Although nurses shell out less money than doctors to pay for their medical schooling, they’re often just as stressed out about how to pay for it.
About 7 in 10 nurses take out student loans to pay for their graduate program, according to a 2017 report from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. What’s more, 50% stated their biggest concern after graduation was figuring out how to repay their loans.
But relocating can often help struggling borrowers get a handle on student loan payments, especially if they can combine low costs of living with a healthy salary and job demand.
So if you’re a nurse looking to jump-start your debt payoff journey, check out the following best small cities to live in and work in when paying off student loans.
10 best small cities for nurses paying off student loans
To help nurses figure out whether relocating to a smaller city might be worth it, we first wanted to be able to answer the following questions:
- What annual salary can a nurse expect to earn?
- How much demand is there for nurses?
- How far will a nurse’s salary go when paying for goods and services?
We relied on three data points from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to help formulate our answers to the three questions.
- Average annual wage: The median pay for registered nurses nationally in 2017 was $70,000, according to the BLS.
- Location quotient: The location quotient compares the employment of nurses in a city to the average for the nation. If a city reports a location quotient greater than 1.0, which is the national average, nurses are more likely to be in demand in that city. Cities with marks below 1.0 are less likely to offer as many employment options.
- Regional price parity: Price parity refers to varying costs of goods and services in cities, which in turn affects the purchasing power of your wages (or how much you can actually buy with your paycheck). If a city’s regional price parity is less than 100, which is the average, goods and services are less expensive in that city (so a large paycheck will go further). If a city reports a mark greater than 100, goods and services are more expensive there.
Here are the top 10 small cities that received the highest marks in these areas:
1. Bay City, Michigan
The first of two Michigan cities atop our rankings, Bay City comes with the benefit of a lower cost of living. In fact, thanks to the city’s regional price parity, the purchasing power of the average annual wage for a nurse jumps to $78,020, according to the BLS.
- Average annual wage: $69,360
- Location quotient: 1.42
- Regional price parity: 88.9
2. Saginaw, Michigan
Like their neighbors in Bay City, Saginaw nurses can take advantage of the Michigan State Loan Repayment Program. It provides a maximum of $200,000 over eight years to help nurse practitioners repay their loans.
- Average annual wage: $66,030
- Location quotient: 1.58
- Regional price parity: 89.4
3. Greenville, North Carolina
Despite being the most populous small city on our list, Greenville reported a relatively high demand for registered nurses. In fact, it recorded the highest location quotient of any city in our top 10.
- Average annual wage: $63,130
- Location quotient: 2.02
- Regional price parity: 88.4
4. Johnstown, Pennsylvania
Johnstown nurses can look into receiving help repaying their debt via the Pennsylvania Primary Care Loan Repayment Program. It awards up to $60,000 to full-time nurse practitioners in exchange for two years working in an underserved area. Contact the program to stay abreast of application periods.
- Average annual wage: $62,120
- Location quotient: 1.69
- Regional price parity: 87.2
5. Cumberland, Maryland
Aside from being paid well, nurses in Cumberland can take advantage of the Janet L. Hoffman Loan Assistance Repayment Program. In exchange for treating low-income and underserved residents, nurses can receive up to $30,000 in aid over three years if they have debt totaling $75,001 or more.
- Average annual wage: $65,010
- Location quotient: 1.36
- Regional price parity: 88.2
6. Florence, South Carolina
Combine a relatively high demand for nurses with a low cost of living and, boom, you have a city that’s conducive to paying off your student loans.
The cost of goods and services in Florence is so low, in fact, that the average salary of $60,470 has a purchasing power of $70,725, according to the BLS.
- Average annual wage: $60,470
- Location quotient: 1.85
- Regional price parity: 85.5
7. Duluth, Minnesota
Duluth cracked our top 10 because it reported strong marks in each of the three data categories under consideration.
Here’s a fourth reason for its rise up the rankings: the Minnesota Health Care Loan Forgiveness program. It offers repayment assistance of up to $20,000 over four years to nurses who work at least two years in a nursing home.
- Average annual wage: $66,780
- Location quotient: 1.38
- Regional price parity: 91.7
8. Hanford, California
The lone West Coast city among our top 10, Hanford made up for its relatively higher cost of living with an equally impressive salary. In fact, of the 334 small, midsized, and large cities we reviewed, Hanford reported the 13th-highest annual average wage.
Plus, Hanford (and other California) residents can look for assistance via the state’s Bachelor of Science Nursing Loan Repayment Program. Recipients may receive up to $10,000 after agreeing to a one-year obligation practicing direct patient care at a qualifying facility in California.
- Average annual wage: $91,340
- Location quotient: 1.56
- Regional price parity: 95.5
9. Alexandria, Louisiana
You might scoff at Alexandria’s relatively low salary, but the BLS gave this small city in Louisiana a purchasing power of $67,355, thanks to its lower cost of living.
Residents can access the Louisiana State Loan Repayment Program if they work in rural or inner-city communities or for a nonprofit. It awards a maximum of $45,000 over three years.
- Average annual wage: $59,070
- Location quotient: 1.89
- Regional price parity: 87.7
10. Eau Claire, Wisconsin
Although not as mighty as Milwaukee or Madison, Eau Claire represented Wisconsin well by rounding out our top 10. The smaller city reported high marks across the board and also boasts the state’s Health Professions Loan Assistance Program, which offers up to $100,000 in repayment aid.
- Average annual wage: $66,500
- Location quotient: 1.42
- Regional price parity: 92.3
Should you move to a smaller city?
Chances are you don’t already live or work in one of the top 10 best small cities for nurses paying off student loans, but it’s worth considering the benefits of such a move. After all, your location affects the amount of disposable income you can put toward student loan repayment.
Sure, your salary, job prospects, and cost of living vary from city to city. But you’ll also want to compare differences between states. There are many state-based loan forgiveness programs for nurses, for example.
Similarly, you might target smaller cities within states that have no income tax. That way, you can take home more of your paycheck.
Say you moved to Sherman, Texas, which ranked 15th among our top small cities for nurses. You might see a pay increase, more job demand, and a lower cost of living — but you’d also appreciate Texas being one of nine states without an income tax.
Like refinancing or consolidating your loans, moving to a smaller city is a potential repayment tool. It could be the right choice if it helps you pay down debt faster. And, hey, you could always return to the big city once you’re debt-free.
Top 25 small cities for nurses
In case your city fell outside the top 10 but still ranked highly, consider our top 25:
|Rank||City||Annual mean wage||Location quotient||Regional price parity|
|1||Bay City, Mich.||$69,360||1.42||88.9|
|10||Eau Claire, Wis.||$66,500||1.42||92.3|
|12||St. Cloud, Minn.||$79,700||1.17||93|
|14||Battle Creek, Mich.||$63,460||1.24||90.5|
|23||Cape Girardeau, Mo.||$51,990||2.32||82.8|
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1 Important Disclosures for Earnest.
To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.
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2 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.
Laurel Road Disclosures
Savings example: average savings calculated based on single loans refinanced from 9/2013 to 12/2017 where borrowers’ previous rates were disclosed. Assumes same loan terms for previous and refinanced loans, and payments made to maturity with no prepayments. Actual savings for individual loans vary based on loan balance, interest rates, and other factors.
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Instant rates mean a delivery of personalized rates for those individuals who provide sufficient information to return a rate. For instant rates a soft credit pull will be conducted, which will not affect your credit score. To proceed with an application, a hard credit pull will be required, which may affect your credit score.
Total savings calculated by aggregating individual average savings across total borrower population from 9/2013 to 12/2017. Individual average savings calculation based on single loans refinanced from 9/2013 to 12/2017 where borrowers’ previous rates were provided. Assumes same loan terms for previous and refinanced loans, and payments made to maturity with no prepayments. Actual savings for individual loans vary based on loan balance, interest rates, and other factors.
3 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
4 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it endorse, any educational institution.
5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
|2.47% – 6.99%3||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.47% – 5.87%1||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.47% – 8.03%4||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.95% – 6.37%2||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.48% – 6.25%5||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.72% – 8.32%6||Undergrad & Graduate|