Want to get rich? O.K. - work hard, come up with a great career or business idea, save your money early and often, and protect what you can from taxes.
Oh, and move to Houston, too.
Come again? Houston?
New data from Bankrate.com show that Houston is the best city in the U.S. for "building wealth." The study ranked the largest metro areas in the U.S. cities according to how strong an environment they provide for making money. Included in the key criteria are after-tax, savable income; the job market; residents' debt; human capital; access to financial services; and the local housing market.
Out of 20 cities, Here's a list of Bankrate's Top Five and Bottom Five cities for wealth creation:
2. Washington, D.C.
5. New York City
18. Los Angeles
20. San Diego
Bankrate says Houston is at the top of the list due to its "its excellent job market, lowest consumer debt and high savable income." One reason for Houston's wealth creation is that Texas does not have payroll-based withholding taxes, which means workers keep more of the pay that is earned, says Frank Tresnank, business development director at PaycheckCity.com, a payroll and tax software services company. "Some locations do have state withholdings and local tax withholdings which reduce the amount of take-home pay," he says.
Washington, D.C. is home to many federal government staffers and managers, where pay, benefits and job security are all stronger than in the private sector, according to a 2015 study by Gallup; as such, the nation's capital usually ranks highly on any list of residential income and real estate prices.
Correspondingly, San Diego ranks lowest on the list because of high taxes eating away at income, higher unemployment and high consumer debt burdens.
"Many of the cities that ranked high in the study may not be synonymous with wealth in the public mind, but they do a better overall job of creating an environment for typical households to get ahead financially," notes Claes Bell, banking analyst at Bankrate. "For instance, living in a killer job market is great, but if you're spending half your income on rent, it's going to be hard to save and invest. You have to look at the whole picture."
Business cycles can lead to upward mobility in a given city, if the landscape is business-friendly and if entrepreneurship is encouraged. "More successful cities often have more successful companies that have to pay more to gain the best employable talent," noted marketing and PR consultant Bruce Brown at Los Angeles-based Brown Marketing Consulting. "This leads to more employees with a larger discretionary income, which creates more need for businesses to serve in the areas of recreation, such as movie theatres, bars, restaurants, golf courses, and other attractions."
Many of the jobs connected to these businesses pay higher wages as well, Brown adds. "Successful businesses often pay more local taxes which can lead to a better infrastructure for the city, which often leads to better paid city jobs," he says.
That creates an income spiral, of sorts, where new opportunities arise in cities where wages are higher and good job talent is abundant. "Often, these more prosperous cites are the perfect place to launch a new business, a franchise, or a perfect market for expansion since more spendable discretionary funds means a higher chance for success with business growth too," says Brown.
Other factors include high wages in select cities, but with high costs of living. "I live in New York, but am originally from Chicago," says Trevor Ewen, a personal finance writer at PearoftheWeek.com. "I definitely make $10,000 to $20,000 more in income by living here than I do there. This it the reality of salaries in the Northeast. Granted, most of the gain is wiped out by high cost of living. The higher pay is basically a market average based on the high cost of living."
Some perspective is in order on the issue, too.
For example, nobody is saying San Diego is a lousy place to live. All Bankrate is saying is that wealth creation can have geographical consequences, too.
"Just because a city ranks at the bottom doesn't mean it's a bad place to live, or that you can't make a good living there," said Bell. "The best city for a particular person to build wealth is going to depend a lot on their walk of life, occupation, education and a whole host of other factors."