The pursuit of happiness is an unalienable right of all people. The U.S. Declaration of Independence makes that very clear. But as everyone discovers at some point, happiness is not so easy to achieve — unless, perhaps, you’re in a place where it is not only a state of being but also a way of life.
Location indeed plays a hand in our pursuit of such an elusive condition. For years, researchers have studied the science of happiness and found that its key ingredients include a positive mental state, healthy physique, strong social connections, job satisfaction and financial well-being. However, there’s a caveat on that last one: Wealth follows happiness — but only up to an income level of $75,000 a year. Any higher, and money ceases to influence a person’s contentment with life.
As this study aims to illustrate, we can either attain or merely aspire to a happy life, depending on where we choose to live. WalletHub’s data team drew upon the various findings of positive-psychology research in order to determine which among 150 of the largest U.S. cities is home to the happiest people in America. We examined each city based on 30 key indicators of happiness, ranging from depression rate to income-growth rate to average leisure time spent per day. Read on for our findings, methodology and expert commentary from a panel of researchers.
To see which states combine all the necessary components of happiness, check out WalletHub’s report on the Happiest States in America.
Happiest Places to Live
|Overall Rank||City||Total Score||‘Emotional & Physical Well-Being’ Rank||‘Income & Employment’ Rank||‘Community & Environment’ Rank|
|2||San Jose, CA||75.79||1||3||15|
|4||San Francisco, CA||69.20||3||2||101|
|5||Sioux Falls, SD||67.63||10||21||3|
|6||Huntington Beach, CA||67.32||6||11||45|
|7||San Diego, CA||65.80||8||7||40|
|9||Santa Rosa, CA||65.29||20||15||23|
|11||Chula Vista, CA||64.82||15||27||17|
|12||Santa Clarita, CA||64.79||17||29||29|
|14||Garden Grove, CA||64.35||11||45||43|
|17||Overland Park, KS||63.86||32||17||20|
|25||St. Paul, MN||62.43||19||38||80|
|34||Grand Prairie, TX||60.22||57||36||4|
|36||Los Angeles, CA||59.91||24||49||97|
|40||Long Beach, CA||59.05||21||95||110|
|42||El Paso, TX||58.72||35||75||53|
|43||Rancho Cucamonga, CA||58.69||69||8||51|
|44||Cape Coral, FL||58.65||43||63||28|
|45||Santa Ana, CA||58.42||23||72||129|
|46||Colorado Springs, CO||58.41||65||41||16|
|48||Des Moines, IA||57.90||36||91||72|
|49||Salt Lake City, UT||57.43||46||69||48|
|54||Fort Worth, TX||57.06||61||88||25|
|56||Grand Rapids, MI||56.90||74||39||31|
|58||Virginia Beach, VA||56.32||67||81||33|
|60||Port St. Lucie, FL||56.10||73||98||11|
|65||Pembroke Pines, FL||55.58||71||68||57|
|67||Jersey City, NJ||55.17||62||61||112|
|70||New York, NY||54.66||66||83||89|
|72||San Antonio, TX||54.55||79||71||54|
|80||Kansas City, MO||53.52||82||65||79|
|82||Moreno Valley, CA||53.03||95||85||46|
|91||Oklahoma City, OK||51.95||114||74||14|
|100||Fort Wayne, IN||50.07||112||43||121|
|105||Fort Lauderdale, FL||49.38||80||119||145|
|106||San Bernardino, CA||49.22||98||124||92|
|107||Las Vegas, NV||49.06||118||93||91|
|111||North Las Vegas, NV||48.64||128||94||64|
|115||Newport News, VA||47.98||104||117||124|
|119||Baton Rouge, LA||46.69||123||56||140|
|122||St. Petersburg, FL||46.50||130||67||111|
|124||New Orleans, LA||46.40||143||107||5|
|129||Little Rock, AR||45.30||144||26||52|
|134||Corpus Christi, TX||44.14||135||109||96|
|137||St. Louis, MO||43.06||132||105||142|
Home Prices Outpace Salaries, Again
Salaries are having a hard time keeping pace with home prices, even as prices continue to decline in many metro areas across the country, a group recently found.
The research website HSH.com released an analysis in February that used industry data to track the relationship between salaries and prices in 27 major cities across the United States. The industry data came from organizations like the National Association of Realtors.
The news isn’t too great for salary-dependent homeowners.
According to the website, the salaries needed to pay for higher-priced homes increased once more in all but five metro areas.
Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Cincinnati topped the list of the most affordable cities, with homebuyers who make over $30,000 each year more able to buy homes.
The least affordable cities included the Californian cities San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles, where homebuyers needed salaries that ranged from the upper five figures to six figures.
According to HSH.com, the median value of a home bought in the fourth quarter dipped in 21 of the 27 markets, but not by enough overall to alleviate the strain on salaries.
Mortgage rates were also up during the fourth quarter last year, with the 30-year fixed-rate home loan climbing high in cost and stretching more paychecks.
The analysts also found that home prices inched higher in markets nationwide.
The website quoted National Association of Realtors chief economist Lawrence Yun as saying, “Depressed new and existing inventory conditions led to several of the largest metro areas seeing near or above double-digit appreciation, which has pushed home values to record highs in a slight majority of markets.”
“The prospect of higher mortgage rates and more home shoppers in coming months should be enough of an incentive for those serious about buying to start their search now,” HSH.com also reported NAR President William Brown as saying.
Daylight saving time begins at 2am Sunday March 12th.
Also a good rule of thumb is to check your batteries in your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors!!
Magic 8 ball says yes. Here’s what to know to itemize tax deductions as a homeowner.
Taxes? Gross! Who wants to think about government paperwork, especially when your hand still aches from signing the 977 forms required to buy your first house? But listen up: As a new homeowner, you can typically wave bye-bye to the 1040-EZ form and say hi to itemizing your deductions on Schedule A.
That means you can combine the thousands you’re now paying in mortgage interest and property taxes with what you’re already paying in state and local income taxes. And bam! Suddenly, you’ve got more to deduct than the $6,300 standard deduction.
For recent first-time homeowners Ben and Stephanie Liddiard, buying a rambler in Layton, Utah, led to tax savings that fattened Ben’s paycheck by $100 every two weeks. If you’re like the Liddiards, home ownership will give you more deductions, so your taxable income will decrease and you could owe less in taxes.
What Deductions Should I Itemize?
- Loan costs and fees
- Mortgage interest
- Property taxes
- Private mortgage insurance
Not everyone who buys a home will end up itemizing and owing less in taxes, says Anna Berry Royack, an accountant who sees many first-time home buyer tax returns at her Liberty Tax office in Catonsville, Md.
To find out if you’re eligible to itemize, add up your deductions with your handy home closing paperwork, says Berry Royack. The document you’re looking for is either a HUD-1 Settlement Statement or a Closing Disclosure. (Lenders used the HUD-1 until late 2015, when they switched over to the more consumer-friendly Closing Disclosure.)
Here are the details on what you need to look for:
Loan costs and fees. “Different lenders call their loan costs and fees different things,” Berry Royack says. “Look for an ‘application fee’ or ‘underwriting fee.’ Also, if you paid points to get a lower interest rate, that’s often deductible in the first year. Your lender might have called that ‘buying down the rate’ or ‘discount fee’ instead of ‘points.’ Points are easy to find on the Closing Disclosure because they’re at the top of page 2 and labeled ‘loan costs.’”
Recurring Deductions (Woo Hoo!)
1. Mortgage interest. Most homeowners can deduct the interest portion of monthly mortgage payments — not the principle — each year. Exception: When your mortgage is close to being paid off, the interest is less than the principle. So even when combined with other deductions, you might not have enough to exceed the standard deduction. But that’s a loooong way off for most of us.
To see how the mortgage interest deduction plays out in real life, consider first-time homeowners Ben and Stephanie Liddiard. They moved from a $1,000-a-month rental apartment to a $168,000, five-bedroom, two-story, 2,300-square-foot house outside Salt Lake City.
They had some deductions as renters, but those expenses were less than the $6,300 standard deduction they each got ($12,600 for marrieds), so as renters, they opted to take the standard deduction.
When they bought their home, the combination of mortgage interest, property taxes, Utah’s 5% income tax, charitable contributions, and some unreimbursed medical expenses incurred during Stephanie’s pregnancy, added up to more than $12,600. Hello, itemization.
All these deductions reduced their income, so they owed about $2,600 less in federal and state income taxes.
Once they knew how much lower their tax bill was going to be, the Liddiards had two choices:
- Leave their payroll tax withholding as it was and get a $2,600 refund the following year.
- Adjust their tax withholding so the extra $2,600 wasn’t taken out of their paychecks any more.
The Liddiards went with No. 2. “I changed my withholding so I get about $100 more [in each] paycheck instead of a big refund,” Ben says. That’s smarter than letting the IRS hold on to that until refund season since the IRS pays zero interest on the money you overpay in taxes.
Tip: You know what would be an even smarter move? Opting to automatically divert that $100 per paycheck into a home repair savings account. Once you’ve saved a tidy 1% of the value of your home, you could use that money to fund your 401(k) or your kid’s college costs.
2. Property taxes. Property taxes are also deductible, but they can be tricky in the year you buy the home because both you and the sellers owned the property during that year. Sadly, you only get to deduct the property taxes you owed for the portion of the year you owned the home; the seller gets the rest of the deduction.
This info shows up on the Closing Document as “adjustments for items paid by seller in advance” or “adjustments for items unpaid by seller.”
Tip: Who pays the property taxes in the year of the sale — the buyer or seller — is negotiable, but not who gets the deduction. Say you live in a sellers’ market and to sweeten the deal agree to pay the full year of property taxes for the seller. Nice negotiating! But you still can’t claim the full year deduction under IRS rules.
Other stuff on the not-so-deductible list:
- Transfer fees for changing title from the sellers to you.
- Recordation fees to put the title change into public record.
- Homeowner or community association fees. They feel like a tax because you gotta pay ‘em, but they’re not.
3. Mortgage insurance. Private mortgage insurance, which many homeowners pay each month if they put down less than 20%, is deductible for many every year you pay it.
Private mortgage insurance protects lenders when they accept low down payments. To claim the deduction, your adjusted gross income (AGI) must be no more than $109,000. The deduction phases out once your AGI exceeds $100,000 ($50,000 for married filing separately) and disappears entirely at an AGI of more than $109,000 ($54,500 for married filing separately).
Other types of insurance, like homeowners insurance, aren’t deductible unless you can claim a portion of the home insurance because you work at home exclusively. “People can get those two confused,” Berry Royack says.
Other Deductions You Might Overlook
As the Liddiards found, sometimes buying a house is the trigger that, combined with other deductions you might have, makes it worth busting out Schedule A. That stuff you donated so you didn’t have to move it was probably a charitable donation. Those state and local taxes you paid could pay you back via itemization. Hopefully, you don’t have to, but you can maybe tack on medical and dental expenses above 10% of your income and casualty and theft losses.
Special Circumstances to Keep in Mind
If this is your first year doing your taxes as a homeowner, it’s worth splurging on an accountant to make sure everything goes down without a hitch. This is especially true if one of these special circumstances apply:
- You work from home. If you take conference calls in the same place your dog lives — that is, your home office is your exclusive, regular place of business — you might be able to deduct a portion of your home ownership costs under the home office deduction. “That’s a $1,500 deduction for a 300-square-foot office. Or you can deduct more if you have a larger office or the actual costs for you home office are higher,” Berry Royack says. The standard home office deduction is $5 per square foot. If you’re self-employed, you’ll be taking this deduction on Schedule C.
- Your lender sold your mortgage to a different lender. “That happens to a lot of people about five minutes after they walk out of the closing,” Berry Royack says. “If you’re one of them, you’ll need to remember to look for two sets of year-end disclosures — one from each company that had your loan.”
Add the numbers from both year-end forms to get the amount to deduct. If the numbers don’t look right, call the agency or company that services the mortgage and double-check the figures or ask your accountant to do it. “We see a lot of returns [at our firm], so we usually can tell if your property tax figure looks right, and we know where to check,” Berry Royack says.
The number of seriously underwater properties dropped significantly last year, with 1 million fewer reported at the end of 2016 than 2015. This is the lowest point for seriously underwater properties since the beginning of 2012.
According to ATTOM Data Solutions’ Year-end 2016 U.S. Home Equity & Underwater Report, 5.4 million U.S. homes deemed seriously underwater at the close of 2016, accounting for 9.6 percent of all mortgaged properties in the nation. Seriously underwater homes, which means the combined loan amount on the property was 25 percent, or more, higher than the home’s market value, were down from 10.8 percent at the end of Q3 2016 and 11.5 percent year-over-year.
“Since home prices bottomed out nationwide in the first quarter of 2012, the number of seriously underwater U.S. homeowners has decreased by about 7.1 million, an average decrease of about 1.4 million each year,” said Daren Blomquist, SVP of ATTOM Data Solutions. “Meanwhile, the number of equity-rich homeowners has increased by nearly 4.8 million over the past three years, a rate of about 1.6 million each year.”
The highest share of seriously underwater homes was found in Nevada, Illinois, Ohio, Missouri, and Louisiana. At the end of 2016, nearly 20 percent of all mortgage properties in Nevada were seriously underwater. As for individual metro areas, Las Vegas; Cleveland; Akron, Ohio; Dayton, Ohio; and Toledo, Ohio took the top spots.
In Ohio, the large number of underwater properties is causing an inventory problem, according to Matthew L. Watercutter, Senior Regional Vice President and Broker of Record for HER Realtors, which serves the Dayton, Columbus, and Cincinnati markets.
“One of the primary reasons we have a shortage of inventory is due to the high number of homeowners who are still underwater, making it difficult to sell and move as they would need to conduct a short sale or bring money to the closing,” Watercutter said. “A high percentage of those homeowners are waiting it out until they are no longer underwater or in a better position to sell, contributing to the shortage of inventory. I expect this dynamic to continue through 2017.”
On the other end of the spectrum, properties that are equity-rich—meaning the loan amount was 50 percent or less than the home’s market value—have risen. At the end of 2016, there were 13.9 million equity-rich properties, accounting for 24.6 of all properties. This marks a jump from 22.5 percent in 2015—and 1.3 million homes.
“Despite this upward trend over the past five years, the massive loss of home equity during the housing crisis forced many homeowners to stay in their homes longer before selling, effectively disrupting the historical domino effect of move-up buyers that feeds both demand for new homes and supply of inventory for first-time homebuyers,” Blomquist said. “Between 2000 and 2008, our data shows the average homeownership tenure nationwide was 4.26 years, but that average tenure has been trending steadily higher since 2009, reaching a new record high of 7.88 years for homeowners who sold in 2016.”
The highest share of equity-rich properties was found in Hawaii, Vermont, and California. San Jose, California; San Francisco; Honolulu; Los Angeles; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania were the most equity-rich metros.