, you can get a free land lot to build your perfect home with views of buffalo herds, farm animals, and other wildlife.

With lots as large as 36,000 square feet, the value of the free land varies. Depending on the size you choose, the value could be worth tens of thousands of dollars, based on the price of lots in nearby areas.

As an added perk, the lot location is near a baseball field, city park, high school and athletic facilities, and a golf course.

For more information, visit the Free Home Site program webpage.

3 factors to consider before moving


Although these incentive programs might sound tempting, it’s important to do your homework before you start packing your bags. Make sure you consider these three factors.

1. Building costs

Getting a free land lot to build a home can help you save a substantial amount of money. But find out what costs you’ll have to cover.

In some cases, the free land only includes the lot itself. You might be responsible for hooking up basic utilities or even paving the road, which can easily cost thousands.

The cost of building a home can be expensive. Worse, you’ll have to find another living arrangement while your home is being built, such as renting an apartment. You could end up spending far more than you expected when you applied for a free lot.

2. Employment opportunities

All the top cities were in the Midwest. Most were small towns and very rural areas, where finding employment opportunities might be difficult if you don’t have experience in agriculture or farming. It’s a good idea to research job listings and secure a position before planning your move.

3. Earning potential

Although these seven cities and counties offer some valuable incentives, consider how moving will affect your earning potential. Six of the seven top areas had a median household income lower than the national average of $55,322.

The lower cost of living in these areas might offset a smaller salary, but it’s important to calculate how much you need to earn to pay your bills and keep up with your debt.

Moving to a new city


Here are the other cities and counties that offer incentive programs for new residents:

  • New Richland, Minnesota
  • Harmony, Minnesota
  • Grant County, Indiana
  • North Platte, Nebraska
  • Baltimore
  • New Haven, Connecticut

Moving to take advantage of incentive programs is not for everyone. But if you’re a freelancer, retired, or if you work remotely, moving to one of these cities or counties can be a great way to save money, pay off your student loans, or buy a home.

If you take advantage of one of these programs and want to accelerate your loan repayment even faster, consider refinancing your student loans to save money.

If you work in media, sign up for news updates to get access to our latest surveys and studies.

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Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality and will make a positive impact in your life. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print understand what you are buying, and consult a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time. Please do your homework and let us know if you have any questions or concerns.