Most Surprising Cities To Live In If You Want To Make a Lot of Money

 Major cities like Los Angeles or New York may have lucrative options for your career, but living in a concrete jungle might be unappealing over the long term. For Americans who are eyeing a bigger paycheck but don’t know where to look, GOBankingRates created a list of surprising cities where you can make plenty of money.

The study looked at 188 U.S. cities containing at least 50,000 households and examined the median household income, cost of living, median home list price, labor force participation rate, and top income tax rate in each city. GOBankingRates only included cities where people earn more than the average state resident.

Check out some of the highlights from the study:

  • The top three cities where you can earn a surprisingly large amount of money are all located in Texas.
  • Texas also dominated the study in terms of representation, with a total of six cities that made the ranking. This is likely due to the state’s lack of a marginal individual income tax.
  • Unfortunately, 80% of the cities featured in this study are more expensive than the national cost of living.

Still, these alternative cities are great places to earn a big paycheck and live comfortably.

25. Henderson, Nevada

  • Median household income: $66,939
  • State median income: $55,434
  • Difference between city and state incomes: $11,505

Henderson’s cost of living is 27.5% higher than the national average. Also, housing prices are a bit on the expensive side: The median list price in Henderson is $368,401, compared with the national median list price of $289,900, according to Zillow.

24. Oklahoma City

  • Median household income: $51,581
  • State median income: $49,767
  • Difference between city and state incomes: $1,814

Although the difference between city and state incomes is much lower in Oklahoma City than it is in Henderson, Nevada, the former still outranks the latter due to its cheaper cost of living, lower housing prices, and more robust labor force.

Virginia Beach resort city showing beach goers on their daily activities while on vacation.
Imagesbybarbara / Getty Images/iStockphoto

23. Virginia Beach, Virginia

  • Median household income: $70,500
  • State median income: $68,766
  • Difference between city and state incomes: $1,734

The cost of living in Virginia Beach is 16% more expensive than average. Additionally, the state’s highest marginal tax rate is 5.75% and applies to those making over $17,000, so expect to get hit with that tax rate if you’re considering moving to Virginia Beach to earn more money.

22. Cedar Rapids, Iowa

  • Median household income: $56,828
  • State median income: $56,570
  • Difference between city and state incomes: $258

Cedar Rapids, located four hours west of Chicago, has the smallest difference between city and state incomes among all the places featured on this list. Despite being 13% cheaper than the national average, Cedar Rapids suffers in the ranking due to its top individual tax rate of 8.53% — which is also the highest among all the cities. However, residents will incur that tax rate only if they make over $73,710, which is significantly higher than Cedar Rapids’ median income.

21. Peoria, Illinois

  • Median household income: $69,589
  • State median income: $61,229
  • Difference between city and state incomes: $8,360

Peoria, located about three hours southwest of Chicago, has the second-lowest labor force participation rate at 64%. You’ll also have to contend with the 4.95% state income tax rate no matter how much you make. On the other hand, Peoria is the least expensive city to live in among all the places on this list — it’s 20% cheaper than the national average.

20. Raleigh, North Carolina

  • Median household income: $61,505
  • State median income: $50,320
  • Difference between city and state incomes: $11,185

Raleigh’s position in this study would be much higher if GOBankingRates had only focused on comparing city and state incomes. But Raleigh doesn’t rank higher overall because it’s 11% more expensive to live in compared to the national average, and it has a top individual tax rate of 5.25%.

19. North Las Vegas, Nevada

  • Median household income: $55,828
  • State median income: $55,434
  • Difference between city and state incomes: $394

North Las Vegas — which is more northeast of Las Vegas — has the third-smallest difference between city and state incomes in the study. Still, median home prices under $280,000 and no state income tax might make North Las Vegas an ideal location for those looking to make more money.

18. Charlotte, North Carolina

  • Median household income: $58,202
  • State median income: $50,320
  • Difference between city and state incomes: $7,882

The difference between city and state median household incomes isn’t the biggest, but the median home price in Charlotte is less than $300,000, and it’s not too much more expensive to live there compared to the national average. Additionally, Charlotte’s labor force has a high participation rate at 72%.

17. Arlington, Virginia

  • Median household income: $112,138
  • State median income: $68,766
  • Difference between city and state incomes: $43,372

Arlington boasts the third-highest median household income in the study, as well as the highest labor force participation rate at 78% and the fourth-largest difference between city and state incomes. So, why doesn’t it rank among the top 10 places to live? The reason is, big paychecks don’t mean as much when the city you’re residing in is 92% more expensive than the national average.

16. Overland Park, Kansas

  • Median household income: $78,217
  • State median income: $55,477
  • Difference between city and state incomes: $22,740

Though Overland Park offers a respectable median household income and a robust workforce, it still suffers from a high cost of living. Moving to Overland Park — a mere 20-minute trip from Kansas City, Missouri — will also subject you to a tax rate of 5.7% if you make over $30,000.

15. Anchorage, Alaska

  • Median household income: $82,271
  • State median income: $76,114
  • Difference between city and state incomes: $6,157

If you’re chasing after a higher income, note that living in Anchorage will be 37.1% more expensive than the national average. On the other hand, Alaska has no state income tax, so you won’t have to worry about losing extra earnings on that front.

14. Pembroke Pines, Florida

  • Median household income: $65,805
  • State median income: $50,883
  • Difference between city and state incomes: $14,922

Pembroke Pines — just a half-hour outside of Miami — is 30% more expensive to live in compared to the national average. Its workforce also takes a hit from the 65% labor participation rate. However, you won’t be subject to an income tax if you’re living in Florida.

13. Fort Worth, Texas

  • Median household income: $57,309
  • State median income: $57,051
  • Difference between city and state incomes: $258

Fort Worth actually ties with Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for the smallest difference between city and state incomes in the study, at a paltry $258. However, Fort Worth ranks so much higher because it’s not impeded by a state income tax.

12. Nashville, Tennessee

  • Median household income: $52,858
  • State median income: $48,708
  • Difference between city and state incomes: $4,150

Nashville boasts an active labor force with a 71% participation rate, as well as no state income tax. However, living in the city is 10.4% more expensive than the national average.

11. Austin, Texas

  • Median household income: $63,717
  • State median income: $57,051
  • Difference between city and state incomes: $6,666

Even though the number of the beast lies within the difference between Austin’s and Texas’ median household incomes, it’s more alarming that living in Austin is 30% pricier than the national average. However, residents benefit from the lack of a state income tax.

10. Chandler, Arizona

  • Median household income: $77,278
  • State median income: $53,510
  • Difference between city and state incomes: $23,768

Chandler’s sizable median household income is somewhat offset by two major factors: a median home list price of $343,111 and a top individual tax rate of 4.54%. It’s worth mentioning that the top rate doesn’t kick in until you start earning more than $165,674. However, the second-highest tax rate — 4.24% — comes into play once you start earning more than $55,226.

9. Clarksville, Tennessee

  • Median household income: $51,164
  • State median income: $48,708
  • Difference between city and state incomes: $2,456

Tennessee has the lowest median household income among all the states in the study, which reflects in poorer numbers for both Clarksville and Nashville. However, Clarksville — which is an hour’s drive from Nashville — achieves a better ranking because it offers a much lower cost of living.

8. Gilbert, Arizona

  • Median household income: $87,566
  • State median income: $53,510
  • Difference between city and state incomes: $34,056

Gilbert’s generous median household income will help you withstand its similarly high expenses, which are 27.2% pricier than average. With houses listing for over $350,000, on average, Gilbert also has one of the more expensive real estate markets featured on this list. Both Gilbert and Chandler are located right outside of Phoenix, which makes these places ideal if you still want to experience big city life.

7. Grand Prairie, Texas

  • Median household income: $62,589
  • State median income: $57,051
  • Difference between city and state incomes: $5,538

The difference between the median household incomes in Grand Prairie and its home state of Texas isn’t particularly high, but you’ll still get to enjoy no state income tax. It’s also much less expensive to live in Grand Prairie compared to the other cities on this list — the cost of living is only 8% higher than the national average. Grand Prairie is located between Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas.

6. Cary, North Carolina

  • Median household income: $97,755
  • State median income: $50,320
  • Difference between city and state incomes: $47,435

Cary has the third-highest difference between city and state incomes in GOBankingRates’ study. But, as the city is located in North Carolina, you’ll have to watch out for a 5.25% top marginal individual income tax rate. Houses in Cary are more expensive as well — the median home list price is $421,929.

5. Naperville, Illinois

  • Median household income: $114,014
  • State median income: $61,229
  • Difference between city and state incomes: $52,785

Naperville, located 45 minutes west of Chicago, boasts the second-highest difference between city and state incomes in the study. Unfortunately, it also demands the second-highest cost of living: Naperville is 44% more expensive than the national average. Plus, you’ll have to pay a 4.95% individual tax rate regardless of what you make.

4. Sioux Falls, South Dakota

  • Median household income: $56,714
  • State median income: $54,126
  • Difference between city and state incomes: $2,588

If you’re making money in Sioux Falls, you’ll benefit from no state income tax as well as affordable housing. The median home list price in the city, which is located in the southeast corner of South Dakota, is $232,143.

3. Plano, Texas

  • Median household income: $88,578
  • State median income: $57,051
  • Difference between city and state incomes: $31,527

Plano benefits from a hefty median household income, a high labor force participation rate of 70%, and a significant difference between city and state incomes. However, it’s 19% more expensive than average to live in Plano — plus, its median home list price is $386,071.

2. McKinney, Texas

  • Median household income: $87,608
  • State median income: $57,051
  • Difference between city and state incomes: $30,557

McKinney’s numbers are nearly even with Plano’s. However, McKinney — which is located 40 minutes outside of Dallas — manages to nab the No. 2 spot because it offers cheaper homes for sale and is slightly less expensive to live in compared to Plano.

1. Frisco, Texas

  • Median household income: $120,701
  • State median income: $57,051
  • Difference between city and state incomes: $63,650

Frisco boasts the highest median household income and the biggest difference between city and state incomes on this list. Plus, since it’s located in Texas, you’ll benefit from no state income tax getting imposed on your earnings. Frisco is the best city to live in if you have your sights set on big bucks but want to avoid living in an urban center.


    Methodology: GOBankingRates determined the most surprising cities to live if you want to make a lot of money by analyzing 188 U.S. cities with more than 50,000 households along the following criteria: (1) median household income, sourced from the Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey; (2) the difference between the city’s median household income and the state’s median income, sourced from the Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey; (3) the size of the difference between these incomes, which had to be positive (i.e., the city’s income must be higher than the state’s); (4) cost-of-living index for the city, where 100 represents the U.S. overall, sourced from Sperling’s Best Places; (5) average 2019 median home list price, based on taking the average of Zillow’s median home list prices for the months between January and July 2019; (6) labor force participation rate, sourced from the Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey; and (7) top state marginal individual income tax rate for 2019, sourced from Tax Foundation. All factors were scored, summed up and ranked, with cost-of-living index and home price factors weighted double. All data used to conduct this ranking was compiled and verified on Sept. 6, 2019.