Playing the “rent vs. own” game is a popular pastime as the U.S. continues to be gripped by tough economic conditions.

But finally we have hard data on whether it’s really cheaper to rent than to own. A new study from Trulia.com makes an interesting case in each direction — especially if you live in certain metropolitan areas.

Here’s the deal. According to the Trulia’s new Rent vs. Buy Index, it really is cheaper to rent than to own in or near certain U.S. cities.

But home ownership is better in other urban areas.

We’ll get to the specific cities on both ends of the scale in a moment, but how is Trulia figuring this all out? The answer lies in a price-to-rent calculation that relies on the average list price compared with the average rent on a two-bedroom condo, townhouse, or apartment. Trulia used the formula on 50 of the biggest U.S. cities, based on population.

In calculating the differences, Trulia also used home prices included mortgage principal and interest, property taxes, hazard insurance, closing costs and homeowner association dues. Ancillary data, like tax advantages of homeownership and closing cost deductions, were also factored into the equation.

Here’s a list of what Trulia found:

Best Cities to Buy

City                 Price-to-Rent Ratio

    Minneapolis                8

    Arlington, Texas         8

    Miami, Fla.                  8

    Fresno, Calif.              8

    San Antonio               8

    Mesa, Ariz.                 9

    Jacksonville, Fla.        9

    Phoenix                     10

    El Paso, Texas          10

    Las Vegas                 11

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    Pete Flint, CEO of Trulia, says that the economic downturn has made once-pricey urban regions affordable to homebuyers, who, ironically, can thank the rise in foreclosures for those lower prices.

    “At the peak of the real estate bubble, cities like Miami, Phoenix and Las Vegas were not affordable for many. Now the opposite is true,” said Flint. “Home sellers in these hard hit areas are forced to lower their prices to compete with all the foreclosures on the market. As a result, these unattainable markets are so affordable it makes better financial sense to buy than rent.”

    Best Cities to Rent

    City                 Price-to-Rent Ratio

      New York                  33

      Omaha, Neb.            26

      Seattle                     25

      Portland, Ore.          22

      San Francisco          22

      Oklahoma City         21

      Kansas City, Mo.      20

      San Diego                20

      Cleveland                 20

      Dallas                       19

      Areas where renting becomes a better option than owning is, geographically, at least, all over the map. New York City and Omaha, for example, fall #1 and #2 on the rent-over-buy list. There are not many areas of commonality between the two cities, but a better deal on renting than owning seems to one of them.

      “It is not a surprise to see cities like New York and San Francisco on the ‘rent’ cities but I was surprised to see areas like Omaha, Oklahoma City and Kansas City on our rental list," Flint said. “We're not suggesting that it's unwise to buy in these areas though - just that it's significantly more expensive than renting. In many of these cities, even though home buying is much more costly than renting, prices are still much lower than they have been in a long, long time.”

      To see the Top 50 City Rent Versus Buy Index for yourself, visit Trulia.com.

      To get a more detailed look at the “rent versus buy” numbers, use the BankingMyWay Rent vs. Buy Calculator.

      —For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at BankingMyWay.com.